Ducati’s new flagship superbike, the 1299 Panigale, is effectively a street legal racing motorcycle. A host of changes has converted this into a powerful machine that produces incredible numbers and delivers mind-bending performance. But, be warned, riding such a powerful motorcycle is not everybody’s cup of tea.
Towards the end of 2014, Ducati test rider Alessandro Valia made history of sorts at the Mugello racetrack in Italy during a session to check the final spec of the new 1299 Panigale S. Valia delivered a lap time of 1:55.3 with the bike shod with Pirelli Supercorsa SC1 tyres. To get an idea how fast the 1299 is, just consider that the fastest riders of the Italian Superbike Championship clock around the 1:52 mark, and the MotoGP bikes are faster by ‘only’ 7 seconds. Valia is an excellent test rider, of course, but that this motorbike has also reached this level of performance is pretty amazing.
The 1299 Panigale S has eliminated the slight imperfections of the 1199 (still available in the R version, as it forms the technical basis for the bike used by the Ducati team in the World Superbike Championship – where the engine displacement is limited to 1,200cc).
CHECKMATE IN 5 MOVES
The new sportiest Ducati is a monster that blends beauty with efficiency – its Desmo twin-engine pumps out 202bhp and the bike weighs just 166.5kgs. But how did it become so potent?
This time, we won’t bore you with the usual engineering details – instead we present a simple five-step handbook for discovering and understanding this 300km/h bomb.
First of all, the 1299 Panigale is wonderful! The bike’s unique mixture of class, elegance, aggressiveness and lightness means that no other race bike replica can come even close – and this version amplifies magnificence even more than the previous model.
There are small differences in the current model – the Plexiglas screen, the front-end extended laterally with larger air intakes, the less intrusive rear view mirrors, the unprecedented two-part tail, and the bottom fairing on the right that’s been reshaped to make room for a larger exhaust manifold.
The second point is that the engine is a bomb. The most powerful twin-cylinder ever produced. To reach 202bhp and 14.7kgm of torque, the engine capacity has been increased up to 1,285cc, thanks to the new 116mm diameter pistons (compared to the previous 112mm). Also improved are the cylinder liners, connecting rods and the crankshaft. It retains the elliptical throttle bodies for the electronic fuel injection and the two injectors per cylinder. The exhaust system also gets a makeover, and features pipes of increased diameter in the manifold. The biggest advantage of all these changes reflect in the mid-range torque. Ducati claims that torque has increased by 15% between 5,000 to 8,000rpm.
The chassis is the third point in this book of tricks. Ducati has made some subtle, but very important, modifications to the fundamentals of the chassis – incorporating the experience gained in the World Superbike Championship. Two changes have to be highlighted. On one side, the steering angle has increased from 24.5° to 24°, which is meant to improve cornering ability. The other change concerns the swing arm pivot that has been lowered by 4mm. The goal is to increase the traction out of corners, and optimise the effect of ‘chain-force’ during acceleration.
AND THE ELECTRONICS ARE EVEN BETTER
Fourth on the Panigale’s list of goodies are the electronics. The best of the 1199 has been carried over, but each element of the system has been further refined – such as the ride-by-wire throttle, the riding modes (Wet, Sport and Race), the traction control, the engine braking, and the data acquisition. The 1299, however, introduces other control elements, such as the Ducati Wheelie Control (the anti-wheelie system) and the Cornering ABS that has been developed in collaboration with Bosch.
Bosch also provides an inertial platform known as IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit), a unit that constantly monitors the motorcycle’s lean angle and fore/aft pitch, which interfaces with the ABS, wheelie control and the suspension – ensuring that these systems operate at maximum efficiency regardless of the bike’s position. The ABS control unit applies braking power as a function of the lean angle and the amount of tyre slip – this is an ‘on-the-limit’ situation in which the traditional anti-lock systems lose their effectiveness. Another novelty of the 1299 Panigale is the Ducati Quick Shift, which allows the rider to perform both up and downshifts without using the clutch.
And now for the fifth and final point, which is exclusive to the ‘S’ version. This bike, unlike the standard 1299, comes standard with LED headlights and Marchesini forged wheels. But the delight of the Panigale S is the ‘Electronic’ Öhlins Smart suspension that adjusts dynamically to the riding style. The mono shock and front forks constantly change the compression damping and rebound to guarantee the optimal setup. This behaviour can be influenced by the rider, who can choose a softer or harder setting on a range of five levels – with the parameters configurable via the instrument panel.
A MOTORBIKE MEANT FOR RACING
The test that took place at the Portimao race track in Portugal made it clear that the 1299 is a real bomb – a ‘race-ready’ street bike with virtually no imperfections. But, with the 1299, you need to have remarkable commitment – as though you were riding an SBK machine. Of course, if you ride slowly there are no problems, but we challenge you to resist the temptation of tearing open the throttle once seated on the saddle.
The first thing that stands out is the ‘low-end’ thrust of the two-cylinder engine. If, in the 1199, the increase in torque was very easy to feel, the Desmo of the 1299 is a concentration of brute force – pulling out of corners with unrivalled effectiveness. No matter what the engine speed, or which gear it’s in, just open her up and get a kick in the pants that can almost rip the handlebar out of your hands.
Fortunately, the electronic controls are near perfect. The traction control allows the rear tyre to slip just enough to allow maximum performance. It intervenes only when absolutely needed – and this certainly helps lap times. You only need the courage to keep the throttle open – which is easier said than done.
