Ducati 1199 Panigale: Italy's Most Powerful (And Most Electronic) New Superbike
by dan coe
Thursday, June 07, 2012
Having recently tested Suzuki's latest GSX-R, Yamaha's YZF-R1 and even Kawasaki's ZX10R last year, it's amazing how well the latest liter bikes are performing these days. Even so, of the models Soup's been invited to test, and (as Soup suspects) the others we haven't, each continue following an almost identical development path, all built to, or within a price point. Their respective manufactures subtly refine or, otherwise, improve their existing platforms. But, in all current cases, honestly, little more than mechanical continuations of the same ongoing design are the rule. And, with the exception of traction control making a welcomed appearance on this year's R1 and Yamaha joining Ducati, Kawasaki, BMW, Aprilia and MV with the fitment of ever-advancing electronic packages, yes, the level of improvement increases, however, the investment level for change, not so much. In other words, for the most part, today's innovation for new models remains virtually status quo. It also seems that, at least from a financial perspective, a complete retooling for the major four UJM's would be a risky endeavor these days, at best, and an option few would entertain.
From the outside looking in, it's hard to say if Ducati's vastly different approach to building completely new motorcycles is the result of one person's spearheading, or that of collective engineering groups working in unison to create Borgo Panigale motorcycles of the future, today. Soup suspects that, at least with key new motorcycles like the 1199, it was exactly this approach. Ducati's new Panigale, in concept and results, was driven by the company's managing director Claudio Domenicali.
And it seems with Mr. D, where an approach of walking softly and carrying a big stick has its merit and may work for some, a candid dinner conversation speaking with the 1199's chassis project leader Cristian Gasparri shed some familiar insight into the concept, its origins and the developmental direction, all results coming by way of one sharply pointed spear and its prodding.
Soup's posh 1199 Panigale welcoming dinner began when we randomly picked a chairone of 40in a fancy restaurant within the Yas Marina hotel. Any socialite can tell you the quality of a night's dinner is as much dependant on who sits next to you, as the fare itself. Before long, our large table filled and sitting to our immediate left was a tall man dressed in Ducati factory garb. The gentleman's name was Cristian. We had never met before and upon a handshake Mr. Gasparri introduced himself to us as the project leader for the 1199's chassis. We were pleased to be seated with such a dignitary and, as the evening and multiple courses passed, we casually discussed the bike and its new design.
But, because the tech brief was scheduled for the following day, we chose not to pry regarding hard details, instead asking about the new bike's concept. It was upon hearing one particular detail that immediately brought a reminiscent smile, as the story over dinner had a very familiar ring from Ducati's past. It seems that, in the 1199's earliest stages, Claudio picked two engineers for the important new project. The engine's project leader would be assigned to Marco Sairv, and the chassis to our distinguished dining company, Cristian Gasparri. The creative pair's initial assignment would be to review the existing 1198 and starting over with a clean sheet of paper, each was to submit a detailed estimation of proposed improvements for both weight reductions and increased horsepower outputs with the coming project. Upon returning to Mr. D's office and presenting their initial estimations, they may have been shocked at the outcome.
With Soup having attended the first 1098 introduction at Kyalami and, with a slight knowledge of Mr. Domenicali's past approach, hearing Cristian's story was more humorous than surprising. A fly on the wall would have heard, "You must be joking," followed by, "this is not good enough" and the sound of crumpling paper. Judging by the quotes and hand gestures during our dinner conversation, the following day, we would come to find out that that very short and pointed meeting in Bologna was unbelievably productive.
