Inside Ducati’s 1299 Panigale

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There aren’t many sane folk who wouldn’t want a Ducati Panigale for Christmas. I’m not talking about the 899: I’m talking the full fat, bar-slapping suicide mission that is the 1199. If you haven’t ridden one, excitable brown trouser moments during a session on a Panigale aren’t unusual, and it’s a joyride that belongs on your bucket list.

I hate using ‘character’ as an adjective in bike reviews but it really is utterly unique, filled with idiosyncrasies, and conducts a strange stabbing to your sixth sense. It may not be the fastest over a lap but it feels like a lap record – if you can find me a more involving, enthralling production-based ride, point us in the right direction.

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Paul Ventura – Desmo detective

On the recent jaunt over to Bologna for the press launch of RIDE (computer game) that was staged at the Ducati factory, we grabbed 20 minutes with Paul Ventura – Ducati’s Product Marketing Manager – and delved deeper into the 1299’s development. The launch isn’t until spring next year, so we were über lucky to get any nuggets of dubplate info.

Racing rules play a huge part in what we see in the showrooms and manufacturers continually conform to these regs. Sometimes. Ducati has gone big bore with the new 1299 Panigale and screwed the guidelines. Granted, the 1199 may be a modern day, valve-eqiupped equivalent of a two-stroke, but why the 1285cc?

“The superbike class is incredibly competitive and there are a lot of people who buy according to the spec sheet. You can never really go wrong with decreasing the weight and increasing the horsepower.

“We didn’t really feel that the power on the 1199 and the torque was missing but it was a departure from the previous series, in that the 1098/1198 was so torque-rich in the midrange, when the Superquadro came out and people felt the different characters, some people did miss it. We made a split then as to what we’re giving as a racing homologated model and what people really wanted for the street/track.

“We felt that with the 1299 Panigale, we were able to increase the bore. A lot of people thought we would stroke it. The bore is now at 116mm, which is pretty crazy right now. We felt as though we could increase torque while at the same time maintain that top-end. It was a win-win on all fronts.”

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Indeed, a 116mm is pretty crazy. Was upping cubes and going big-bore a clue to the Superquadro’s development? Are we nearing the reliability and tuning limit? Of course, for racing, Ducati has kept pushing the boundaries with the 1198cc Panigale R, punting out identical ponies to that of the 1299.

“A lot of people thought that it would be impossible to increase the bore but we’ve done it and it works very well. That’s why it’s really tough to say how much development is left in the Superquadro. The motor in the Panigale R is in a very high state of tune but the moment we realise we can’t further develop this motor, that’s when we start looking for something else.”

Personally, while the L-twins are evidently (and rightly) installed in the Ducati ethos, I’d love to see another more affordable, less exclusive bash at the V4 configuration. While the sportsbike market is littered with four-pots, another V4-powered Ducati isn’t going to ignite another recession.

I’ve got more chance of having a poo in Buckingham Palace than owning a Desmosedici but the technology/development required to recreate a more everyday version surely isn’t be out of reach. Less MotoGP, more motorway?

“If you look at Ducati’s history, we have a very strong sense of our own identity and what it means to be Ducati, and we value very highly the twin-cylinder engine.

“At the same time, we’ve been showing, especially recently, that there are very few sacred cows for Ducati that should not be sacrificed in the name of increasing performance – for example, the trellis frame. A lot of people thought that that’s something that they would never do away with, and with the Panigale we went to the monocoque.

“I would say that it’s wide open. If our technical department decides that a certain direction is needed to push the bar forward, then they’re willing to consider options. There’s no sense of ‘we’ll never make x, or y, or z.’ “

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As far as groundbreaking years go, 2015 looks set to be the Chinese year of the techno-queen. Ducati unveiled its Desmodromic Variable Timing technology last month, and it’s a project that’s been under development for around 18 months.

In simple terms, DVT’s cunning trickery eliminates any sacrifice in the power delivery by varying valve overlap, so why not install the system into a superbike’s powerplant?

“The big advantage of the DVT system is the flexibility it gives. You can have a very smooth, very tractable, and very manageable in the lower rpm range. At the same time, when you really want to wind the bike out and crazy power character, it moves to a very high overlap in the superbike engine territory. This flexibility fits very well with the mission of the Multistrada – the whole four bikes in one concept.

“A superbike is so focused, that everything in the project brief has these ideas in mind – lightweight and ultimate performance. So, the DVT’s flexibility doesn’t necessarily fit within that project brief, at least not yet. If you’re adding some technology to cams, it does add some mass. It’s very minimal with the system we have, but when you have a bike like the Panigale, that is by far the lightest superbike on the market, there were some really aggressive targets were set for those bikes during development. If something’s adding mass, they say: ‘is that really necessary?’

“During the development of the DVT, we had ideas in mind for the platform and where the technology would end. If we thought that it would be a great fir for the 1299, then absolutely it’d be on there. I see a lot of customer feedback from the 1199, and I really don’t see any negative comments regarding the motor. “

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As well as a monocoque chassis across all the Panigale fam, the 1299 S features Öhlins semi-active suspension – similar to that of the Beemer’s Sachs system. As we’ve already unearthed, semi-active bouncers aren’t for everyone and, interestingly, the tech doesn’t feature on the daddy: the Panigale R. Is it not quite there with lap times?

“There are two reasons. Number one is the weight and number two, we’ve found that our testers and the targeted customers for this bike – the most dedicated track riders/racers – actually prefer mechanical suspension. Guys with racing experience know what they’re doing with suspension, they know how they like their suspension, and they don’t want the added weight, and the added perceived complexities of a semi-active system. On the other hand, the customer who isn’t so serious and wants to use the bike on the street, the system is a real benefit for them.”

And what of the geometry changes? “Geometry was changed due to ongoing feedback from our test and development team, who found that the combo of a 24 degree steering angle and the -4mm swingarm pivot position rendered the bike more agile (without introducing instability) and gave better mechanical traction to the rear. So, more agility and better behaviour on turn exits.”

More power, less weight, tweaked chassis digits controlled by a feast of handy electronics: the 1299 Panigale is going to be a riot.

 

 

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