Duke's Den - My Tour Of Racetracks Around the World: Part 4

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

In recognition of National Motorcycle Awareness Month, I’m going to link to my editorial from 12 months ago because I can’t think of much else to say about it.

Duke’s Den – Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month

Rather than regurgitate that subject, I’ll revisit the chronological compendium of racetracks I’ve been blessed to have ridden, polishing it off with the past five years of trips to several epic locations. This last installment contains the final 10 tracks I’ve ridden. Summed up, I’ve now sampled 42 full-size roadracing circuits, which, upon reflection, makes me feel even luckier than I usually do. Read about the first 32 tracks in the links directly below.

Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari (Imola)

This technical and challenging Italian track is better known as Imola, which is the town in which the circuit resides. Yes, the track is not just “near” or “a short trip from” Imola, it actually is in the town. The Superbike World Championship circus just finished racing there this past weekend, and the hilly 3.1-mile track is most famous as the location of the epic duel between Colin Edwards and Troy Bayliss to decide the 2002 Superbike championship, in which the Texas Tornado eked out the win to claim his second WSB title.

I got my crack at Imola eight years later, joining Ducati for the launch of the 848 EVO and the opportunity for one session aboard the SP version of the 1198. This article’s lead photo shows some of the thrilling elevation variances as the 1198P wheelies out of Aque Minerali.

2011 Ducati 1198 SP Review

The most memorable moment from that event occurred near the end of the day when I had ramped up my speed and imagined few riders could possibly go faster. I had gotten well into fifth gear on the front straight as I approached the Tamburello chicane and waited until the last moment before hammering on the Brembos. My eyes grew saucer-sized as a rider blazed past me, surely on his way to a long hospital visit as the left-right chicane loomed large. However, the seemingly doomed rider was none other than 2011 World Superbike champion, Carlos Checa, on an 1198, and the amiable Spaniard simply chucked the Duc sideways on the brakes and left a long stripe of rubber from his rear tire before gathering it up in time for the rapidly approaching corner. I nearly ran off the track as my brain tried to comprehend what I had just witnessed – it was beautifully death-defying.

Carlos Checa (left) gave Duke (right) a lesson in speed he won’t ever forget. A really nice dude, too.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Is it cheating when I claim IMS as a track I’ve ridden when it was only a single parade lap on a Harley V-Rod? Well, since I’m making up the rules as I go, I say yes! Racers from around the globe appreciate the history of Indy more than they do the layout of the track, which, aside from the front straight, runs on the flat and featureless infield section of the superspeedway. The facility itself is world-class, but the roadracing circuit is relatively boring.

Riding a Harley around a MotoGP racetrack – something I didn’t anticipate I’d have on my motorcycle resume.


Officially known as Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo, Valencia figures prominently in the MotoGP landscape since its construction in 1999, and the track on the eastern coast of Spain is also a popular testing ground for Formula 1 racing teams. The track’s name pays homage to Ricardo Tormo, a double world champion in the 50cc GP class in 1978 and 1981, back before Spanish racers began their current GP dominance.

I was brought to Valencia to sample the 2012 edition of BMW’s omnipotent S1000RR. The Beemer was already the king of the superbike class, and the plethora of upgrades to the ’12 solidified its regal status. The S1000RR didn’t have much room to stretch its throttle cables with 14 turns packed into just 2.5 miles, so I imagine it must seem like a go-kart track for a MotoGP bike. The Spanish track was designed to be viewable from most of the 65,000 seats in its stadium section, so it typically attracts big crowds to the GP events.

Riding the best literbike on a Spanish Grand Prix track was a good day at work!

Yas Marina Circuit

When it comes to exotic appeal, it’s difficult to imagine a racetrack that could top the otherworldly Yas Marina Circuit. Located on the man-made, billion-dollar-plus Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, UAE, the 3.45-mile circuit meanders around the marina and Yas Viceroy hotel for 21 turns. Yes, the track has a couple of sections which whiz directly alongside the hotel.

When Ducati rolled out its Panigale 1199, it selected Yas Marina – home to a Formula 1 round – as a location suitable for such a revolutionary design. As with many things in the Middle East, money seems to have been no object in the construction of the Yas complex. To make sure the track surface supplied optimum grip, a special aggregate was shipped from England to create sticky asphalt. Located right next to the water, the Yas Marina Circuit has no real elevation changes to speak of, but the layout is nonetheless challenging and fun, with a really long straightaway for high-speed testing. The 21-turn track is also unique for its pit-lane exit that runs under the track through a tunnel.

Okay, this isn’t a shot of me, but it captures the exotic allure of the Yas Marina Circuit as it wraps around the Yas Viceroy Hotel. The Panigale launch was the only press intro I’ve been able to walk from my hotel room directly into the pit garages.

Miller Motorsports Park

Miller is the brainchild of Larry Miller, a Utah-based entrepreneur who owned dozens of car dealerships and the Utah Jazz NBA team. Miller was also a keen motorsports enthusiast who dreamed of having a playground to exercise his collection of Ford and Shelby hot-rods. After thinking on a small scale, Miller went big to create a massive complex in Tooele, Utah, that cost an estimated $100 million. After seeing his dream come to reality in 2006, Miller had only a few years until his death in 2009. Sadly, it was announced last week that the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies would not be renewing its lease on the property, which means that the facility will likely close in November of this year.

Lucky for me, then, that I had the chance to ride the Alan Wilson-designed track in 2012 after watching that year’s World Superbike races (the last year Miller hosted a WSB round), with my buddy Carlos Checa taking a double win. I was there to sample Pirelli’s Diablo Rosso II, a sticky yet durable tire suitable for track use. Checa describes MMP as a finesse circuit, boasting an invigorating mix of fast sweepers and a variety of radii, plus a really long straightaway that gives even Superbikes room to breath hard. It will be missed…

I rode 40 minutes straight on this CBR1000RR and didn’t experience a significant drop in performance from the Pirellis. MMP is a high-grade facility that deserves a future.

