Jerez De In Frontare , Spain
Sitting in the UFO-like hospitality suite situated just above the start/finish line at the Circuito de Jerez, a select few of the world's moto-journalists (yours truly among them) were listening to Andrea Forni, technical vehicle director for Ducati, explain the finer details of the road-going version of the company's newest World Superbike contender: the 1098R. With the allowance of 1200cc V-twins in the World Superbike series at a drastically reduced state of tune than last year's 1000s, Ducati could now build a competitive bike for much less money without resorting to unobtainium bits and pieces. The result is a production engine that, as Forni put it, "has never been so similar to the racing version." Most in attendance knew we would be in for something special-1200cc of V-twin grunt, Ohlins suspension and traction control were all at our disposal. Yeah, something special indeed.
Meanwhile in the garage area, final preparations to the machines we were about to pilot were being tended to. Tire pressures checked, fasteners tightened and fluids topped, the assemblage of 10 immaculate 1098Rs were then wheeled out to pit lane, where they were left to glimmer in the early-morning sun.
Back in the suite anticipation grew quickly as Forni's presentation drew to a close. And then it happened. One by one all the bikes beneath us were fired up. Twenty Termignoni silencers were anything but. The revs started to climb and the room started to rumble. Presentation over. It was time to rock and roll.
Though it appears similar to the standard version, Ducati's homologation special 1098R takes that already-popular platform and makes it even more track-focused-meaning lighter, stronger and faster. The biggest difference between the two obviously lies in the engine. In order to exploit the rule change allowing V-twins a displacement of 1200cc (a rule the company instigated) the 1098R boasts an 1198cc engine. To achieve this the cylinder heads and crankcases are sand-cast, with bore and stroke increasing to 106 x 67.9mm (from 104 x 64.7mm). Along with being larger, all four valves are now titanium, as are the connecting rods. The compression ratio is up to 12.8:1 (from 12.5:1), and intake cam profiles now provide 16 percent more lift than the standard 1098. The oval throttle bodies are also larger, up to an equivalent diameter of 63.9mm compared with 60.9, and employ twin injectors, a first for a production Ducati (for a more detailed look at the engine enhancements see the accompanying sidebar on page 52). Ducati claims this latest version of the Testastretta engine pumps out 180 horsepower and 99.1 ft-lb of torque at 9750 and 7750 rpm, respectively, all while maintaining a service interval of 12,000 kilometers (7500 miles)-the same as Ducati's other production models.
Because of the increased power the gearing had to be adjusted accordingly. While first, second and fifth gear ratios remain the same, third, fourth and sixth gears now have higher ratios.
The customary trellis frame we're used to seeing on all Ducatis is mated to a magnesium-alloy front subframe and an aluminum-alloy rear "monoposto" subframe (racebikes don't have passengers, remember?). Suspension duties are handled by a fully adjustable 43mm hlins fork up front and the Swedish company's latest TTX shock in the rear-the latter's inclusion a first for any production motorcycle, not just Ducati. In short the TTX is an all-new take on shock technology. Instead of forcing oil in both directions through a single damping circuit, the TTX shock uses a solid main piston that pushes oil in only one direction through two separate circuits for compression and rebound by way of a twin-walled shock body. This reduces cavitation and leaves the piston with constant (and consistent) pressure during both strokes.
Bringing the beast to a halt are Brembo monobloc four-piston calipers clamping down on massive 330mm discs. Steel braided lines and a Brembo master cylinder respond with all the feedback you need-and then some.
Finishing touches to the weight department include forged Marchesini wheels and carbon-fiber trim pieces throughout. When all is said and done the 1098R tips the scales at a claimed 364 pounds (dry). That's almost five pounds less than the standard model and more than 12 pounds lighter than the 999R.
Undoubtedly the hot topic surrounding this bike is the DTC (Ducati Traction Control). The system, which Ducati claims uses the same algorithms as on its World Superbike and MotoGP machines, utilizes speed sensors on each wheel that determine rear-wheel speed in relation to the front wheel. Depending on which of the eight different settings you choose (1 allowing the most wheelspin, 8 the least), when the system detects the rear wheel spinning beyond the given parameters, power is then limited to the rear wheel via delayed spark (retarded ignition timing) or no spark at all for a given combustion cycle. Which leads to this next point-out of the crate the 1098R is not wired for traction control because the stock ECU isn't programmed for it and the standard silencers are equipped with Euro III-compliant catalysts . . . catalysts that would be destroyed by the igniting of the unused fuel from the skipped cycle. The wheelspeed sensors are still installed, however, and included with the purchase of each 1098R is a race-kit ECU with proper TC programming and Termignoni exhausts. These items are approved for off-road use only (read: the racetrack), saving the catalysts in the stock pipes as well as the legal department at Ducati. Bolting these items on results in a bike with traction control but also puts you on the wrong side of Johnny Law. Caveat emptor.