1199 Panigale, Panigale S, & Panigale S Tricolore
Not being a man to disappoint, Mr. D's driven new Desmo superbike is anything but a compromise, and three variations of the Panigale are being produced, each 22 pounds lighter and with 25 more horsepower than their successful 1198 predecessors, even in fully stock trim. In describing the 1199's, each is quite different starting with the base version "Panigale." The $17,995 superbike arrives suspended by the first-ever "all-aluminum" Marzocchi 50mm fork fit on a sportbike, the fully adjustable unit pressurized and using separate oil baths for individual damping and lubrication functions. Weighing 2.2 pounds less than the latest E-adjust Ohlins fit on both ends of the other two Panigale models, the new Marzocchi fork represents the lightest front fork choice for an 1199. Rear suspension on the same model moves with a lightweight Sachs damper, the aluminum-bodied shock fully adjustable and, in the standard Panigale's case, paired with an adjustable Sachs steering damper. Other differences between the base 1199 and the two fancier "S" models are its cast, 10-spoke wheel set and lighting system that, unlike either "S," is only partially LED-illuminated instead of using the full LED package.
As for options--and this also applies to the Panigale S--a sport-oriented ABS system with "CBS" combined braking (only operational in the wet and sport modes), as well as Ducati's DDA+ (their racing based data acquisition capability) will be sold only as options for each of the two all-red Panigale's. And, perhaps a consideration, the ABS hardware does come at the expense of an additional $1000 USD and 5.5 pounds. But, after riding with the latest braking system, this tester wouldn't own an 1199 without it being so equipped. The remaining option of DDA+ capability, a plug-and-play downloadable data acquisition program, is perhaps best suited for track apps and repetitive riding environments. In the right hands and proper environs, it will prove to be an invaluable tool, also a trackside advantage that no other production sportbike currently offers.
The Panigale S ($22,995) is a carbon copy of the base model, with the exception of a full Ohlins suspension package now incorporating electronic damping adjustability, with its suspension-tuning changes made through a shared and all-new Thin Film Transistor (TFT) dash display. The "S" models do roll on lighter, forged, Marchesini wheels, and are equipped with full LED lighting package, as well as a carbon fiber front fender covering the Ohlins Ti-Nitride-surfaced lowers and Pirelli front tire. Also, with the S package, comes a spare set of optional wider upper fairing winglets, the additional bodywork handy when there's a need to increase rider protection and improve high-speed aerodynamics. So, with the exception of the "S" versions adding Ducati Electronic Ohlins Suspension and loading the (DES) E-selection function in the dash, all three of the models come fully equipped with three selectable modes for throttle response and engine power output, electronic Engine Brake Control (EBC), Ducati traction Control (DTC), and Ducati Quick Shift (DQS).
The first two models also share the capability of adding ABS with combined braking (CBS) and Ducati's latest Data Analyzer (DDA+), a plug-and-play downloadable capability now with added GPS function and greater versatility, thanks to MacOS compatibility. Both ABS/CBS and DDA+ are standard equipment on the top-of-the-line S-Tricolore.
The Panigale S Tricolore ($27,995) has everything. It's where DES, RbW, DTC, EBC, ABS, CBS, DQS and DDA+ all come together harmoniously to produce the lightest, most powerful, and electronically sophisticated two-cylinder superbike that Ducati has ever crafted. Offered only in Italy's three-color livery, the Tri-S combines all of its siblings' other capabilities and options in fully stock trim, with the added capability of a higher engine output with a second exhaust, this less restrictive with larger diameter tubing and non-catalyzed mufflers and accompanying retuned engine chip provided as part of the deal.
The Genius Is In The Details
The 1199's all-new, cast-aluminum monocoque chassis and single-sided swingarm encase an equally new and massively over-square liquid-cooled, 90-degree, 1198cc Desmo, now named the "Superquadro." The totally new L-twin moves to a bore and stroke ratio of 1.84 with 112mm (4.40") pistons and a 60.8mm (2.39") stroke. The radically oversquare engine pumps out 195 hp at 10,750 rpm, with an equally impressive 98.1 lb/ft of torque, now through a quiet, hydraulically operated and self-servo-assisted, full-oil-bathed slipper clutch.
