Bimota YB4ei - Gianluca Galasso
The Italian Sport Production Championships, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, were run in two categories – 600cc and 750cc-1000cc. Each championship was contested in three regional qualifying series’ of four races each, with the top 12 in each region qualifying for a three race Championship held at such racetracks as Vallelunga, Monza, Mugello and Misano.
Gianluca Galasso was a young privateer from Avelino, a small town in the south of Italy outside of Naples. He raced Bimotas in the Italian Sport Championship from 1988 to 1990 – starting as a privateer with a YB6 in 1988, moving to a YB4ei in 1989, and then as the factory rider and Champion on a YB4ei in 1990 – he was fast, but it was not an easy journey.
In 1988, coming off Virginio Ferrari’s title in the World TT F1 Championship, Bimota fielded a factory team for the newly formed World Superbike and Italian Superbike Championships, and provided support for privateers in Italian Superbike and Italian Sport Production. The factory team was led by Davide Tardozzi (Virginio Ferrari left Bimota after1987) and included Belgian Stephane Mertens. Tardozzi’s WSBK season is well-documented, crashing in the last race and narrowly losing the title to Fred Merkel, he also came in second in the Italian Superbike Championship to Fabrizio Pirovano on a Yamaha. Bimota riders won 7 out of 18 WSBK races (Tardozzi 5, Mertens 2) and finished second in the Manufacturer's Championship.
Gianluca Galasso was hired by Bimota in 1988 as a contractor to ride and develop their street motorcycles and was given the use of two motorcycles (and the mechanic Gianfranco Bursi) to race in the Italian Championships – a YB4ei for Superbike and a YB6 for Sport Production. He finished the season 3rd in the Italian Superbike Championship behind the Factory WSBK Yamaha of Pirovano and the Factory WSBK Bimota of Tardozzi – a fabulous result for a privateer, but this story is about Sport Production.
In the Italian Sport Production Championship Qualifying Series (four races), Gianluca won two, finished second, and crashed out. His main competitor was Giancarlo Falappa riding for Suzuki. Stephane Mertens was inconsistent for Bimota in WSBK and Italian Superbike (he was replaced by Galasso for one race) and for the last race of the WSBK season – Bimota contracted Falappa away from Suzuki to help them win the championship. For our story, this meant that going into the Sport Production Final Series (three races) both title contenders – Galasso and Falappa – would now be on Bimotas (Galasso on a YB6, and Falappa on a YB4ei). At Misano, Galasso won with Falappa second. At Vallelunga, Falappa won and Galasso crashed out. In the last race to decide the championship at Mugello, Falappa crashed out, but Galasso only managed to finish third – so with a win and a second Falappa was champion beating Galasso’s win and a third by one point!!
In 1989, Gianluca continued as a part-time development rider for Bimota (while also working in his father’s office and selling advertising to pay to go racing) and again got the use of a Bimota, this time a YB4ei, but lost the use of the mechanic Bursi – so he had to do everything himself. He continued to lead the life of a poor privateer, traveling around to the circuits in his caravan and working three jobs. In the Qualifying Series he was again competitive, but in the last race at Monza he finished 7th because of an intermittent bad connection to the fuel pump that would make the bike run, cut-out and then run again. To avoid this scenario in the finals, he hired a proper mechanic – Claudio Lusuardi, a former 50ccGP rider-turned-mechanic. The Finals began at Vallelunga and even with a proper mechanic, Gianluca’s engine blew-up at the end of qualifying. Despite offers of outside money, an engine and help – Galasso went home angry and frustrated. With time to regroup – his next race was at Misano, Bimota’s home track, and his engine broke again in free practice. Working all night, Lusuardi repaired the engine and got the bike onto the track 15 minutes before the end of qualifying. Gianluca managed to qualify sixth in just a handful of laps. With a good start and the release of the pent-up frustration from all of the recent mechanical failures, he rocketed out to an 8 second lead on the entire 35 rider field in just three laps! He won easily against the best from Ducati, Honda and Suzuki. At the final round in Monza, he crashed on liquid in free practice and again Lusuardi had to repair the bike overnight. During the first round of qualifying, he made it onto the second row, but took a lot of taunting in the pits from the Monza regulars - saying that his dominant Misano win was only because it was his home track. Gianluca, being more passionate than rational, didn’t take the taunting well. In final qualifying, he won pole position – improving his pole time three laps in a row – and became the first Sport Production racer to make a lap around Monza in under 2:00 minutes. During the race, he was embroiled in a four rider battle for most of the race until the penultimate lap. He was fourth entering the Parabolica for the second last time and using the perfectly set up YB4ei, along with considerable determination / bravery / craziness, passed all three in front of him to be first across the start/finish line and then ran away during the final lap to win. Unfortunately, with the DNF from his engine failure and two wins, he finished second in the championship - again by one point! Ending the season with such domination made him very optimistic for 1990.
Despite such a strong finish to the 1989 season, Gianluca’s telephone was silent over the winter and he had no offers to ride for the upcoming season. He decided to run another privateer effort in World Superbike and the Italian Superbike Championship. Finally, just before the beginning of the season, Giuseppe Morri, the Managing Director of Bimota, called Gianluca to Rimini for a meeting and offered him factory rides on a 600cc YB9 Bellaria and a 750cc YB4ei – with the stipulation that Gianluca promise that he would deliver two Sport Production Championships to Bimota! – serious pressure. Gianluca delivered immediately – in the Qualifying Series' he had eight races (four in each displacement) and won the seven that he started (he did not start one 750 race because he was not able to qualify having just crashed on the 600.) He entered the Final Series' as the overwhelming favorite. His principal competitor was Lucio Pedercini, riding the Factory Ducati 888 with Bursi, Galasso’s former Bimota mechanic, as his tuner. The opening round was at Vallelunga. Gianluca won the pole in both classes and won both races. At Monza his domination was disrupted by mechanical issues – the 600 Bellaria blew a head gasket, but he still managed to finish in third place. In the big class his fuel pump relay began to act intermittently, and he finished in fifth. Luckily for Gianluca, the final races to determine the championships in 1990 were at Misano. Going into the final rounds, he was leading the championship in the 600 class, but was second to Pedercini in the 750s and needed to win to become champion. In qualifying, he won both pole positions. On race day, Gianluca was prepared, focused and confident. He proceeded to win both races, setting the fastest lap times in both classes, and won his first two National Championships.
When all is said and done, Gianluca Galasso delivered two Italian National Championships to Morri and Bimota – as he had promised; and for Bimota, these were very important because they were in production classes that had direct impact on motorcycle sales – and the health of the company.
This has been a long story about a single motorcycle – but interesting stories add to the richness of the Bimota brand. The YB4ei was (and still is) an exceptional motorcycle – a development of the YB4-R and one of the first production motorcycles that used fuel-injection. It was not only an exclusive motorcycle because of its hand-made quality and limited production numbers, but the YB4ei was also a very competent motorcycle – able to run with any of the top machines of its day – Ducati 888, Honda RC30, Suzuki GSX-R and all of the others. But this one is extra special! – not only is it as good as any YB4ei – it is a CHAMPION – it was ridden by the best of his day, my friend, Gianluca Galasso.
This Bimota Spirit YB4ei featured here is Galasso’s racebike from 1990. It is a stock YB4ei with minor modifications allowed by the rules and expert set-up by Gianluca.
Historical images are from the personal archive of Gianluca Galasso and are used with permission. Re-use is not permitted without prior written approval.