New Jersey Motorsports Park

The NJMP facility opened in 2008 and is situated at the southern end of the Garden State. The complex is unusual in that it has two distinct circuits that can be run independently. NJMP has hosted AMA Superbike races on its Thunderbolt track since 2009. Of the six ensuing doubleheader rounds, Josh Hayes has dominated on his Yamaha R1, taking nine wins out of 12 races.

It was the Thunderbolt circuit that stretched in front of me and MV Agusta’s F3 675 during the Italian middleweight’s U.S. media launch. The 2.25-mile circuit seemed perfectly sized for the agile F3, throwing a nice mix of 14 turns at a rider and a straightaway long enough to see more than 150 mph on the 675’s speedo.

Not really scenic, but NJMP’s Thunderbolt track offers a good challenge for track riders on the East Coast.

Mosport Park

It’s now called Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, but it’s been known for a half-century as Mosport. As the second purpose-built road course in Canada, the track near Bowmanville, Ontario, has quite a history. It first hosted a race in 1961 and went on to host Can-Am and eight years of Formula 1 car races. It was also the location of the 1967 500cc motorcycle Grand Prix won by Mike Hailwood, and it played host to the World Superbike series from 1989 through ’91. It was repaved in 2001 and widened to 42 feet to meet FIA regulations, and the facility was purchased in 2011 by Canadian Motorsports Ventures, then entering into a partnership with Canadian Tire, hence its new name.

Despite the many upgrades, Mosport retains the intrinsic qualities of its original layout of 2.5 miles rolling up and down hills in the bucolic Canadian woods. I had the treat of sampling it during a Honda CBR250 Challenge event in 2012 as part of the Canadian Superbike series. I’m sure the circuit is entertaining on a fast bike, but it’s hard to imagine any rider having more grins under his helmet than I did on that little CBR while dicing with a few other journalists and budding amateur racers. My favorite section is the run downhill to the double-apex Moss Corner and then the run down the Andretti straightaway as the CBR’s speedo crept barely past 100 mph when in another rider’s draft. So much fun!

Mosport is a classic venue that deserves its legendary reputation. I was channeling my inner Hailwood! Photo by Don Empey.

Circuito de Jerez

Less than a year after bringing me to Valencia, BMW brought me out to another Spanish circuit, Jerez, to sample its latest and greatest superbike, the fabulous HP4 version of the S1000RR. Jerez is home to the Spanish Grand Prix and has been hosting GPs since 1987. The track’s location in southwestern Spain makes it a suitable venue for year-round use, making it a popular spot for testing both two- and four-wheel Grand Prix vehicles.

The 2.75-mile track lacks huge elevation changes and a really long straightaway, but its combination of 13 curves and straights makes it a challenge for pilot and machine. Its final corner was officially named Curva Lorenzo in 2013 after Spanish double MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo. Ironically, in the 2013 GP, Lorenzo was stuffed up the inside by rival Marc Marquez in the newly named Lorenzo corner on the race’s last lap, knocking back the Spaniard to third place and, in the process, knocking him out of the lead in the championship. Marquez went on to take the MotoGP title in his rookie year.

Sunny skies and a desert-like backdrop, Jerez reminds of Southern California.

Circuit of the Americas

Adding COTA to the roster of U.S. racetracks has elevated the game in North America. Designed by Hermann Tilke (also the architect of Yas Marina Circuit), the 3.4-mile track outside of Austin, Texas, has the grand scale and spectacular elevation changes over its 20 turns to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best tracks in the world, and its 1km (0.62-mile) back straight delivers some of the highest top speeds in Formula 1 and MotoGP.

COTA was the location of the world launch for Ducati’s savagely sweet Panigale 1199R in March of 2013. The R-spec Panigale was one of the best sportbikes I’ve ever ridden, but COTA was equally captivating. The run uphill into Turn 1 is so steep that it appears like a barely slanted wall while blasting past the pits, and the high-speed sweepers that follow are breath-holdingly thrilling as the curves are deciphered and clicked off. Turn 10 is another puckering sweeper as the track disappears in front of you. On the long back straight, the 1199R’s speedometer nudged past 180 mph. Harsher critics than I complain about the stadium section that follows, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have a place for tens of thousands of fans to be able to sit and watch racing. And the triple-apex right-hand sweeper in turns 16-18 challenges you each time to go in deeper and harder. I’d rate it in the top 10 in the world.

In a rare moment of modesty, Duke selects a picture which doesn’t feature himself. His ego rolled down 133 feet from Turn 1 back onto the track’s front straight.

Autodromo di Modena

At 1.5 miles in length, the circuit near Modena, Italy, is either a really big small track or a really small big track. Either way, it seemed like the perfect place for the launch of KTM’s RC390. Its infield consists of a relentless series of corners punctuated by two straightaways, the one in front of the pits long enough for the 373cc KTM to bust into the triple-digit range. It’s a great place to dice with other equally powered motorcycles.

The KTM RC390 speaks loudly of the better-to-ride-a-slow-bike-fast adage, and the Modena circuit is an ideal place for it.
Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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3 of 8 comments
  • Backroad Bob Backroad Bob on May 18, 2015

    Really enjoyable read. Impeccable research. Thanks for sharing.

  • Backroad Bob Backroad Bob on May 18, 2015

    Really enjoyable read. Impeccable research. Thanks for sharing. Great Checa
    story. I think that's happened to all of us. PM me next time you get to Valencia. There are a couple of places you may want to visit and the Deals Gap of Spain is just
    outside of town.