Engine intake and fueling induction improvements have all been balanced to match what are large new valve sizes, revised cam profiles, and radical new bore-stroke ratio, so the Panigale's intake receives 3.6mm larger elliptical throttle bodies, and the venturis are enlarged from 63.9mm to 67.5mm (2.66"). The enlarged throttle valves are now controlled by ride-by-wire operation and each throttle is also controlled by its own individual TPS. Mitsubishi fuel injection with dual injectors per venturi, one below the throttle valve and a secondary shower-type injector above, fill the large voids below. The fitment of RbW is also key in nearly all of the 1199's other electronic advances and rider-aiding functions, including three different riding (power delivery) modes (Race, Sport, and Wet), traction control (DTC), a quick-shift system (DQS), and electronic engine braking control (EBC) with selectable linked braking (CBS).
Despite the intake increases, Ducati was able to maintain current emission standards and offset hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide levels by incorporating a secondary air bypass system using a one-way reed valve directing clean air into each cylinder head. The valves serve to introduce air directly from the airbox into the exhaust ports just aft of the exhaust valve when the engine's ECU senses excessive conditions from the exhaust-mounted Lambda probes. The results are higher exhaust temperatures and cleaner burning without the elevation of actual combustion temps, while engineers were able to supply the 1199 with an enriched air fuel ratio for maximum power followed by cleaner-burning residual gasses and fewer overall emissions.
Detailing the complete redesign, new-engine specs abound and, starting with the Superquadro heads, the move to 4.41" (112mm) slipper pistons provided the increased combustion area necessary to fit much-enlarged valves. The intakes are now titanium, exotica that was previously only used inside the exclusive "R" version machines. Inlet valve sizes increase from the 1198's 43.5mm to the 1199's 46.8mm (1.71" to 1.84"), while exhaust poppets also grow, from 34.5mm to 38.2mm (1.35" to 1.5"), respectively. Soup suspects that, if made of steel, the mass of 38mm intake valves would be heavy and problematic in surviving the Superquadro's newly steepened camshaft profiles and engine's high rotational speeds.
All-new slipper pistons produce 12.5:1 compression and receive stronger construction with thicker domes and double-ribbed reinforcement under their crowns, while still forged of RR58 alloy. The added underside material was necessary to cope with the engine's 11,000-rpm limit and, until we see the future's "R" version, each 1199 mates its pistons with steel connecting rods. The latest pistons designed have minimal side and skirt areas for the lowest possible friction and move inside all-aluminum, Nikasil-lined bores, the cylinders actually serving as wet liners surrounded 360¯ by a coolant bath for improved heat dissipation. The new mill has also been designed with its cylinders directly contacting the crankcase below for improved sealing, heat transfer, and better stability of bore dimension.
Still remaining a 90 degree L-twin, Dr. T's Desmodromic benchmark valvetrain design remains, but the Superquadro now adds new function to its age-old valve manipulation. A new decompression system positioned outboard of each exhaust cam solely functions as a compression release, the ancillary mechanical arrangement affixed to each exhaust cam and engaging a centrifugal tick-over system that opens both exhaust valves only during rotational speeds generated by the starter. By adopting the newly engineered system, which reduces engine compression at starting, a much smaller starter motor and accompanying battery are now used, and gone are another 7.3 pounds, which was Mr. Sariv's goal from the beginning.
At the other end of its rotational spectrum, the 1199's high-rpm, production valvetrain gains new precision and timing accuracy with the move from the previous belts to a chain-and-gear-driven cam operation. The change extends valve adjustment intervals to 15,000 miles between services. Further adding to the Superquadro's new performance and reliability, the top end's rocker arms receive a "super finish" and relieve all voids that could possibly sacrifice reliability. The parts are then coated with a low-friction carbon surface treatment called "Polymeric Like Carbon" (PLC), a specialty treatment already used in aerospace.
With all of the advances made above and an engine easily producing 195 horsepower or more, everything is now better supported below with a new crankshaft that rotates with greater rigidity thanks to oversized crankshaft-journal diameters. Making larger journals possible is the adaptation of "shell" style lower-end bearings. The new parts also receive improved lubrication via oil routing through the main bearing pillars. The shell bearings replace the 1198's larger cross-section diameter roller bearings that previously consumed more space. The reliability of the thinner shell bearings has already been proven within the previous Desmosedici RR.
