Following is a first-person account from Kaming Ko, the man who purchased an authentic Ducati GP11 once piloted by nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi.
When I saw my contact at Indy in 2013, I expressed my interest in buying a MotoGP bike, as I knew Ducati had sold a few to selected customers. He looked at me and said, “Maybe I can arrange a couple for you.”
My association with Ducati Corse goes back to 2001. I was at Ducati Week in Las Vegas — the only time it was held in America. At that time, my buddy and I had a few collectible motorcycles, so I brought a couple of Ducatis out to the track.
A friend of mine showed up with a Larry Pegram t-shirt, and I went over to buy one. I noticed two Ducati Corse race bikes that Larry was competing with. The team told me they were for sale at $40,000 each.
A day later, I met with Larry and told him I’d take both and all his spares, and that’s how we became really good friends. I started helping him with his dirt track program, and the following year he started road racing with Ducati. That’s when I met most of the Ducati Corse principles in Italy.
We were basically a satellite team for Ducati North America, and I reconnected with people I grew up racing with in the 1970s. I felt like I belonged at the racetrack again.
Even with connections, getting the Ducati MotoGP bikes isn’t so easy. The legal department is always concerned about putting a race bike like the 800cc GP11 in the public’s hands. There are huge liabilities.
They have to verify who you are. I don’t know what the requirements are because I’m not anybody special. I’ve been an enthusiast and a fan, and I worked with Ducati Corse between 2003, with the Superbike team, and 2007, with the Ducati Formula Xtreme team. I think that connection had a lot to do with it.
There was an eight-page legal document stating that these bikes were only for display, and not for street, track, or competition in any form. Then there are three application pages you have to fill out whenever it is going to be ridden in an event.
I’m sure that if I invite Troy Bayliss to ride it, Ducati will approve the request. But, if I want to invite someone from a dealership or a mechanic to ride it, I’m sure it will be denied. Plus, the bikes have to be serviced by Ducati technicians, and you have to fly them in from Italy.
In March, I went to Bologna to look at the bikes at the factory. Ducati took me around to see the factory and the museum, and then they brought the bikes out. They started them up and asked me to rev it, but it was so loud I couldn’t. I just told them to shut it off. It didn’t matter to me — I just wanted to see the bikes and make sure they were running.
Ducati had to prepare the bikes for shipping. They had to decommission the bikes during the racing season, so it took about three months for the bikes to arrive here. One of the bikes would be sold to a friend of mine.
Bringing MotoGP bikes into the United States is very difficult. There are a lot of regulations involved in importing an internal combustion motor vehicle, especially when it’s a race bike. I had to screen the brokers and see if they have any experience. If you don’t have the right experience, the bike will be stuck in US Customs.
I spoke to my regular broker that does my business import work, and at first they told me, “No problem.” When they investigated a little further, they said, “We better not touch it.”
They were talking about EPA concerns, highway safety concerns, and all sorts of stuff. Obviously, it could be done, but you have to have someone who knows what he’s doing, or you’re in trouble.
You have to post all sorts of bonds — it’s a pain in the butt. A friend of mine imported a vintage two-stroke GP bike, and I used his broker and it went pretty smoothly. He filled out the paperwork for me, just in case. We all know this is a genuine race bike. We all know it is not for the street. But, if you check the wrong box, it opens a can of worms.
Once it got here, it was easy, though it’s not something you can take to the DMV. Now, I’m working on insurance — that’s a bigger pain because it’s so new and most companies that insure collectible bikes require that they be 25 years old. If you’re wealthy, you can buy an umbrella policy that insures everything. I’m still looking for a company that can get me proper insurance for the bike.
When the bike arrived, I gave my friend his choice of the bikes. I told him I was okay with either one of the bikes — I have great respect for both Nicky and Rossi, and all MotoGP riders. Anyone at that level is my hero.
My friend, for some reason, wanted the Nicky bike, even though he has all the Rossi Dainese gear. I was actually quite shocked, because I was expecting to keep the Nicky bike.
The Nicky bike looked a lot cleaner out of the crate — very sharp. My Rossi bike looks very good, but the Nicky bike is like brand new. There are little marks here and there on the Rossi bike — little scrape marks on the lever. The dash has some wear — not cracked, though.
I had the Rossi bike autographed by The Doctor, and that’s a funny story. The bike needed to be recommissioned after I received it, and my contract said a Ducati technician had to do it. The bike arrived 10 days before the 2014 Indy MotoGP. It took three days to clear customs in California, and I had to get it to Indianapolis. I rented a U-Haul van and took it there to have it serviced.
When I took it to the garage, it got a lot of attention. The fans didn’t understand why it was there, because Rossi is now riding Yamaha. I became an instant celebrity in the garage, including with the riders. They couldn’t believe someone would bring two MotoGP bikes to the racetrack, get them serviced, and go home! I happened to meet Chris Honeyman, Sr. Manager Engineering at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, who services a lot of the motorhomes and garages for the MotoGP and World Superbike teams. He was as nice as can be and asked me, “Would you like Rossi to sign your tank?”
