IT'S NOT OFTEN THAT A MANUFACTURER CARES
enough about competing in the AMA Superbike series to import a homologation model fashioned specifically for the American racing organization's stricter equipment legality rules. We Yanks usually don't get any of these special limited-production bikes until a year after their introduction to the rest of the world, where their application toward World Superbike Championship homologation regulations carries much more importance.
The headlamp-assembly mounting...
The headlamp-assembly mounting bracketry is now magnesium, along with a carbon-fiber fairing and mirror brackets. All the bodywork is carbon fiber, of course.
When Ducati was purchased outright from the struggling Cagiva Group by the American venture-capital firm Texas Pacific Group in the late 1990s, the Italian manufacturer's new owners surely wondered why the machines racing in the AMA series were a far cry from the factory racebikes simultaneously competing in the World Superbike Championship. Any Ducatis entered in AMA Superbike were usually year-old castoffs from the factory-supported WSB championship teams, due to more rigid homologation rules that specify any bikes used in AMA competition must be for sale in the U.S., not just the world at large. Importing the required number of units was a costly endeavor for a factory such as Ducati, so the company stuck with using the previous year's model. When competing against past 750 four-cylinder machines, performance parity was fairly close, so it didn't matter much. But with the introduction of full 1000cc four-cylinder machines into the Superbike class for '03, it became imperative that Ducati give its factory pilots (or "pilot" in this case, as Eric Bostrom is the only rider at present) as much performance potential as possible.
Carbon fiber abounds on the...
Carbon fiber abounds on the 999R, including the complete fairing, countershaft sprocket cover, chain guard, exhaust canister cover, front fender and cam belt covers. The tailsection is a polymer plastic, however, presumably to withstand the intense heat from the underseat exhaust.
Ducati's renewed interest in the AMA Superbike series was the reason for a special press riding introduction of the new Ducati 999R at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca during the AMA/WSB weekend. The new '05 999R was officially brought into the U.S. a little early to satisfy the AMA homologation requirement that a manufacturer bring in at least 350 units of a particular model for sale to the American public. And since Bostrom is already racing the superbike version of the 999R, Ducati had to quickly show that the bikes are indeed available in the U.S.
IT DOESN'T LOOK ALL THAT DIFFERENT...
Yes, at first glance the new 999R looks basically identical to the '04 model, of which only a handful were officially imported into the U.S. That's mostly because externally, the only real change is the elimination of the holes in the upper fairing and the leading-edge "flow conveyors" that were aimed at smoothing the fairing's airflow for better aerodynamics. Ironically, this change came from experimentation on the factory Corse WSB racebikes to address rider complaints of excessive buffeting at high speed; the supposed result is much better stability at triple-digit velocities. The windscreen has also been reshaped and is taller, which removes the problem of the edge obscuring the dash that we complained about with the 999.
Instead of a single valve...
Instead of a single valve cutout for each intake and exhaust valve, the new '05 999R pistons feature a single cut for each pair. This allows unimpeded turbulence in the shallow combustion chamber for improved efficiency. Note also the cutaway section on the piston crown edge outside of each valve pocket, and the O-rings used to seal the coolant passages--the new engine does not use head gaskets.
The big changes were reserved for the 999R's testastretta 999cc V-twin engine. The highly oversquare bore/stroke configuration of 104 x 58.8mm (versus the standard 999's 100.0 x 63.5mm setup that displaces 998cc) is identical to last year's, but major revisions were made to the cylinder head and other internal components. The compression ratio is increased incrementally from 12.3:1 to 12.45:1 using new pistons with reshaped faces to aid in better combustion with the relatively huge bore and single spark plug. Instead of the usual individual cutouts for each valve in the piston face that provide adequate clearance during high-rpm operation, the new 999R's pistons use a single longitudinal cutout for each pair of intake and exhaust valves. Ducati engineers found that with the engine's large bore and resulting shallow combustion chamber, the "flame front" of each burning combustion charge was slightly impeded by the ridge between each singular valve cutout; by using one larger cutout for both valves, combustion is quicker and more complete, providing increased thermodynamic efficiency (in other words, a better and more complete burn for more power at all rpms).
The new 999R's cylinder head...
