If you were to ask me about which is the most cherished memory from the entire 'experience' of the Ducati Riding Experience (DRE) Racetrack Academy, then it has to be one of my last laps, maybe it was the second last one, that I was doing on that day. The sun was setting into the horizon, there was a golden tint in the sky and I was riding behind a Ducati Panigale V4, on a Ducati Panigale V4 – which is their latest and greatest right now. The 214 horsepower, a four-cylinder madness of an engine pulled us from about 70 km/h exiting the second corner of the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia, which is one of the best racetracks in the world to ride a motorcycle on. The corner leads into a long right-hander. Both bikes were leaned over, the right knee slider knee slider scraped all the way to a speed of 185 km/h. We eventually crossed about 225 km/h, with the sound of that fantastic engine echoing, before braking into the next right-hand corner. And trust me, all of this happened in a matter of a few seconds and is a visual memory that will stay in my mind for a long, long time.
The rider on the Panigale V4 in front of me was Dario Marchetti – Chief Instructor and Technical Director at the academy who has won in several national and international races across all categories of motorcycle racing, be it the 250GP, 500GP, Superbike or Endurance. He also won the Daytona Battle of the Twins with Ducati in 2004 before repeating the feat, again with Ducati, in both 2006 and 2007. The best part? He was ahead of me showing me the proper lines to take through the track and help me out with improving my braking marker, apex and corner exit. Yes, I was being trained by the one and only Dario Marchetti.
Well, you must have got the gist by now. One of the best tracks, riding one of the best bikes and learning from some of the best riders in the world – that is what the DRE is all about.
There are three types of academies that the DRE offers – Safety Academy meant to teach riders to ride safer on roads, Enduro Academy which is meant to teach the participants on how to be better off-road and the Racetrack Academy, which we are talking about.
The Racetrack Academy is further divided into four parts – Warm Up is meant for those coming to the track for the first time, Track Evo is the next level to the Warm Up, followed by the Track Master and the Champs Academy – where you learn from the Ducati Champion riders themselves.
Ducati, being Ducati, believes in doing things in a grand manner. Now usually, in other academies, you would learn on, say, a quarter-litre performance motorcycle or maybe a 600cc machine. At DRE, well, you are on the biggest and meanest machines that Ducati makes and it is yours for the day. You can learn all you want on other machines, and some academies will require you to have one of your own, but at DRE, you are hooked up with some of the fastest motorcycles on the planet – so that you can learn. The thought in itself is exciting.
My first encounter with the motorcycles was in the pits, where a sea of red full-faired motorcycles with racing tyres on them were waiting to be let loose.
But anyway, coming back to the academy, the best part about it is that it is spread out into sessions. Which means, you go out on the track and familiarise yourself with the corners the first time out and back at the pits you can talk to the trainers – which are established riders themselves – and know exactly what you have to do to be the fastest on the track. Then, you head back to the track to experience another session, this time a bit faster. This is when the trainer shows you how the bike is meant to be ridden and how are you supposed to go around the track. The, once you are at the back, there is some more discussions and more confidence is built into the rider. Then in the next session, the trainer is behind you, critically observing the lines you take, the mistakes you might be making and pretty much everything about your riding style. Then, back at the pits, they tell you what you're doing wrong and what you need to do in order to correct it. And trust me, you can ask the silliest if questions like I did and they are happy to help. Then you head back to the track and this time around, the trainer will be behind you or ahead of you as they seem fit in order to help you improve even more.
And this pretty much goes on through the day with proper breaks being taken in between sessions so that you don't tire yourself out and make mistakes because of exertion.
If you want to talk about results, then for me, I must have shaved off like an eternity from my lap times. The first time I was on the track, I honestly couldn't have even dreamt of going as fast as I was going around the track at the end of the day. And when I look back, I am overwhelmed by the extent of learnings that I took from that day. And nothing, absolutely nothing, beats learning your ways around a race track on a machine that makes 300 km/h look like an easy task and add to that some of the best riders in the world telling you what you're doing wrong and what you can do better, and you have an academy unlike any other – in the world – that you should not be missing out on in any way.
Interestingly, Ducati India is going to be conducting the Ducati Riding Academy in India in the coming time as well. And the best part is, existing Ducati owners can participate for free and if you don't have a superbike, but have the necessary experience to handle one, well then Ducati will help you out with a motorcycle as well. And the costs of experiencing all of this is unbelievable considering the risks that involve a motorcycle crash at a racetrack.
So yes, while there are other academies that help you learn on your machine or provide a smaller capacity motorcycle for you to learn on, if you ever wanted to look and feel like one of those MotoGP riders at a racetrack, then the Ducati academy is where you need to be.