Born on April 23, 1943 in Eynsfords (Kent), UK, Paul Smart raced with many bikes but it was his legendary victory at the "Imola 200 Miles" in 1972 that assured his eternal fame with Ducati lovers. Ducati showed its stuff in front of 11 powerful competitors, including: MV Agusta, Honda, Triumph, Norton, BSA, and Moto Guzzi, and other famous riders like Phil Read, Walter Villa, and everybody's favourite, Giacomo Agostini.
In the 1970s, the Borgo Panigale brand was concentrated on developing their production models and investment in racing was very limited. Smart's victory was quite unexpected; as talented as he was, no one thought he had a chance against Agostini on his MV Agusta. The bike Smart rode was a touring bike, a Gran Tourismo 750 and the first Ducati to have a desmodromic engine. The Ducati GT 750 had the frame, suspension, engine and breaks of a production model touring bike, while Agostini's MV Agusta was a 500 cc built specifically for racing.
With a small but very professional team to support him, Smart started the "Imola 200 Miles" with his bike tweaked to perfection. On the fourth lap, the English pilot caught up with Agostini and his MV Agusta. Surprising the more than 70,000 fans and onlookers, and even his own team, Smart surged ahead and crossed the finish line in 1st place. To the joy of fans, another Ducati rider, Bruno Spaggiari, followed right behind Smart. Smart and Spaggiari were neck and neck, fighting for 1st place. Smart eventually took the lead as Spaggiari was forced to slow down because of a lack of petrol. This was the first time Ducati achieved such amazing results against Count Domenico Agusta's powerful bikes.
Before this win, Paul Smart wasn't a well-known name in European racing. He was more famous in the United States where he raced for the American team Hanson Kawasaki, on Japanese bikes (that were technically unreliable). When Smart joined Ducati to complete their four person team, he was very surprised at the high skills and capacity of Taglioni's technical team. Seeing their potential, he couldn't understand why the Bolognese company didn't invest more time and energy in professional racing. Although Smart was unaware, the wheels of progress were already turning and the great Imola victory really showed Ducati's management that successful racing has a significant impact on commercial and financial growth.
Bringing the story back in time to before the great victory, Ducati fought an uphill battle to get Smart on the team. Their first step was finding the finances to put a team together. Taglioni was able to convince Ducati's Director to approve the necessary expenditure. Once the finances were available, the hard part was just beginning...
Ducati tried to sign on some well-known riders like Jarno Saarinen, Barry Sheene, and Renzo Pasolini but, in 1972, Ducati wasn't a big name in the world of large cylinder competitions and these riders weren't interested. Ducati's success had been concentrated on races with small single cylinder engines and the riders had a hard time believing that they would have a winning chance in
Ducati first return to racing. With little success so far, Spairani tried to enlist a couple of expert, yet lesser-known riders such as the Englishman Alan
Dunscombe and veteran racer Bruno Spaggiari. He also tried to contact Smart but could never get through to him. Finally, the Ducati team was able to pass the word to Smart through his companion, Maggie (also Barry Sheene's sister). Smart was a bit doubtful about the Ducati team but after a bit of negotiation, he signed the contract.
When Smart touched down in Italy at the airport in Milan, he was surprised to be met by a big sedan that brought him straight to the Modena circuit for trials. Without time to rest, Smart found himself directly on the track trying out Dunlop TT100 tyres and various frames. He was pleasantly surprised by the quality Ducati materials (even those coming from the production models) and by the professionalism of the team (the "best he had every worked with"). The team consisted of 30 people, 10 motorcycles and all of the strength and passion of Ducati.
Smart had only just come to Ducati when his magnificent victory joined the rider and brand for years to come.
Originally published in the Passione Ducati Encyclopedia by Altaya/De Agostini and reprinted with the publisher's permission.