A Unique Ride at a Unique Track
The Panigale R’s press launch was held at the fabulous Circuit of the Americas racetrack in Austin, Texas, a facility that’s equally as unique as the 1000 units that Ducati will reportedly produce in 2013 (roughly 250 will make their way to the States). Conveniently, Ducati’s Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden were on hand for the event and offered us some advice on how to get around the 3.4-mile circuit, which is easier said than done when you take into account the track’s multiple elevation changes, hairpin corners and blind entries. CotA’s billboard-smooth surface didn’t hurt matters, and offered an unparalleled level of grip.
Every Panigale R will come...
Every Panigale R will come with a Termignoni exhaust system and dedicated ECU mapping (for track use only, claims Ducati). The system is said to provide a three percent power increase at the top of the rev-range and a 15 percent increase in the midrange. Its bark is hard to ignore, but best described as ear-pleasing.
Aluminum mirror caps and (just-visible)...
Aluminum mirror caps and (just-visible) front fairing winglets add to the Panigale R’s more aggressive look and increased aerodynamics. The R’s larger windscreen is not completely visible in this photo, but is easy to see through and even easier to tuck behind.
Even the Panigale R’s seat...
Even the Panigale R’s seat is updated. Primary changes include a race-style fabric that provides added feel, claims Ducati. It’s a bit slippery, as are the footpegs.
Every Panigale R will come from the factory with a stock exhaust and a full Termignoni race system with dedicated ECU mapping (a Racing PRO exhaust will be sold separately and has different bends in addition to a 160mm-longer tube that makes it more apt for racetrack use), DDA+ with GPS positioning for lap times, machined mirror caps and an aero kit. Super sticky Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires will come standard, but at CotA Ducati opted to wrap each test bike’s lightweight, forged aluminum wheels in even tackier Diablo Supercorsa SC race tires. With the mirrors removed, taller windscreen mounted, and Termignoni exhaust breathing fumes out the rear, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve just thrown a leg over a dedicated racebike. Two laps into the test and I’d still have sworn that I was spinning laps aboard Carlos Checa’s racebike — the Panigale R feels that performance-oriented from the helm.
The Superquadro engine has always been the Panigale’s bread and butter, but the R iteration’s engine is even better than the standard model’s powerplant thanks in part to those lighter internals. Power still feels middling below 7000 rpm (despite Ducati’s claims of increased torque through the midrange), but revs build insatiably quick beyond that point — the sensation that you get while clicking through the Panigale’s gearbox and watching revs ascend is entirely addictive. Just how quick is the Panigale once it gets into the meat of its powerband? Hayden claims that the speedometer went blank at around 185 mph but that the bike continued to pull strongly through the revs in sixth gear. Interestingly, Ducati claims that there’s no electronic speed limiter to prevent the bike from exceeding 186 mph or 300 kph, a speed that most manufacturers limit their liter-plus models to.
The electronically adjustable...
The electronically adjustable Öhlins front fork is another S-model carryover. The DES (Ducati Electronic Suspension) system is extremely user-friendly and takes just seconds to dial in thanks to the equally affable TFT (Thin Film Transistor) display. Notice the brushed aluminum and red fuel tank.
The Panigale R is insatiably quick through a right/left transition thanks in part to its low curb weight, forged aluminum wheels and wide clip-ons. It’s still a production bike though, and the suspension reminds you of that. It’s not that the electronically adjustable Öhlins suspenders are ill-handling, just that unlike a true racebike the Panigale R is still compliant at a slower pace — and that’s a good thing considering none of its suitors will likely ride it at Carlos Checa-esque speeds. What I really like about the setup is the Öhlins front fork, which provides an unbelievable amount of feedback as you tip into a corner, even on the brakes. The rear shock is equally composed and permits faultless drives through and off of every corner, slow or fast.
I made just a single adjustment to the front fork during the course of my four sessions aboard the Panigale R (Ducati used settings suggested by Nicky Hayden, who weighs less and is also smoother with the controls), but that was all it took to remind me of how convenient the DES (Ducati Electronic Suspension) is. Within seconds I had the proper amount of compression damping tuned in, and never once did I have to touch a screwdriver or greasy adjuster.
Neither of the Ducati’s electronics will disappoint serious track day riders, the DTC (Ducati Traction Control) and EBC (Engine Brake Control) included. Proof is that I never once had to adjust either system’s setting during the course of the day, and never once did I feel like the level of intrusion was degrading my experience. In contrast, it added a safety net that allowed me to more comfortably get into and out of each of CotA’s tight, second-gear hairpin corners.
The most interesting of these abovementioned corners is turn 11, if not because it’s the slowest turn on the circuit then because it catapults you onto the elongated back straight, which sweeps to the right and isn’t without its own elevation change. Here is also where the Panigale starts to show its few weaknesses, the biggest of which is a slight twitch in the handlebars that sends shivers down your spine as speeds increase. Sitting up over the front of the bike and behind the R model’s generously sized windscreen seemed to repress the movement, although getting up and behind the bubble isn’t exactly easy for anyone over six-feet tall — the Panigale R is an extremely small motorcycle and the rider triangle was undoubtedly developed around jockey-sized test riders. My only other concern was that the ignition cut for the DQS (Ducati Quick Shift) felt too long, which made each shift feel overly aggressive.
Brembo M50 front brake calipers are identical to what you’d find on the 1199 Panigale S, and I still assert that these are the best binders on the market in regards to actuation, feel and power. One thing I noticed, however, was a slight inconsistency in lever travel during the course of a longer session. Race ABS comes standard, and was never activated in either of CotA’s extreme braking zones.