MotoGP History, The Italians Join

While Ducati were busy congratulating themselves for having decided to join the elite band of GP1 once confirmation had come through that Aprilia were doing the same, Benelli quietly going about preparing for their first World Championship ever for over three decades. The unique in-line triple format has never been raced in WSB before, and the ambitious Merloni family were fully aware that such a close identity between their road and race bikes was a two edged sword that could work massively in their favor if the race bikes were successful, but could irreparable dent their reputation if they were a flop. Racing after all is not necessary, as both Triumph and Kawasaki had proved. But if you're going to do it, job's got to be good one.

That the job would be a good - one was never really in doubt after the debut of the enigmatic, and very sensual road bike, styled by one Pierre Terblanche understudy from the polytechnic of Ceventry, Adrian Morton. The fact that the gestation period between road and race bike was at least three times as long as predicted and the number of senior personnel from other established motorcycle companies seen heading in the direction of Pesaro, meant that the Merlonis, who used to run the most successful privateer in WSB racing, one Pier-Francesco Chili, weren't messing.
That the company decided on a triple was both a combination of inspired risk and commercial expedient. No-one has successfully tried this formula competitively, but on the other hand, with the untimely demise of Laverda just as things seemed to be progressing on their own 3-cylinder engine, and the mystique of the format created by the legendary Jota from the 80s, Benelli realized that if they did it right, they could have a true winner on their hands.

That they are trying to do it right is evidenced by their participation in their first competitive race since the 50s and in which test and development rider, Peter Goddard, finished a very respectable 17th in race 1 just outside the points. The magnitude of this achievement should not be denied. Goddard qualified a mere 2s behind the best bikes in the world which have not only been competing at this level for 15 years, but building essentially the same engine format for twice that.

The Tornado engine is of course all new and has barely even been run on the road. At its heart is a liquid-cooled DOHC transverse triple with cylinders inclined at 15 degrees, a bore and stroke 88 x 49.2mm and a displacement of 898cc, running a dry clutch. It goes without saying that much of it is in magnesium. Power is claimed as being 165bhp plus at 13,000rpm.

But the key, unique ingredient to the Tornado engine is the situation of the radiator behind the seat, cooled and fed with fresh air by two huge ducts. The idea is that the front mounted radiator, which sits behind the dirty flow of the rear tire and is anyway unnecessarily heated by the exhausts, also does nothing for aerodynamics. Benelli's solution was to move it to the rear and at the same time provide more room for another vital component, the oil cooler. The absence of the front mounted radiator also has benefits for the chassis, it's claimed, because it means the engine can be move forward absolutely as far as possible thus optimizing weight distribution. The engine is also pre-stressed thus further enhancing already impressive torquenal rigidity.

The frame itself is a an aluminum affair of the spar type but with one essential feature - it's made in two halves, the front section including the cast steering head and chromemoly steel side structure and the main all spare, connected by both mechanical and adhesive means. The irony is that if anything, it's the Benelli Tornado engine, which should be eligible for MotoGP1, because it's a damn sight more prototypical than any design Ducati already have up their drawing board sleeves!

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