Reigning Superbike World Champion Troy Bayliss is enjoying life at home following a glorious career with triple WSBK crowns to his name.
Retiring as a reigning world champion is never easy, but that’s exactly what Superbike hero Troy Bayliss did at the end of the 2008 season, hanging up his racing leathers in exchange for a new life on the Gold Coast.
Moving back to Australia with his family – wife Kim, sons Mitchell and Ollie, and daughter Abbey – returning from a lavish life in Monaco to the relaxed Australian lifestyle in Queensland, Bayliss is just like your average Aussie male.
The recently turned 40-year-old won three Superbike World Championships (plus a MotoGP race) during his career for Italian manufacturer Ducati, not letting a late start stand in the way of success as he worked his way from being a spray painter by trade to world champion thanks to his unrivalled determination and work ethic – not to mention his raw talent.
Firstly Troy, it’s been a few months now since you had a dream end to your career with a third world championship and a double victory in Portugal, has it all sunk in yet?
Yeah, I think it’s beginning to. The whole thing turned out how we dreamed of, how we wanted, and it was great to go out on a high. We’ve moved back to Australia and have brought the family back, but it’s been a big change after around 11 years overseas. We’ve been very busy getting organised and settling in.
The guys at Ducati have been testing twice since I stopped and, you know, I’m a racer at heart but I’m coping pretty good with it. I don’t know how to explain it, but sometimes I enjoy not riding and other times I get a little bit of a taste for it.
Can you explain the emotion that went into those final races, knowing that you wouldn’t be suiting up in the Ducati Xerox leathers many more times?
It was strange. The whole year was kind of like a job, just ticking the races off as we went. We had a few ups and downs, but really the whole time I was expecting to win the championship. In the end it wasn’t about winning it, but it was more about losing it. I was a bit stressed and just wanted to make sure that I did the job properly and went out on top.
We had the opportunity to wrap the championship up at the third last round at Vallelunga, in Italy, but I crashed with like 400 metres to go when I was in a position to win the title in front of the Italian fans for Ducati.
I was a bit disappointed with myself when we left there, so when we got to France for the next round I was under strict instructions from Davide [Tardozzi – Ducati team manager] and my wife Kim to do what I had to do to win the title.
After I cruised to finish third in race one and wrapped up the title they said now go and show us what you can do, and then I went and won the second race that day as well as the final two races at Portimao in Portugal. That was incredible.
The bike was honestly the best bike I had ever ridden in my career, I just didn’t want to stop after that final chequered flag – I wanted to keep on going forever.
It must have been a relief once it was all over in Portugal and you bowed out on top – exactly the way you had planned.
It was incredible the way I went out. There will be times when I want to get back on the bike but my time’s done and I know that I went out in the best possible way. I won both my last World Superbike and MotoGP races, so it’s like I went out in a fairytale way. I don’t want to open the book back up and mess it up, even though sometimes I’d like to get back on the bike.
Reflecting on the season, you had 11 victories, but plenty of competition throughout. How much did this championship victory mean to you considering you announced it would be your final season?
It’s hard to say which one was the best, but you always remember your first of anything. I really wanted last year’s one badly considering it was my final season, and it made me really determined to do it. I was training hard and doing everything that I needed to win.
I announced it early on that it was my last year, which put pressure on me, and gave me so much work to do with press coverage because it was my final season. If I didn’t say that I was retiring then it would have been very hard to stop – I kind of dug myself a hole so I had to stop.
And you also did what you set out to do and captured the title on three different Ducati models — the 996 in 2001, the 999 in 2006, and the 1098 last year…
Yes, that was something that I really wanted to do, but what I really wanted was to beat Carl Fogarty’s record for wins, which I wasn’t quite able to do. But when I look at my win ratio then I go out pretty happy.
Statistically, you are the greatest Superbike racer of all time, winning 34 percent of the World SBK races you ever competed in (52 victories from 152 starts), but Carl Fogarty has the most victories (59) and championships in SBK history. Was there anything inside that made you consider contesting another season to eclipse him?
It’s nice to look at it like that but in the end you always want more. You can only do what you can do; sometimes it’s just a case of racing’s racing. I know I could take the wins off him and I’m positive of what I can do, but I made the decision to stop so it’s not going to happen.
Considering you didn’t enter your first full World SBK season until 2001, did you ever expect this success?
Looking back to when I started I was going okay on the Australian scene, but when I went over to British Superbikes I started to set my goals a little higher. I devoted my time into it and it all worked out really well. It really has been a dream career and sometimes I do pinch myself, because I was a spray painter by trade before I raced. It did turn out pretty good in the end.