The strengthened crank resides inside vacurally cast main cases. The manufacturing process advantages allow for optimal casting thickness and the lack of porosity-caused voids. The new main cases have also been architecturally changed with increased spread between the transmission main shafts, permitting fitment of larger-diameter transmission gears capable of accepting greater power output from the new engine. The transmission updates join with a new oil-bath slipper clutch that replaces the dry clutch of old and, here, the new clutch should prove both quieter and more durable. Also, within the lower end is a dual oil pump system, a paired combination joining one conventional pump and, the other, a vacuum scavenging pump The vacuum minimizes power losses associated with crankcase pressures and oil vapors, and it reduces pumping resistance generated when the very large pistons move in their downward stroke. The secondary pump also assists oil returning to the engine's deep sump.
The lower end also receives weight reductions with a largely perforated shift drum, each of the gerotor-style oil pumps and the engine's water pump, all sharing reductions in weight and rotational mass by adopting composite Techno-Polymer driving gears. Also keeping engine weights down are cast-magnesium covers over the valves, timing chains, clutch, and the engine's extended oil sump.
Visually, another big change comes with a totally different exhaust system, perhaps the greatest identifier for the new Panigale. Gone are the trademark under-tail mufflers and connecting mid-pipes and, in their place is a new, low-mounted and flush dual side-exiting muffler system with 64mm diameter headers, dual Lambda probes, and an exhaust valve. Both stainless mufflers wear aluminum outer shells and contain three sections within, while their third chambers also house single catalyzers. A large departure for Ducati, the move to a low-mounted exhaust helped lower the Panigale's center of gravity, while also permitting the use of a lightweight rear subframe casting which, similar to the front monocoque, now mounts directly to the engine's rear cylinder head and could be made lighter as it no longer supports the weight of an under-tail dual exhaust.
Ducati Performance also offers an 1199 high-output exhaust, the full-performance system and accompanying tuning hardware included along with the 64mm exhaust as standard equipment on the top-of-the-line "S Tricolore" model. The optional exhaust features larger diameter 70mm stainless-steel header and midpipe tubing (we suspect it is missing the exhaust valve), and exhausts through lighter and far more attractive non-catalyzed, titanium-shelled dual mufflers. Adding to the attraction, fitment of the free-breathing system matched with the accompanying tuning chip accounts for 10 additional horsepower and places the S Tricolore Panigale at the top of its competitive class with a claimed 205 horsepower. Following our tech brief and one riding session aboard a kitted "S" version 1199 fit merely with the high-flow exhaust and corresponding chip, the difference in performance was obvious everywhere, actually very large and big enough to taste. Sweet, it was!
The Charge Of The Light Brigade: Ever-Advancing Electronics
Electronics play a huge role in the performance of Ducati's latest sportbikes, and the Panigale "out-electrifies" nearly everything within the company's current lineup, as well as besting all other sportbikes leaving Europe and even Japan today. In its base form, the standard Panigale offers its rider three electronic power output modes (Race, Sport, and Wet), with each selection pictured and displaying different information on the screen via an all-new Thin Film Transistor (TFT) dash. This new TFT instrumentation is diverse and intuitive, altering background color depending on ambient lighting, and the change can be programmed automatically or manually depending on rider preference. The new dash will vary its display in other ways, too, adjusting engine rpm range lower to accommodate initial engine break-in rev limitations and also for low engine-operating temps. Another of the TFT instrumentation's functions, it changes the information being displayed according to the riding mode selected, providing only the most critical information necessary for the rider's interpretation and primary needs. Examples here being in "Sport and Wet" modes, the vehicle speed is prominently, displayed front and center, flanked by scrollable readouts for mileage, fuel consumption and other various street-biased information. In "Race" mode, the vehicle speed readout is reduced in size and moved to the lower left portion of the display. In its place is current lap time acquired through manual flash-button operation. Or, with the latest DDA+ function with GPS, lap times are displayed automatically if the 1199 is equipped with the newest plug-and-play program.
