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Whatever happened to Virginio Ferrari?

Published: 19 November 2016

Updated: 16 November 2016

Stylish Italian who beat Sheene and raced Joey Dunlop

Italian racer Virginio Ferrari finished second to Kenny Roberts – and ahead of Barry Sheene – in the 1979 500cc Grand Prix world championship. Then, in an unusual career twist, he found himself travelling to the Dundrod pure roads circuit outside of Belfast to fight Joey Dunlop for a world championship. How the hell did that happen?

When did he start racing?

Ferrari started out in the Italian championships in 1972, racing a 500cc single-cylinder Ducati and 500cc four-cylinder Patons and Hondas. By 1975 he had turned professional and had his first outings in the 500cc Grand Prix world championship. 


When was his best season?

He won the German GP at the old Nürburgring in 1978 but his best season came in 1979 when he finished second in the world championship on a Gallina Suzuki RG500 behind Kenny Roberts and in front of Barry Sheene – despite Sheene being Suzuki’s number one rider. Ferrari actually led the series after winning at Assen but a run of bad form saw the title going Roberts’ way.

How come he never enjoyed that sort of success again?

Because he switched to the fledgling Cagiva team for the 1980 and 1981 seasons and failed to score a point on the uncompetitive bike. He also rode for Cagiva in 1983 and 1985, again failing to score a point. He fared better on an HB Suzuki in 1982, finishing eleventh, and on a Marlboro Yamaha in 1984, finishing tenth, but never came close to winning another Grand Prix and moved to the 250cc class in 1986 on a Total Honda, finishing 14th by year’s end. Ferrari rounded off his GP career in the 250cc class in 1989 on an Italian-built Gazzaniga 250 but again failed to score a single point. 

How come a Grand Prix star ended up racing against a pure roads specialist like Joey Dunlop?

The TT Formula 1 world championship – which had always been a roads-based series – had started taking in more short circuits such as Misano, Hockenheim and Assen. By 1987 short circuits made up six rounds of the series while pure road races only accounted for two. Ferrari won the title on a Bimota YB4 without taking part in any road races and became the man to finally de-throne Joey Dunlop after the Irishman had won five consecutive F1 world championships.

Did he ever actually try racing between the hedges?

In a bid to score points towards the 1987 TT Formula 1 world championship, Ferrari turned up at the Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod – right in Dunlop’s backyard – but didn’t last long. The Italian did one sighting lap of the course in a car and made a run for the airport, declaring the circuit far too dangerous to race on! 

Wasn’t he a successful team boss after he stopped racing?

Yes. In 1990 Ferrari became team boss for Cagiva in the 500cc world championship with riders including Randy Mamola, Ron Haslam and Alex Barros. Between 1994 and 1998 he was Ducati’s World Superbike team boss, overseeing the likes of Carl Fogarty, Troy Corser, Pier-Francesco Chili and John Kocinski, and guiding the firm to two world titles and 43 race wins before being replaced by current Ducati MotoGP team boss Davide Tardozzi in 1999. Ferrari also brought Bimota back into WSB in 2000 and helped his rider, Anthony Gobert, to a dramatic wet weather win in Australia that year. His final foray into race team management was a brief spell with the Kawasaki PSG-1 WSB team in 2007.

What’s he doing now?

Living the high life in the Monaco sunshine. His company, Virginio Ferrari Racing, is the official importer of MV Agusta motorcycles in Monaco and his premises also act as the official Monaco workshops for both MV and Ducati. Selling exotic Italian motorcycles to the rich and famous in Monaco doesn’t sound like such a bad post-racing career. 

Fact file

Born Castellaro, Parma, Italy, October 19, 1952
Famous for Finishing second to Kenny Roberts in the 1979 500cc world championship
Infamous for Taking one look at the Dundrod circuit and catching the first flight home
Current occupation Official importer of MV Agusta motorcycles in Monaco


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