Most close followers of Australian road racing over the previous 25 years would certainly have heard of Craig McMartin and know that his name is synonymous with Ducati.
The Sydneysider dominated the popular FX Pro Twins category for many years with lap records and plenty of championships to his name, along with a fair bit of success in the essentially ‘run what you brung’ Formula Oz category.
He also raced a Ducati 996 SPS in the Australian Production Superbike Championships. In fact, just over 20 years ago Craig was on the same Superbike grid as the fella that now rides for his McMartin Racing squad, Wayne Maxwell. Back then a teenage Maxwell was just starting out in Superbike on a Team Kawasaki ZX-9R.
Funnily enough Craig also shared the racetrack more than a few times across those years with Ben Henry, team owner of his DesmoSport Ducati rivals today in ASBK.
Not all of Craig’s success though came on booming Ducati twins. Early on in his career he did pretty well on a little two-stroke Suzuki twin, earning the #2 plate in the 1997 Australian 250 Production Championships riding an RGV 250.
So it’s fair to say he knows his way around a bike, but especially if that bike is any Ducati produced in the last two decades.
Craig worked for previous Ducati importer Norm Fraser for many years in various roles, predominantly those roles were not on the spanners, but there is no doubt he knows how to build just about every Ducati Superbike model right down to every last nut and bolt.
Now those of you that didn’t know much about the man behind the Boost Mobile Ducati squad that has won the last two Australian Superbike Championships have now been sufficiently backgrounded, let’s have a chat with him.
Craig McMartin Interview
Trev: An amazing first two seasons in ASBK with Wayne Maxwell, who set the pace from the first time he sat on the Ducati at the Phillip Island test two years ago, and has rarely been headed since. Two championships won and the red hot favourite for a third on the trot, obviously you don’t go racing to lose, but the results surely surpassed your expectations?
Craig: “Thanks Trev, they have actually. I go racing to have fun and definitely have had fun, so when Wayne came on board, or first came to me about riding the bike, I was quite amazed actually that he would even consider to ride to ride my bike. So it’s been a huge honour for me to have Wayne come on board and then Adrian with his work has just been amazing. So, far it’s outweighed my expectations because I always went racing to have fun with my mates, but with Wayne coming on board its turned it a little bit more professional.”
Trev: We have touched on some of your older history in racing in my introduction, now for some more recent history…
The kerfuffle that unfolded a while back where you wanted to run MoTeC, but anecdotally it seemed as though the then new Ducati HQ did not want to nominate a non-Ducati part (the Australian made MoTeC system), in preference to something that can be ordered through Ducati. Thus you ended up on the Magnetti Marelli hardware and software after Ducati named that as their kit ECU for use in ASBK. It is the best option and in their parts catalogue so I guess that is only natural that is what they would want bikes representing their brand to run.
There were some insinuations being put around that you had done something improper by putting an application to Motorcycling Australia for approval of the MoTeC system on an NF Importers letterhead, as it was around this time that the handover from NFI as the previous Ducati importer to Ducati Italy, was still being all bedded down. You had been working for NF Importers and I believe they were in favour of MoTeC being put forward as the nominated kit ECU for both the V4 R and the 1299 Final Edition. Do you want to put anything on the record about those matters?
Craig: “Well yeah, it’s history now, where I’m happy to move on from it. But at the time it was disappointing, because everything was done completely above board, I’ve got every piece of correspondence, email paperwork between NF Importers and MA, and NFI were asked by MA to clarify that I do work for the company, that it was all legit and because another Ducati team had made the accusations of what you just said, about things not being above board, so that was disappointing, but it is what it is. I’ve happily moved on from there, all I really wanted was to have an ECU like the other teams. Every other manufacturer had an ECU where Ducati didn’t, so NFI were 100 per cent on board to make it happen, and obviously we know it never did. We ended up with the Marelli, I really would have been happy to stick with the MoTeC, but we ended up with the Marelli. So we got an ECU in the end, but it worked out.”
Trev: In an interview with Wayne in the lead up to this season I asked him that if a control MoTeC ECU was put in place across the entire category – for next season – would he support that move and he did not hesitate to say yes, and seemed to be speaking for the team in his response, you on the same page?
Craig: “100 per cent, as I said Trev we just wanted to have an ECU like the other manufacturers…”
Trev: As in a kit ECU?