The 1199's OE electronics package provides a large range of other riding tools in conjunction with alternative output modes. Other standard equipment includes "DQS", an electronic quick-shift system that, when enabled, allows for full-throttle upshifting. The DQS system's greatest advantage will be on the track, where maintaining maximum airflow and minimum disruption through the large intake tracts at fully open throttle helps the engine remain at full song more easily.
Another unique and now-tunable feature thanks to the addition of ride-by-wire electronics is "EBC" (variable electronic engine braking control), the e-system adding to the impressive list of rider-selectable aids. Somewhat advanced, a rider can preselect any of three active EBC levels, or "off" for the maximum amount of compression-related engine braking. With EBC activated, it adjusts the level of engine braking during throttle closures, varying the engine's back-torque effect upon its rear tire, thus influencing traction especially during heavy braking forces. The system's inputs are all based upon active throttle position, gear selection, and the crankshaft's current rate of deceleration and is unrelated to the ABS and CBS systems. During testing, when EBS was applied in combination with Ducati's seamless new slipper clutch action and the 1199's new race-oriented ABS, the Panigale is amazingly stable even under the hardest of braking applications. The combination was also beneficial while coasting and upon corner entry, as well. We don't know if you'll choose to back your new 1199 into corners with the fluidity of today's WSBK competitors but, if so, EBC will prove to be a very useful tool and, like we said, advanced!
Each Panigale model is also equipped with the latest version of Ducati's DTC, an eight-level traction control which, like EBC, is pre-selected before riding. With a glance, the TFT instrumentation displays both the static level of DTC and the system's real-time interaction while being applied, this indicated by an ascending orange bar graph along the top of the dash. Ducati's latest DTC functions use a combination of controlling factors that start with retarding the ignition. Next, if more spin control is necessary, fuel injection is reduced, eventually followed by fully cutting the fuel supply. And, for riders with the most sensitive of wrists--like Troy Bayliss, for instance--there's always an "off" DTC position, as well.
What the base Panigale is missing is, perhaps, the motorcycle's most obvious new feature. "DES," a non-active electronic suspension damping adjustment system fit to Ohlins' latest production suspension components. DES allows for front and rear suspension tuning with damping changes made solely through the dashboard's selection display mode. Accomplished by scrolling, then selecting numeric boxes on the dash display, an activated stepper motor moves the specific adjuster atop either suspension unit. The advantages of DES allow the rider to incrementally apply any combination of available damping being displayed, front or rear and include his or her preferred settings to any of the three fully programmable riding modes (Race, Sport, or Wet). Once all preferred settings are entered into the Panigale's dash, a rider need only select one of the three modes, and all e-preferences are instantly displayed and applied. Factory defaults with base settings for each of the three available modes always remain an option, as well.
Like The Engine, "All New" Is The Mantra For 1199's Chassis And Rolling Gear
Just a hunch, but you can almost guarantee that Mr. D visited Marzocchi, Pirelli, and even Brembo before any of their newest components made it on the first pre-production Panigale. As a result, the new chassis also supports revised Brembo monoblock calipers and all-new Pirelli rubber, the tires sized and constructed with the latest tech for the 1199 Panigale superbike. >
Under the guidance of Andrea Forni, the project's vehicle technical director, Gasparri's 1199 frame began life already targeted with updated geometry and new balance prerequisites over the 1198, specifically in the areas of wheelbase, trail, and weight-on-wheel bias placements.