The chassis, albeit with only minor modifications, has taken another step forward. The Panigale is now more stable on fast straights, and provides a better feeling at maximum lean angles. The agility is exemplary, as it was with its previous version. The behaviour of the semi-active suspension, though, is truly beyond any expectation. Switching from Sport mode to Race, you can feel a significantly different response. Even in the more aggressive riding modes, through the curves of the Portuguese race track, the bike always remains firm and stable in all conditions – always predictable, even when the tyres inevitably give up.
All the rest is pure enjoyment – starting from the assisted gearbox (especially when accelerating), which is extremely smooth and precise. The brakes are exceptional in terms of power and control – the ABS feels like it’s off because the settings are unobtrusive and perfectly calibrated. Only on one occasion did I feel it working, but that was only when I arrived too fast into the hairpin and wanted to avoid getting on to the grass. Sometimes it happens!
On both ends of the triple-clamp handlebar, you can see the heads of the forks (with electronic actuators) and the TFT instrumentation screen that allows you to select all the control systems. On the left side of the Panigale S handlebar there is a barbell-style switch that lets you manage the level of the electronics. Below, you can see the mono shock and its linkage.
The test of the Panigale S was held at the Portuguese track of Portimao. The bikes were equipped with specialised Pirelli Supercorsa SC2 tyres. However, the bike will come with Supercorsa SP tyres as standard – less extreme, but safer on the road.
The heart of the new Panigale. The piston measures 116mm in diameter (the old one was 112). The block, meanwhile, remains unchanged.
Ducati 1299 panigale s
2-cylinder 90° V
116.0 X 60.8mm
Double overhead camshafts, 8-valve, electronic fuel injection with two throttle bodies and 4 injectors, sump wet lubrication
Final chain (39/15); multi-plate clutch in oil bath; 6-speed gearbox with hydraulic control
Electronic controls managed by the rider. Three riding modes (Wet, Sport and Race); Traction DTC control, engine EBC brake,
anti-wheelie DWC and quick shift (while accelerating) DQS, semi-active suspension Öhlins Smart EC
Frame & Steering
Monocoque aluminium alloy, tilt steering head 24°, trail 96 mm; 43mm inverted fork, all adjustable;
aluminium swingarm and fully adjustable shock; suspension travel 120/130mm
Front twin 330mm discs, radially mounted calipers with 4 pistons; rear 245mm disc, twin piston caliper;
Front 120/70 ZR17
Rear 200/55 ZR17
wheelbase: 1,437mm, seat height: 830mm, tank capacity: 17 litres, dry weight: 166.5kgs
202bhp at 10,500 rpm, torque 144.6Nm at 8,750 rpm
Lack of comfort
Alessandro Valia is one of the most important test riders at Ducati. “Basically, I sleep at the company …” he says. He has contributed to the development of the 1299 Panigale, saw it grow, led it to the limit with that lap time of 1:55.3 at Mugello. We met him at Portimao, during the press presentation of the motorbike.
When did you start testing for Ducati?
I started in 2003 for the SBK bikes. At the time, I was working on the motorbike for Neil Hodgson. Then, in 2007, I moved to the road going models.
How did you come to Borgo Panigale?
My education hasn’t helped me much. I’m an accountant! What worked in my favour was the many years of racing, which allowed me to develop a good feeling on a bike. That taught me a lot about the dynamics of the vehicle. The problem with many riders is that they often fail to speak the language of the technicians – a language that must be understandable for them. Slowly, I learned, working hard with telemetry and data acquisition that teaches you to objectify these feelings.
How many days a year are you on the track for tests?
More or less, 100 days a year – a third of my time. We start from the setup – the overall ergonomics of each bike – and then go on to develop the engine and electronics.
When did you lay your hands on the 1299 for the first time?
Well, we started working right after the launch of the 1199.
How do you carry out the testing and development of a motorcycle?
Normally, we work on a default program. We start with a crude ‘forklift’ version of the bike, and after that you get to test a prototype, the ‘post-series,’ and then the pre-series – first and second. This is the final step before real production. Normally, on the forklift, we evaluate the bike naked and pure to ensure that it’s well balanced and healthy. Then, after the first phase we begin to implement the electronics and go on to develop the settings.
How is the relationship with the technical partners like Öhlins, Bosch, Pirelli, etc.?We start with a pilot project, during which time they come to meet us and then present their respective proposals. We begin to test the individual components with some tests organised in the structures of the respective suppliers. Then we work on a specific project, during which time we organise a joint test to check every single detail – no matter how small. Quite often the development of a component for a particular motorbike, no matter how large the supplier, starts from scratch. Many times our demands are tough and invasive, as in the case of Pirelli for example. When we developed the Supercorsa SP, we required a greater extension of the soft part of the tread on the shoulder for superior grip even at intermediate angles where the Panigale is at full throttle – which is no small feat.
Do you have a funny anecdote to tell us regarding the development of the 1299?
What I was very impressed with was the testing of the Cornering ABS (which operates even at high lean angles). The Bosch people came over and they asked me to take a curve with my knee down and apply the brakes decisively. The first lap was embarrassing, as my head was telling my hand to brake but my hand wasn’t listening. It was really hard.
Eventually, what did you do to manage the situation?
I did as they said – over and over again. Now it comes naturally to me. But, in the beginning, we had to test it in all conditions and in all three riding modes. In the Wet, the system response has to be soft and balanced. In Sport, it has to be effective but not disturbing. In short, it was tough to develop it to always be refined.
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