Craig: “Yeah a kit ECU, but for sure I’m really happy to go to the MoTeC, I’ve got absolutely no problems having a control ECU, by the sounds of it maybe next year we’ll be on the control ECU and I don’t have any problems at all. I’m quite happy to do that.”
Trev: Your team now runs on K-Tech Suspension via the local importers of the UK made product. You go back a long way with the Horner brothers that distribute K-Tech here, your association goes right back to being invited to ride some of their early, but still eminently delectable, Irving Vincent creations.
That included heading to the USA with the team, where you took victory for them at Daytona Speed Week, winning the AHRMA ‘Battle of the Twins’. That was followed by something that I am most certainly jealous of, getting to ride the Irving Vincent at the magnificent Goodwood Festival of Speed. As a lover of everything that is special across the history of both motorcycle and car racing, Goodwood is one item on my bucket list I am yet to tick off, tell us about the experience while I sit here going green with envy….
Craig: ”It’s one thing you do have to do, it was one of the most amazing things that I can say that I’ve done. It’s just amazing how the whole thing works, like you go through the front gate and you take a step back in time, it’s absolutely one of the things you need to do, and one of the best things I could say I’ve done in my history of racing bikes. It was absolutely fantastic, not just the race side of it, but the whole atmosphere is amazing, if you get a chance go and do it.”
Trev: Now with that walk down a very special memory lane behind us, let’s get back to the present day. There was not much left of your V4 R after Wayne’s crash at the hay-shed in race one on the weekend. That has to hit the budget hard and stress preparations ahead of round two up at Queensland Raceway, which of course is only a couple of weeks away….
Craig: “The bike is in a pretty bad shape, but that’s fine, we go racing and we know eventually there is going to be a crash sooner or later, so… I’m just so lucky, as I was driving home last night I had some of my sponsors ring and one very special guy that helps out and he just rang and said ‘what do you need to make this happen to get the second bike going’. So, I’m heading out to North Coast V-Twins some time this week and I’ll be picking up a brand new V4 R to prepare for Round Two.
“So we’ll have two bikes ready to go Trev, and I have to thank these guys that help me out. They just love to see us get a result and they are just amazing people that really want to see us achieve another championship so I can’t thank these guys enough. They’ve helped me out so much so, a little bit of work to build a new bike, but it’ll be less work than getting this other one to go, it can stay in the corner until I can work out what to do with it.”
Trev: Wayne has stressed many times that your team is very much a privateer effort, largely run out of your suburban garage, is that how you still see it?
Craig: “Well, yeah I do all the bike preparations from home, I’ve just got the bikes and the garage out the back, but you know I read your good story about the who’s a privateer and things like that. I think that’s one really good thing that M.A. have done. You don’t have to have manufacturer support to win a championship in this country, the rules are pretty good. You just really need a good bunch of people that can get a good result at the race track and I’m privileged to have such a good team around me. I build the bikes but all the guys that help at the race track, without the support of Adrian Monti that would be super hard. I think I’m very lucky with what I have. Do I need to be a factory team? I don’t think so, do you need to be a factory team to win, I don’t think you do, you just need a good team.”
Trev: All that said, though we must admit, the V4 R as a bike as a base package looks to be the bike to be on. It looks to be out of the box, head and shoulders over most of the competition?
Craig: “I don’t disagree, the V4 R is a special motorbike, so Ducati have done a very good job with the motorbike. We managed to win the championship, the last two championships, with this motorbike, where the other Ducatis as you said yourself, were nearly half the points that we achieved over four rounds. So it’s not just the motorbike itself it’s the team and the people that make the motorbike go fast and I’m so lucky to have Wayne as a rider. He’s…what can I say, he’s so professional, and I fully believe the only way he won’t win is if I don’t provide him a good enough motorbike. I think hopefully we can do that and claw some points back and win another championship with the Ducati V4 R.”
Trev: The Ducati models you raced throughout your career were torque monster twins, while the V4 R your team runs is I guess at the other end of the scale compared to the rest of the grid these days, now most of the competitors have the torque, while the Ducati is more of a top-end monster. You have ridden the V4 R race bike, I think I remember you saying, ‘That’s too fast for me.’ How would you best characterise your current bike?