The new 999R's cylinder head has been redesigned to accommodate the larger titanium valves and higher compression ratio. Note that what appears to be hand porting of the intake and exhaust ports is actually CNC-machining; production technology now allows the precise milling and porting/polishing of cylinder-head ports at the factory.
The cylinder head features larger titanium valves (intakes grow to 42mm from 40mm, exhausts up to 34mm from 33mm). With such large valve sizes, the weight savings garnered by changing to titanium were pretty significant: The intake valves are 36 percent lighter, while the exhaust poppets are 39 percent lighter than their stainless steel counterparts. More aggressive cams are used on both the intake and exhaust sides (1.3mm more lift on the intake, 1.2mm on the exhaust, along with slightly more duration and overlap), with new half-cone retainers that were first introduced on the new 749R ensuring positive actuation from the trademark desmodromic valve system. The new valve retaining system contributes to the lighter valves by enabling the use of thinner stems (6mm versus 7mm).
The combustion chamber is also redesigned, with the larger valves moved away from the cylinder walls to prevent "shrouding" at lower valve lifts that can hamper combustion-chamber filling efficiency; however, due to the larger valve sizes, the valves themselves were moved farther apart from each other to ensure adequate metal between the valve seats. The included valve angle remains unchanged at 25 degrees total, however. In order to help prevent the aforementioned valve shrouding, the valve seats are also raised incrementally into the combustion chamber. This required compensating for the lost combustion chamber volume; thus, to keep the compression ratio in check, the piston has a slightly lower deck height.
An aluminum swingarm nearly...
An aluminum swingarm nearly identical to the 749R's (fabricated from a cast pivot section, pressed/welded sheet on the sides and forged axle carriers) attached to an hlins shock controls rear suspension duties.
A new, more powerful Magnetti Marelli ECU controls the engine management system, offering greater memory and faster computational capacity for racing applications. The injectors are now 12-hole (instead of the older four-hole) units for improved fuel atomization.
The titanium connecting rods are attached to a lighter crankshaft scaling in at 8.6 pounds from the previous 9-pound unit. The crank counterweights are now "knife-edged" to enable them to cut through the crankcase oil froth more easily, reducing internal windage power losses. The counterweight's different shape was made possible by a more efficient "cross-drilled" oil passage pattern, which also provided the side benefits of less machining and fewer internal oil galley plugs for better reliability.
Braking action from the radial-mount,...
Braking action from the radial-mount, four-pad Brembo calipers was excellent, though we'd prefer brake pads with more progressive action. Performance from the 43mm TiN-coated hlins inverted fork was, as usual, superb.
All this engine work boosts power significantly, with the new 999R pumping out a claimed 150 crankshaft horsepower at 9750 rpm, versus the previous 999R's 139 horsepower at 10,000 rpm. Note that the changes to the new motor have resulted in a slightly lower power peak, indicative of more efficient power production. It should also be noted that since the 999R is street legal for road use in the U.S., this power is produced with the dual catalyzers and street mufflers in the exhaust.
There are some minor changes to the suspension for '05. The 43mm inverted hlins fork has revised damping and spring rates, along with a new top-out spring to aid stability accelerating over bumpy pavement. The fork spring also uses a new internal spring guide made from hard plastic; by keeping the spring from bending torsionally, the internal guide is claimed to provide less friction as well as less metal debris in the oil from metal-to-metal contact with the inside of the fork tube. The rear hlins shock now has a one-way valve in the rebound piston, allowing rebound damping to be isolated from the influence of the compression damping adjuster.
OK, MORE POWER...
BUT IS IT BETTER?
Ducati reps fitted all the test 999Rs with Michelin's excellent Pilot Race 2 DOT rubber, so we knew the tires surely weren't going to be the limiting factor during the track riding introduction. And with Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca's roller-coaster layout, we were ensured of being able to put the Ducati's chassis and suspension through their paces.
The new 999R testastretta...
The new 999R testastretta engine utilizes sand-cast cases to further reflect its handmade origins. The cam belts receive cooling ventilation via a duct in the leading edge of the fairing to ensure consistent performance.