Starting at the front, the Panigale received triple clamps with six millimeters less offset, increasing trail by three millimeters. Overall wheelbase also lengthens, improving stability by moving to 1437mm, or 56.57", a 7mm increase in wheelbase over the 1198. A closer study of the new chassis components reveals more than looking at the end-resulting numbers here. The new swingarm is actually 39mm longer than on the 1198 while, in overall length, the gain in wheelbase is only seven millimeters. Lengthening the arm will lessen the engine's torque effect on the rear wheel, while flattening the swingarm's angle of attack nets a similar result. A longer arm will also increase front weight, and this shift was compounded by moving the engine forward 32mm, then rotating it upright on axis 6¯ to regain frontal tire clearance, while still providing room aft for the offset rear suspension and linkage. The last bias transfer was accomplished with the repositioning of the rider, moving the seating position 30mm forward and shortening the reach to the bars. The bars also move up by 10mm and out a total of 32mm (1.26") adding more leverage. Each of these moves increase rider comfort and transfers what is a partially static mass forward in the process. The end-result has the 1199's weight on wheels changing from last year's 50%-50% ratio now to a more forward bias 52%-48% balance with rider aboard. Ducati also shared with us that last year's racing 1198 used the same 52%-48% numbers here.
Rear improvements also continue with a new suspension linkage that provides two different rising rates of rear shock movement, this with a simple relocation of the swingarm's torque arm's mount point within its connecting linkage. The arm, as well as the shock's front eyebolt, remain adjustable for length, while the new back linkage offers two pivot positions. There's a lower one in the rear for a "flat" or linear rate and an alternative forward position for a "progressive" travel movement ideal for carrying a passenger.
Back to front, the radical departure from the 1198's trellis frame made room for a fully cast 9.3-pound monocoque chassis that mounts directly to the engine via the front cylinder head. Serving multiple functions at the rear, the engine mounts the swingarm, front shock mount, rearsets and diecast rear subframe, while the steering head's massive casting connects the magnesium front subframe, houses the fork's head bearings, includes large dual-air inlets for the airbox, mounts the air cleaner, and also serves as the entire airbox plenum, open on top and sealed entirely by a new alloy gas tank. All told, the new frame saves 11 pounds over the 1198, while the fuel tank now has a 4.5-gallon capacity, is formed from aluminum, and drops 6.3 pounds. Because it also serves as the top of the airbox, the floor of the fuel tank was also made stiffer with a thicker cross-section material.
Incorporating multi-part function, the magnesium alloy front subframe mounts the instruments, headlights, and fairing. By connecting major parts and supporting structures with fewer pieces, Forni and his creative crew were able to trim large amounts of weight from the rolling chassis. The Panigale also enjoys unsprung weight savings from new wheels (both the cast or forged versions) and new Brembo M50 monoblock calipers that are 7% lighter yet more rigid with a newly sculpted design and matched to dual 330mm floating Brembo discs that are positioned with maximum offset for the best possible cooling.
The 1199's latest braking system is available with a Bosch 9ME controlled antilock option. Offered as standard equipment on the S-Tricolore, this year, it's only an option for the two other models. Soup's test Panigale S was so equipped and if it's any indication, for the first time ever, we preferred having ABS available on a dry track surface while braking. With the ABS, depending on the mode selected, the system uses combined front to rear braking (CBS) force with anti-rear-wheel-lift detection in both the "Wet" and "Sport" selections. In the "Race" mode, rear CBS is not available, but the rider still has the option of using front ABS, or electronically disabling the ABS braking function, again all selectable through the TFT dash. One other e-highlight, both of the two "S" Panigale models share full LED lighting packages, while the lone base version is only partially LED-equipped.
New DES-controlled front and rear suspensions also join the impressive list of electronic assists for the Panigale rider. The 1199's latest Ohlins components match a 43mm NIX 30 fork with electronic damping adjusters to a TTX 36 rear damper, also with stepper-motor-controlled damping activation. Completing the Ohlins packages on both S bikes is a manual adjust steering Ohlins damper. And crude as it might sound, both front and rear suspensions require tool-in-hand spring preload adjustments, still necessitating manual change.