Craig: “I suppose it is *laughs* it’s definitely a different beast over all the Ducati’s I’ve ridden in the past, but you know Ducati have done an exceptional job with this bike. When I very first rode the 1100 of this bike (V4 S) I thought wow this is just amazing, it was easier to ride, than the twin-cylinder bikes, the twin-cylinders gave you a lot of enjoyment but the V4 is just a much easier to motorbike to ride. So full credit to Ducati for doing such a good job, they made it easier for me, they build a good motorbike. It doesn’t have the bottom end torque of the twin but we’ve had them on dynos were there’s been other manufacturers, it does have a lot of top end power but it doesn’t have as much in the mid-range as some of the other manufacturers, so it’s all give and take and obviously a very good motorbike.”
Trev: Do you think Ducati designed it on purpose so it doesn’t have that mid-range some of the other bikes have, so with the corner speeds and tyre loads that we’ve got going through the motorbike now – obviously they are very clever – have they designed it to win races, do you think they have designed it that way to be a little softer off the turn, so the tyres last the race distance and all the rest of it.
I mean obviously they have come out with a clean sheet package and designed the bike to win, virtually out of the box as much as they can get it. Do you think that’s a deliberate strategy that they’ve made it softer in the middle there to make those tyres hang on over the course of a race and that’s sort of a sacrifice they decided or strategised for to make in favour of capitalising on the top end power when obviously you’re upright and on the middle of the tyre.
Craig: “I think you’re completely correct there Trev, To me I find this bike a lot easier than the twin to ride, it was always a handful with the twin, because they had so much mid-range punch and even looking at the dyno figures between say an R1 and the V4, the R1 has got a lot more off the bottom compared to the V4, but you have to try and control that. So I think Ducati have been very smart and just because you’ve got a lot more punch or mid-range off the corner doesn’t mean you can use every last bit of it, so I think you’re right Ducati have done a pretty good job in making it a very tractable, easy to use motorbike.”
Trev: Of course that directly translates to making the shocks job a lot easier, when it’s not going to get that big hit of grunt, and I must admit, your bike looks amazing watching Wayne ride it on track, it was more evident at The Bend than ever, that thing just looked so neutral. Right throughout the set-up looked amazing and that’s what sort of got me really thinking down that angle. Ducati have obviously done that on purpose, it’s no accident that the bike’s a little softer in that mid-range as obviously they could have made it have a big hit if they wanted to. So it’s obviously an engineered in decision.
Craig: “I haven’t ridden it as yet, I do actually want to have a ride on one of those pretty soon if I can. Everyone I talk to about them who owns one or has ridden one has said it’s one of the best engines they’ve ever ridden. So obviously Ducati started with a very good base with the V4, to start with in the Panigale, and for them to transfer it over into a touring bike is pretty special for what they’ve done. So it’s a very tractable engine, they are 1100 ccs in those engines, so a little bit different to the V4R which is 1000 cc, so the bike is probably even more tractable the 1100.”
Trev: The Granturismo is actually bigger than the 1100, from memory its 1158 cc, so it’s bigger again than the V4 S, but I just wanted to bring that up with you because it is phenomenal. You really need to experience one of those, because obviously the V4 R would not be the most delightful thing underneath you to have on the street, but the Gran Turismo version of that engine is sensational. Maybe we’ll have a chat after you have a chance to sample one at some time.
Trev: Thanks for your time and honesty Craig, congratulations on the last two championships, commiserations on the wrecked bike, but great to see you bouncing back for the race victory in the second race. And I’ll see you at Queensland raceway in a couple of weeks.
Craig: “Thank you for your time Trevor and I just wanted to say how amazed I am with Wayne to come back after a crash like that and go very first lap straight back out at exactly the same pace. Wayne is absolutely amazing, he amazes me a lot. So very proud to have him on board and with Adrian helping getting the bike up to speed I’m very lucky and can’t wait to get to Queensland.”
Trev: While, we’re on that, Wayne seemed at a bit of a loss as to why that crash happened. I don’t suppose you’ve even got to the point of investigating that data wise yet, but you haven’t really got any clues about what might have brought that on?
Craig: “We know what happened, Wayne didn’t do anything wrong, we found a little problem and made sure we were on the ball for the second race, and we were all good. It was nothing major but as you know at these speeds and at these lean angles everything needs to be perfect, so we had a little problem that we fixed for the second race and he was fine after that.”
Trev: Not willing to extrapolate a little bit further on what that might have been?
Craig: “Maybe one day, but we’ll keep that to ourselves for now. *laughs*
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