Noticeable right off the bat is the new 999R's revvier motor. We haven't ridden the previous 999R, so we don't have a comparative sense there, but relative to the 999S we recently tested ("Twin Pipes," September '04), the R model devours the upper portion of its rev range far quicker. Throttle response was crisp and snappy without being overly sensitive, and there was no fluffy carburetion down low like we've found in some other race-oriented Ducati twins. Usable grunt can be found as low as 4500 rpm, with a serious midrange lunge beginning at 6500 rpm transcending into a zippy yet smooth top-end charge that will have you slamming into the 11,000-rpm rev limiter (which, incidentally, has the same abrupt onset as the 749R's) surprisingly quick--quick enough that you need to be on your toes in the lower gears to avoid repeatedly bouncing into the limiter. Although there's plenty of overrev available, you can feel the power tapering off at 10,250 rpm, so revving the piss out of the motor doesn't really get you any more speed.
In fact, you have to force yourself to not ride the Ducati like a four-cylinder because of its quick-revving nature, instead using its long-legged midrange to carry a gear higher through corners to keep up momentum. Ridden as such, the 999R will make serious time in a very subtle manner compared to the frenetic visceral sensations of a four-cylinder.
The front fairing received...
The front fairing received some subtle changes, including the deletion of the styling holes above the dual air intakes and the removal of the "flow conveyors" on the leading edge. This was done at the insistence of the Corse WSB team, who found that it helped high-speed stability. The windscreen is also higher, with a broader curvature.
Aiding in this deceptive production of speed is a remarkably agile chromoly steel-trellis chassis using the standard 999's geometry numbers, along with the expectedly superb hlins suspension action. However, with the engine's added power, proper suspension and chassis setup is critical for stability. Until we cranked in enough rear spring preload and compression damping to get some front-end weight bias under hard acceleration, the 999R would seriously shake its head even over smooth pavement, despite stiffening up the hlins steering damper to quell the swapping bars.
We originally started off with the steering head set to the more radical 23.5-degree angle, thinking it would provide more front-end weight bias and quick turning characteristics. Front-end feedback was OK with this setup, but sometimes tended to get a little numb when really pressed through Laguna Seca's fast turns. We then changed to the conservative 24.5-degree rake angle setting and found a marked improvement in cornering stability and feedback, especially through the aforementioned fast corners, such as the bumpy, downhill Rainey Corner heading down from the Corkscrew. There was only a barely noticeable increase in steering effort, and once dialed in, the 999R offered up excellent stability combined with surprising agility.
Braking into the slow Turn 11 at Laguna Seca had us wishing for a slipper clutch, however, as the rear end would chatter no matter how carefully we fed out the clutch. This was somewhat exacerbated by the Ducati's relatively tall gearing, which made using first gear unavoidable. When asked why the 999R didn't come with the slipper unit now becoming ubiquitous among race-oriented machinery (including Ducati's own 749R), chief engineer Andrea Forni replied that "because the World Supersport regulations forbid changing the clutch, it was included with that particular model. Current superbike rules allow clutch replacement, however, so we figured that since the 999R is a streetbike, any owner who needed one for competition use could easily fit one if he so desired." Streetbike in concept, maybe...
Braking from the radially mounted four-pad Brembo calipers biting on 320mm discs was excellent, with a very linear response and feel at the lever. However, we'd prefer slightly more progressive action, as the brakes became very high effort the harder we rode, which tended to cause fatigue during longer sessions. We're sure this issue can easily be corrected with different brake pads.
SO IS IT WORTH IT?
Well, that obviously depends on your priorities. The new 999R is a limited-production homologation model with a race-ready pedigree, so it's not cheap by any means: One of these prized Ducatis will set you back a cool $30,000. What you get for your 30 large is the pinnacle of V-twin technology and performance, though, so the usual aspects of panache and exclusivity inevitably apply here. It should also be noted that if you purchase one, you will supposedly be given first priority at placing an order for the Desmosedici RR MotoGP streetbike--that alone is literally worth the price of admission in our opinion (given the fact that if you can afford this, the Desmosedici isn't much of a stretch at all).
We'll be getting a 999R for a full test, along with a full race exhaust and an EPROM chip (which apparently boosts power significantly), so stay tuned.-SR