Now I have a confession to make. In the weeks leading up to our time in Jerez it occurred to me that I had never ridden any iteration of the 1098-giving me nothing to compare the R model with. Obviously not good. Thankfully we were able to round one up, and our friends at Take it 2 the Track (www.ti2tt.com) showed pity to the cause and let me ride around with them at one of their well-run track days.
On its own the standard 1098 has a powerful engine, strong brakes and nice suspension-although rear-shock settings were rather stiff and I never did get them completely to my liking. But where the standard model is good, the R is just that much better. Instantly you notice the massive torque available, but just as with the standard model power delivery is very linear. Powering down the front straight at Jerez it's visually obvious that man and machine are going fast, but audibly it's almost hard to tell. Strictly relying on the ears to gauge shifting points takes some getting used to as well, because the hard rev limiter abruptly brings the propulsion to a halt at 10,500 revolutions-just when you think it's coming alive. Fortunately clicking from gear to gear is a snap. The gearbox on Big Red requires just a tap in either direction and might very well be the best cog box I've sampled yet. Similarly the slipper clutch may just be the best I've tried as well. No matter how sloppy my shifting, banging down through the gears never upset the rear wheel in the slightest. In fact it might be too good, because the lack of back-torque to the rear placed virtually all of the braking forces on the front.
No matter, as the huge discs and Brembo components were more than up to the task. Hurtling down the back straight-the fastest portion of the Jerez track-leads you to a tight, right hairpin that really tests the binders. Lap after lap the Brembos never let up or faded, providing brutal stopping power with a positive feel at the lever.
The Circuito de Jerez combines fast, sweeping turns with a nice mix of slow hairpins to make things interesting. Being there with a mix of some of the world's best moto-scribblers (and at least one former MotoGP rider) meant learning the track quickly would be paramount. Fortunately the 1098R only knows one speed: fast. Its featherlike weight makes for seamless side-to-side transitions, and the Pirelli Supercorsa tires stick like glue (a harder, more durable version dubbed Supercorsa SP comes stock). Although I never quite got the front end feel I wanted from the hlins bits, the sticky Pirellis probably tricked me into the confidence needed to push just that little bit extra into each turn, which is a good thing because the steering is so precise that my punishment for inferior corner entry speed was an unwanted early apex.
So now the part you really want to know: How well does the DTC work? Simply put it can make the average Joe feel like a complete hero. At level 5 the TC kicked in exiting the tight hairpins on the track. Knee on the ground and neutral throttle applied-no noticeable difference. But twist that wrist ever so slightly and the electronic trickery kicks in like a hard rev limiter and ever so gradually feeds the power to the rear wheel the more the bike comes vertical. Hard on the gas in fast, sweeping turns resulted in an audible silence down below for a fraction of a second, like a soft limiter, as spark was interrupted during that cycle. On a perfect day like we had in Jerez the higher settings were pointless because they basically meant less and less power the more the bike was leaned, actually slowing lap times.
With the settings at the lower end of the spectrum the real magic began. Experimenting with the DTC at 3, exiting those same slow-speed hairpins hardly triggered any response from the system, giving the impression of a more direct link between the rear wheel and the throttle. And while the system does kick in during fast sweepers, it allows the rider to get a slight feel for the slide beforehand. Following other riders who had their settings even lower it was clearly apparent when the system was working, as the rear Supercorsa would engage in a dance between sliding and regaining traction several times through a turn, leaving little darkies on the ground each time. It's interesting to note the DTC relies strictly on wheelspeed sensors and doesn't employ the use of bank-angle sensors and the like; the system only monitors if the rear wheel is spinning faster than the front, so celebratory wheelies won't be very spectacular-which I found out firsthand.
At the end of the day, though, wheelies won't drop lap times, and this is what the 1098R is all about-going as quickly as possible for as long as possible. As impressive as it is the Ducati still has its faults, mainly a harsh limiter set at 10,500 rpm and a tachometer that was difficult to read at speed. And though I had some front-end issues, with more time to adjust the clickers I'm sure those would have been sorted out. Small quibbles, really, for a machine that is otherwise faultless. Of course there's a price to pay if you want exclusive access to this elite club, say to the tune of $39,995. Definitely not chump change, but as John Paolo Canton, the U.S. press officer for Ducati puts it, "It's an investment in happiness."
I couldn't have said it better myself.
'08 DUCATI 1098R
Type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC L-twin
Bore x stroke: 106.0 x 67.9 mm
Induction: Marelli EFI, single-valve oval throttle bodies equivalent to 63.9mm dia.; 2 injectors/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Supercorsa SP
Rake/trail: 24.3 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)
Wheelbase: 56.3 in. (1430mm)
Claimed dry weight: 364 lb. (165kg)
Seat height: 32.2 in. (820mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.1 gal. (15.5L)
1098 Engine Tech