RC51 vs. 999R

What's the price of true twin-cylinder happiness--$30,000 for Ducati's 999R or $16,000 for our hot-rodded Honda RC51?

The Duelists
Ducati's Troy Bayliss vs. Honda's Colin Edwards Jr. in the ultimate battle of the twins

It's fitting that Ducati's 999 and Honda's RC51 battled at Imola to finish the 2002 World Superbike season and decide the championship. Locals say you can still hear the faint sound of ancient chariots in the distance on a quiet night. The track is built on a former chariot track amphitheater that turned to dust hundreds of years ago.

In '02, Imola was the scene of a battle between two powerhouses so fierce one could only wonder what it would consume. Ducati fielded its fire-breathing 999 Testastretta V-twin in the more commonly known 998 F02 chassis. Honda offered the slightly more sedate Euro-version of its V-twin SP-2, known in the U.S. as its RC51 Superbike weapon. Both contenders for the title were former world champions: Colin Edwards for Honda in 2000, and Troy Bayliss the defending champion for Ducati. Bayliss and Ducati owned the advantage until midseason, but Edwards dug deep and pulled an amazing late-season string of wins to take the championship lead by one point before Imola.

Normally, when two riders are jousting for a championship at the final round, moves are made like an exaggerated chess game, with neither showing any superiority until key moments. Imola in '02 was not normal by any means. When the green flag dropped for each of the day's two races, it was like Marvin Hagler versus Tommy Hearns for the Middleweight Boxing Championship in '85. Bayliss and Edwards essentially met on the racetrack and started beating the tar out of one another. Aggressive inside passes were met with slammed fairings and gnarly, wide outside drafting moves. Bayliss showed the heart he's known for, but Edwards and his Honda had an answer each time. Edwards won both races; Honda won the title and both Edwards and Bayliss won a legion of fans--for life.

In celebrating his championship, Texan Edwards let loose with a loud "Yee-Haw!" Undoubtedly, even the ghost drivers of Imola's chariot races would have understood. - --Dean Adams

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