Bimota YB4-R - Virginio Ferrari
The Bimota YB4-R was designed as a Superbike Racer, and after winning the ultimate prize, the 1987 TT Formula 1 Championship, became the basis for a series of production motorcycles. The original bike was designed by Federico Martini, featuring an FZ750 Yamaha 4-cylinder engine wrapped by an external twin-spar aluminum frame with an aluminum swing-arm. Front suspension is a racing Marzocchi M1R fork that is machined rather than cast, and the rear uses a Marzocchi shock absorber. The engine breathes through either a set of Mikuni CV carbs for shorter circuits, or a set of magnificent magnesium flat-slides for the longer circuits.
The bike made its racing debut in the French Bol d’Or Endurance Race in 1986 in preparation for contesting the TT F1 World Championship in 1987. In 1987, the TT F1 championship was the ultimate series for production-based Superbikes, officially becoming the World Superbike Championship the following year.
In 1987, the favorites for the TT F1 title were Rothmans Honda, led by the dominating 5-times champion Joey Dunlop and supported by the emerging star, American Fred Merkel, on a privateer Honda. Perennial front-runners – Heron Suzuki – featured Roger Marshall and Paul Iddon, with Suzuki Sweden fielding former endurance star Anders Andersson. The small Italian firm – BIMOTA – entered this championship for the first time with a factory effort led by former 500cc World Championship runner-up Virginio Ferrari (second to Kenny Roberts in 1979) and supported by fellow Italian Davide Tardozzi (going on to be the long-time team manager for the dominant Ducati Factory World Superbike team.) Germany fielded a Suzuki team and a second Bimota-Yamaha team under Hein Gericke sponsorship.
The 1987 series had 10 races, but early in the year the Finnish race was cancelled because the track did not pass its safety inspection, and the Portuguese round was canceled due to a conflict with the F1 car race when it had to be re-scheduled. That left the Italian, Dutch, German, Japanese, Hungarian and British rounds to go with the original TT races at the Isle of Man and in Ireland. The first race of the season was at Misano – literally minutes from the BIMOTA factory in Rimini, but it couldn’t have started worse for the factory effort. Ferrari crashed on oil midway through, and Tardozzi retired with a bad fuel pump! The second round at the Hungaroring demonstrated the potential of the BIMOTA YB4-R. The Heron Suzuki team leapt out to a commanding early lead (they finished one-two at Misano), but both crashed out. Ferrari went on to win and Tardozzi finished second after a very aggressive run up through the field. With the win, Ferrari moved into a tie for second in the Championship, with Dunlop fourth and Tardozzi tied for fifth. The third round was at the Isle of Man and, as usual, Joey Dunlop dominated at his favorite track. Neither BIMOTA scored any points. Dunlop now had a commanding lead in the Championship (28 points) with Ferrari tied for third (15) and Tardozzi still tied for fifth (12). The pivotal race in the Championship came at the next round at the Dutch TT. The BIMOTAs of Ferrari and Tardozzi dominated – the two fiercely fighting for the win – with Ferrari emerging victorious. The BIMOTA YB4-R was now proving its prowess. Joey Dunlop crashed after colliding with Merkel, (jumping to his feet and gesturing at Merkel, but Merkel claiming that Dunlop ran into him!) and now trailed Ferrari in the Championship 30-28. The next stop was another road race – the Ulster Grand Prix. The conditions were terrible. Ferrari began practice and then withdrew – going back to Italy stating that the situation was just too dangerous. The start of the race was in question as many of the 40 racers pushed their bikes to the side of the start line – but the race did begin. It lasted only one lap as Klaus Klein on the German BIMOTA crashed and was killed. The race was immediately cancelled. This was a blow to Dunlop who expected to win yet another road race and regain the Championship lead – especially with Ferrari back in Italy! The next round was in Japan and dominated by the local factory teams. Australian Kevin Magee (future GP rider) won on a Factory Yamaha. Joey Dunlop finished out of the points in twelfth and Ferrari slid off after touching Dunlop’s rear wheel while chasing him. Tardozzi retired. After much drama, Ferrari still led the Championship by two points! The next round was at the magnificent Hockenheimring… and the BIMOTAs again rose to the occasion. In dominating fashion, they finished Ferrari first, Tardozzi second, and with a local German rider, Bodo Schmidt, in fifth! Dunlop’s Honda was no match for the Bimotas, but his grit and determination took him to fourth, and kept his Championship hopes alive going back to England for the final race. Donnington Park was the site for the final race and Dunlop needed to score 10 points more than Ferrari to take the Championship. The Heron Suzukis took the early lead with Dunlop in third and Ferrari riding a calculated race right behind him in fourth. After the pit stops, Dunlop fought to advance to a third place finish, with Ferrari avoiding unnecessary risk and winning his most prestigious championship! – he finished in seventh. The tiny BIMOTA factory had beaten the mighty Rothman’s Honda and Joey Dunlop, as well as the Herron Suzukis, in the tightest F1 finish in the 10 year history of the Championship – with the magnificent YB4-R.
The bike depicted here, in our collection, is the very bike that Ferrari rode to the Championship, exactly as it was raced in the series. The photos show the bike with and without the monocoque bodywork, with the CV short-track carbs installed. The long-track carbs are shown separately. The provenance of this machine is: Bimota Factory team (Virginio Ferrari) – Vanni Blegi – Roberto Anelli – Bimota Spirit.
In the following year, 1988, the Bimota race team used YB4eiRs, featuring Bimota-developed fuel-injection. It campaigned in the inaugural World Superbike Championship with Davide Tardozzi and Stephane Mertens. Tardozzi, leading going into the final round, narrowly lost the championship after crashing in the final race. Giancarlo Falappa and Gianluca Galasso both won the Italian Sport Production Championship on YB4eis. Bimota Spirit is proud to have the Galasso motorcycle in our collection and it is the subject of another Racing Motorcycle profile.
As I was gathering content for the Bimota Spirit Museum, I came across a wonderful website run by a retired professional moto-photographer. His name is Manfred Mothes and his website is www.highsider.com. The home page says it all: "MOTORCYCLE RACING HEROES OF THE PAST - paying tribute to the old heroes of motorcycle racing - many forgotten, some remembered here." I found many great old photos of Grand Prix riders on Bimotas and these of Virginio Ferrari on our bike. If you are a motorcycle racing fan, I hope that you will visit his site and enjoy remembering many of your old heroes.