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My life in bikes: Frankie Chili

Published: 10 August 2016

Updated: 10 August 2016

What was your first bike?
When I was 13 I was working in my uncle Pierluigi Aldrovandi’s workshop. He raced in the 125cc world championship and was European champion in 1981. Sometimes I’d take a bike and go on the road. You had to legally wait until you were 14, but he’d seen me ride motocross so was OK about it. At 16 I had a 125 Yamaha for the road and sometimes stole my brother’s Honda CB350/4 from his garage. 

First racing bike?
I raced a Malanca 125 in 1982, with my uncle’s help, and then I was junior 125cc Italian champion in 1983, sixth in the European championship in 1984 and won it in 1985. 

You went from 125s straight to 500cc Grand Prix?
I moved from 125s to the 500 Suzuki with Team Gallina in 1986. It was a good experience because I really wanted to be in 500s, but the bike wasn’t at the level of the other factory bikes. But I enjoyed it. I rode the Honda three-cylinder in 1987 and got some podiums, then the V4 in 1988, ’89 and ’90. I was fast in 1990 but I had some bad luck, breaking my hand and my back, so I had to miss six races.

Didn’t you help Harada come to Grand Prix?
I did two years on the 250 Aprilia with Team Valesi and one year on the Yamaha 250 in 1993 with Tetsuya Harada, when he won the title. At the beginning of that season I was testing the Yamaha in Japan and this guy [Harada] overtakes me two or three times and I couldn’t follow him. I told Yamaha that this guy was special and they should bring him to Europe. When they did, they doubted he could ever win the title but he did it in his first year. 

What was your favourite bike in World Superbikes? 
For sure it’s Ducati, especially when I rode in the factory team in 1998 -  that was more than just another factory bike. Unfortunately I never won the championship and I lost my ride. I was so disappointed – I cried for three days. 

But Suzuki offered you a lifeline?
I was so low after Ducati, but Francis Bata offered me the chance to ride the Suzuki GSX-R750 in 1999. After two races I was in a difficult situation. I used to battle for wins in 1998 but I was 1.5 seconds off the pace and couldn’t turn the bike like I wanted. I lost my confidence and said to Bata and my mechanic Moro, who is now with Chaz Davies, that maybe it’s a good time to stop, but we worked through it. Just before qualifying at Donington my mechanic changed a lot of things and we got pole. Afterwards, Aaron Slight came to me in the press conference and said ‘welcome back’! 

When did you retire?
I raced a Ducati again in 2002, ’03 and ’04, with Honda in ’05 and stopped in 2006. I broke my pelvis and did some internal damage to my leg testing in Misano. Fixing the break wasn’t a problem, but I had problems with infections in the leg, which I still have from time-to-time now. 

Do you still ride?
Sometimes with classic bikes. I rode my ’99 Suzuki recently, which belongs to collector Steve Wheatman, at an event in Varano and really enjoyed it. 

What now?
This year I got my licence to be a lifeguard, because my family has two beaches where we rent out sunbeds. I also rent out some beach apartments. Until last year I had a team with my cousin in the Italian championship, but I never enjoyed it. I never had the same passion as when I raced. I’m very lucky to have other stimulations. Working on the beach is not so bad.

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