Where did your single MotoGP victory, in your one-off race in the last race of the 990cc era at Valencia in 2006, rank amongst your other achievements?
Obviously it was great to walk away from there with our heads held high, we didn’t really have much to say, but we just let the pictures do the talking. It was great for me, but honestly my home was Superbikes and that’s where I felt I belonged. It’s difficult to explain.
We have to ask, what’s your take on Valentino Rossi’s challenge to take you on in World SBK after you had officially retired? Rossi has now said it’s not going to happen, but it must have been great to have Rossi handpick you for a race?
He left it a little bit too late in the end. Valentino is Valentino, we all know that. I think he is the greatest rider there’s ever been, and I think it was good for SBK that he wanted to race it as well. But I sit happy where I am now because I think he finds it a little bit difficult because, like I said Valentino is Valentino, but the last time I raced against him I won, so I sit well with that [laughs].
Do you think you could show him how it’s done on a Superbike? And what would it have taken for you to actually do it?
Well for me to do it I don’t really think it’s in the question because I’ve been off the bike for quite a while, but if it had of been a little bit earlier then it would have taken a good deal of money and I would have been up for it, not a problem at all.
I know that with the way I was riding in the end, I had a good team around me and was confident, I would have been up for a good race with him. I think depending on who had a good day it could’ve went either way and we would have had a good race for sure.
Looking ahead at your future, what’s your deal with Ducati for the coming years? We hear it’s to be a test rider for both MotoGP and SBK on occasion, as well as media work at press launches etc.
I’m going to do a bit of work with Ducati at races this year, but as far as riding the bikes I’m not really a test rider. They’ve offered for me to do a couple of tests, but it’s basically an opportunity to make me happy if I wanted to ride the GP bike or the Superbike. It’s just to get a bit of adrenaline and hop on the bike – let my hair down and go do some laps.
Casey Stoner is exceptional on the Desmosedici, but others seem to struggle, is it a case of Ducati wanting somebody with your experience to test the bike to give your impression on it?
Casey has been exceptional on that bike, but it hasn’t been the case for a lot of the other guys as they’ve been struggling on it. I haven’t ridden the 800cc MotoGP bike yet, but it just does seem to suit Casey really well. If I went there with my crew-chief Ernesto Marinelli then I’m sure that we could come up with something that would work. You need to be
comfortable with the bike and everybody around you, and obviously that’s what has happened with Casey at Ducati.
You’ve expressed interest in V8 Supercar racing, are you looking forward to testing with TeamVodafone?
I’m having my first full test in May, which I’m looking forward to. It’s not really a test to see if I’m going to be driving for the rest of the year, but there’s a possibility of a few wildcard drives. I’m a bit limited because I’ll still be working with Ducati, and being the reigning world champion there are jobs for me to do overseas. V8 Supercars is something that I’d really love to do. I’m really looking forward to having a drive.
You did well at the Race of Champions event against some of the best four-wheel racers in the world. Do you believe you could cut it against the likes of Craig Lowndes, Garth Tander, and so on?
I haven’t actually driven a V8, but if we look at the Race of Champions where you drive a few different cars, I was pretty much up against some of the best drivers in the world.
In my first race I think I was up against the British Touring Car Champion, or one of the world touring car drivers, and I was actually ahead on the first lap until I ran off the track [laughs]. And then in the second race I was up against [Formula One driver] Sebastian Vettel and he pulled about a second and a half away from me in like two minutes, so it wasn’t all bad that’s for sure.
I’m pretty confident in myself and I’m looking forward to having a drive of the V8 Supercar.
So you’re basically going to wait until you’re behind the wheel to see how you go before you make any big plans?
Yeah that’s it. Actually while I was in Rome last week I was offered a drive in the Italian Superstars Championship at Imola, so that’s something I’ll be looking at doing on four-wheels
this year also.
What do you think the future of motorcycle racing is – can MotoGP survive the economic crisis, or can Superbike step up to be the premier series?
At the moment everybody is in a little bit of trouble. There aren’t a great number of MotoGP riders on the grid, whereas SBK now has 32 permanent riders, which is good. As we all know, the most important thing in motorcycle racing is sponsorship.
I know at the moment that Ducati has been having hard times as well. People have been taking pay cuts and budgets are being slashed, so it’s not a good situation at all. But SBK is growing stronger every year and the grid is constantly growing, but it’s only early days and we still have a long year to get through yet.