Chris set it up with Rossi’s people, but the hard part was getting to Rossi’s motorhome. It’s highly secure and I didn’t have the passes to go to the motorhome paddock. But, I did have passes to get two parking lots away from him.
That night, instead of staying out and partying, I went to bed early so I can get up first thing and go to the track to meet up with Rossi on Saturday morning.
So I managed to get the U-Haul van to the parking lot where it’s supposed to be. Then, I convince the guard to let me go to the parking lot next to the lot where the busses are, but the guard in the next parking lot decided I shouldn’t be there. I told him what I was doing and he said “No! No! No!”
The gentleman put his arm on my shoulder and said, “I know all about it. No problem. Go over to the motorhome gate and bring the bike in to his motorhome.”
Rossi was told this was going to take place, so it wasn’t a surprise and he signed it. Rossi was very friendly, but you could tell he was on a schedule. My friend Chris Nugent made a joke, asking Rossi if he’d like to kick the Ducati. Rossi just laughed and walked away. Thank you, Chris Honeyman.
Rossi was a different guy that evening at the restaurant that we were both eating at after Qualifying. He was much more relaxed, and I thanked him for signing the bike, which was now ready to run.
It’s pretty involved to start the GP11, but the good news is the electronics do most of the work. When you turn on the switch, it tells you if the bike is ready for warm-up mode. If it looks okay, the handheld starter goes on the side and, boom, it fires right up.
While the motor’s in the warm-up mode, you don’t rev it until it gets to 75 Celcius. When it does, you put it in the practice mode, which has a different mapping, and warm up the bike on the track.
Next, you go into the race mode. There are three different maps in there, but no one knows what’s in there except for the people who put the map in. The Magneti Marelli people own the software, and it can only be changed by the Marelli technicians, with Ducati Corse’s permission. But, I’m sure the bike is good enough for me, as is, to take it down the track.
The most challenging thing for me to ride the bike is not the power; it will be the setup. The bike I have is the Rossi setup. When you look at the Rossi and Nicky bikes next to each other, there are obvious differences. Visually, Rossi’s bike looks lower, with a little more trail. The Nicky bike has a more conventional set up with the nose down and the back way up. I noticed the triple clamps are different, for instance.
The good news is that there are two bikes and two settings, so I’m going to try it the way Rossi had it set up and then the way Nicky sets it up to see which I like better. Either way, it won’t be the kind of bike I’d be riding a lot of miles on.
I’ve been told the engine is good for “2,000”, but Ducati didn’t clarify if they meant miles or kilometers. John Ethell [of Jett Tuning] took a light and looked in the throttle bodies. He said the motor on the Rossi bike is very fresh. He said it had been fired up, but not really raced. The valves were absolutely super-clean.
The mechanic who worked on Rossi’s bike told me the motors are quite reliable. “The way you’ll ride it, you won’t need anything,” he said. So, I’m not worried. The reason they’re good for that distance — miles or kilometers — is because of the engine limit for the season, so they had to make them reliable.
When we took it apart for the photoshoot, it was amazing, the stuff on the bike. I’ve seen all the superbikes — all the top stuff, but never a MotoGP bike. Nothing even comes close to it.
When you look at a World Superbike, which I have, they’re like a production bike on steroids, but it visually looks the same. When you look at a MotoGP bike, there’s not one piece that looks anything like any bike Ducati makes.
I happen to have a D16RR — it’s not even close. The D16RR has a trellis frame. This bike has a carbon fiber neck attached to the engine. There are sensors galore. Nothing comes close to a MotoGP bike.
The one detail that stood out to me is the swingarm position. I cannot believe where the swingarm mount is. It’s almost in the center of the motorcycle — there’s not anything like it. This gives the swingarm the length it needs to provide more mechanical grip and less chance to wheelie, while keeping the same wheelbase. Mechanically, the swingarm position is what jumped out at me.
This bike is a keeper, for sure. I’d like to have a 2015 Ducati MotoGP bike, if they’re nice enough to sell me another one. At my age, knowing my personal finances, I’m not able to buy 100 motorcycles and keep another 200. I’m one of those guys who has to buy something and sell something.
I have no doubt the Rossi bike is a good investment. I explained to my seven-year-old son, “You know, when you get older, this bike will be worth millions.” He asked why, and I told him to just remember “Rossi,” so he knows it’s the Rossi bike.
I’m a Chinese immigrant who came from nothing. My dad was a chef and my mom cleaned houses. We lived in a small apartment just outside Chinatown in Los Angeles. It was better than in Hong Kong, where our apartment building had no bathroom and we used a spittoon. I feel very fortunate.
And that’s how I ended up with a Ducati GP11 MotoGP bike. I intend to fill out the application and ride the bike — that’s the plan. I can’t wait to fire it up.
For a full technical rundown of Rossi’s Ducati GP11 MotoGP prototype, click here.
Story from Utlimate MotorCycling magazine; for subscription services, click here.
Studio Photography: Don Williams
Track Photography: Brian J. Nelson & Simone Rosa