Last, but not least, each Panigale will roll from the factory with Pirelli's latest Diablo Supercorsa tires, these built especially for the 1199. The latest Pirelli-spec rubber uses a "high modulus" carcass construction and advanced compounding, and each of these technologies was applied in last year's WSBK competition. Both front and rear offer larger contact patch areas with more support and added grip. Physically, the front tire still remains a 120/70, this fit on the current industry-standard 3.5" x 17" rim. The rear tire increases from the previous 190/55, now to a 200/55 sizing for the Panigale and still mounts to a 6.0" x 17" wheel. However, the latest rear tire gains 24% more slick area in its side shoulders and is bi-compounded, with 23% softer compounding for increased traction from mid- to full-lean angles.
Yas Marina, There Is An F1 Circuit In The Persian Gulf
As already mentioned in the text above, Ducati had two different prepared versions of the same Panigale S model, one in fully standard trim, the second also an S, but equipped with the performance exhaust, matching tuning chip, wider fairing lapels (without mirrors), and shod with slightly softer Pirelli Supercorsa rubber in a race SC2 compound, the aftermarket tires covered in warmers. Ducati pre-selected the location for the new model's world launch, we flew halfway around the world to Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina circuit, a "Tilke" F1 track built in 2009 rivaling any other top racing facilities in the world today.
One of Hermann Tilke's 24 acclaimed circuits, Yas Marina was designed as a car-only circuit by the auto racer turned F1 track designer. The 3.45-mile course proved to be a serious match for the new long-legged 1199, with two top-gear straights, a decent mix of high- and low-speed corners, and not much in the way of elevation, although it does have some. And, designed to keep things serious, many of Yas Marina's corners lead into blind exits, while almost all offer no run-off to speak of, so mistakes would likely prove costly. Although it's common knowledge that run-off and escape routes are a rider's best friends, apparently with modern F1 tracks, unscheduled track exits are seemingly intended to meet with immediate and costly negative consequences.
The selection of the Yas circuit for the location of the future 1199 Panigale launch was approved well in advance by Ducati's Vitto Guareschi, and we were told he had personally lapped the track six months earlier, riding a preproduction 1199. Ducati's Moto GP tester found the track's long fast layout both enjoyable and challenging and a great match for the new Ducati. In retrospect, we couldn't agree more, and with the exception of its obvious hazards lining every corner in the form of air-fence-lined Armco barriers, Yas's layout, its wide and smooth tarmac and proportion of high-speed ambiance gave it natural appeal to anyone who enjoys fast racetracks. As for being dangerous, the testing of new motorcycles will occasionally bring you to locations that your first subconscious premonitions will tell you that you'd rather this be happening somewhere else. But, for me, and looking on the bright side, Yas Marina was still far safer than Suzuki's Ryuyo test facility on the outskirts of Hamamatsu, a daunting locale that Soup has also visited for past tests.
Riding The Panigale
For our first ride and impression, Soup's Panigale S model came to life with a quick push of the starter. Ducati had already preselected each of the electronic modes for us, and we began using the RbW "Sport" mode, this programmed with traction control at a level five (of eight, plus off), EBC on position one, the quick shifter "on," and the Panigale's e-suspension's damping quite soft and spring preloads near the middle of their ranges with front sag at 35mm and the rear at 8mm.
|The selection of the Yas circuit for the location of the future 1199 Panigale launch was approved well in advance by Ducati's Vitto Guareschi, and we were told he had personally lapped the track six months earlier, riding a preproduction 1199. Ducati's Moto GP tester found the track's long fast layout both enjoyable and challenging and a great match for the new Ducati.|
Upon leaving the pits, a first impression was that of a light, easy clutch action and soft initial engine response to the throttle. Yas Marina's track entrance from pit lane runs under a hotel and through a tunnel. A bit odd, at first, but the tunnel also served as an impressive sound chamber on the 1199, and the exhausts were not as muffled or as quiet as originally suspected. The remainder of our first sighting lap and the following eight laps was, admittedly, more from a "where does the track go from here" perspective than a "how does the 1199 really go" visceral impression. As is always the case, Ducati has us follow a seasoned pro for the first few get-acquainted laps and, in Abu Dhabi, Soup's lead rider was none other than Vitto. Before leaving the pits, we slotted into the number-two position behind him, this to maximize our learning curve, while also suspecting the initial pace of the sighting laps might be on the fast side given the company. Our suspicions were confirmed, as in two laps only three riders of ten in our group remained in touch with our fast host. We completed the session with the impression that the track surface was very sandy given the visual wake that almost looked water-like streaming from Guareschi's rear tire. But, even with a decent pace, our new Ducati never pushed or felt unstable while driving into, or out of, Yas's many corners, the high level of performance due in large part to Pirelli's latest Supercorsa tires.
At the conclusion of session one, Cristian, our new friend from dinner approached. Without even asking for an initial impression of the Panigale or our comfort level, the chassis project leader insisted we change up to "Race" mode. With seemingly no say in the matter or hint of consent, Soup's 1199 S was switched straight to its highest output settings, all 195 horsepower responding to the most direct throttle ratio, less DTC intervention, stiffer suspension settings and front-only ABS without rear lift-up detection. The DQS quick-shift system remained on, as did EBC, which retained its lowest e-setting for maximum engine braking under deceleration. It was apparent that Ducati was serious about the sensation they wanted us to experience.
Needless to say, our second session at Yas was no longer about getting acquainted. It was about getting the job done and developing some solid impressions. In "Race" mode, the 1199 delivers the most direct and happiest engine response yet from the new Ducati. The power is still manageable, but the engine now spans its higher-rpm range so easily that it almost feels unencumbered by load. While lapping, the electronic functions really come into play, especially DTC. Traction control can be a rider's best friend and, around Yas, we appreciated it. Perhaps most surprising was Ducati's new sport ABS. The pairing of ABS and DTC systems really helped to counter the constant presence of sand on the line all day.
Even with a sandy surface, under hard braking, there was no indication of lever pulse or noticeable change in braking frequency. Instead, all that we felt during maximum braking was a slight weave from the chassis and the sense that more braking power was still available. We eventually tested with the ABS off, and the Brembo's exhibited an even stronger initial bite, with more attention required to maintain maximum deceleration without potentially locking up the front Pirelli. At the conclusion of our testing at Yas, we were impressed enough with the new Bosch-controlled system that we preferred ABS remained on.
The new engine makes its power quickly enough that we were able to short-shift while accelerating from corners without sacrificing our drives. With DQS on, the electronic up-shifting assistance seemed of best advantage while trying for faster laps, but also proved intolerant of any unintentional or fumbling pedal pressures. By the end of the second session, staying clear of the shifter was second nature and our attentions were spent elsewhere but, admittedly, DQS did take some getting used to. We also appreciated that this system can be deactivated for more sedate riding applications.
For our final session, we switched motorcycles entirely and rode the kitted S with performance exhaust and up-map. Everything from the exhaust note to throttle response was different. Ducati claims the Tricolore's OE accessories add 5% more power, totaling 205hp. In past experience, testing performance parts that added 3% more power to an engine with 80 horsepower was "seat-of-the-pants" detectable. The 1199 proved that a comparison is hardly relative when the starting point is 195 horsepower. Here, a 5% improvement was palatable everywhere, from wheelie production to moving the track's brake markers ahead and ours earlier. The sound and feel of the Panigale, even with just this update, was fantastic.
Adding power is one thing, but controlling it is another, and the revisions that Ducati made by moving its combined weight bias forward, while shortening the reach to the controls and adding more leverage, all made a big difference. The new low-mount exhaust may take a bit of getting used to, but the weight redistribution and smaller, lighter tail that aid in giving the bike a very new and compact feel certainly will not. It loved Yas Marina's fastest corners, while also being perfectly suited entering corners, barking from exits, or quickly changing direction with less effort. All said, we appreciated the fact that it could be ridden like a much smaller machine. And, when you think about it, it is. At 367 pounds without fuel, its impressively low weight is on par with the latest 600's...but it sure doesn't feel like a mere 600 when you twist the throttle.
Well done, Ducati!
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