The folks at Borgo Panigale live and die at the racetrack, and they engineer their bikes to do the same. With that, it was only natural to bring the 848 to the track and let it stretch its legs. We tagged along with the folks at SoCal Track Days (www.socaltrackdays.com) to one of their well-run, no-session trackdays at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, Nevada. The Spring Mountain course provides a nice variety of fast sweepers, tight bends, hard-braking zones, short straights and a few bumps to test everything a bike can do.
Like the 1098, the 848 shares...
Like the 1098, the 848 shares the Desmosedici-style instrument cluster. Toggling between data is done via a lever on the left bar. With the purchase of the Ducati Data Analyser, one can download information like lap times and gear selection onto a USB card.
Opening the throttle on the Ducati at racetrack speeds one notices that the 849cc Testastretta engine provides a good spread of power. It was only as the revs neared redline that the power started to drop off. The series of red LED shift lights atop the Desmosedici-like gauge cluster was readable in a tuck, but otherwise shifting was done purely by ear. Fortunately, the rev limiter isn't abrupt like that of other Ducatis we've tested in the past.
On the chassis side, the quick steering exhibited on the street shone through at the track. Turns 9 and 10 are part of a quick chicane that leads onto the front straight and shows off the bike's nimble chassis. The slightly stiff rear suspension we noticed on the street suited the track conditions well. It was the front where we noticed the budget Showa suspension falling behind. Here the bike feels as though the compression-damping circuit is nonexistent and that damping is purely controlled by the spring. Similar to the shock linkage without ride-height adjustment, we believe this compromise to be another cost-cutting measure on Ducati's part. While this works well enough on the street, at track speeds there's a lack of feedback at maximum lean. Not to mention the severe fork compression under braking.
Speaking of which, the Brembo brakes that perform so well on the street also do a great job on the track. The one-finger stopping power proved more than adequate for Spring Mountain's few hard-braking areas. With the bike's weak compression damping, however, jamming on the binders bottoms out the fork, causing the rear to skip off the ground and unsettle the bike. hlins bits for both the front and rear are optional and should really bring out the chassis's potential. It's important to note, too, that a steering damper does not come standard. As with the hlins parts, the damper is optional.
Overall, the little Ducati has the makings of a great track weapon. The first two turns at Spring Mountain-a series of long right- and left-hand sweepers-give the bike time to settle the suspension and carry great corner speed. Turn 2 has a few ripples in the pavement that test the suspension while fully leaned over-none of which seemed to be a problem. Riding the 848 at track speeds, one learns to make the most of what the bike gives you, which is great torque, strong brakes and a nimble chassis.
So What's The Deal?
The 1098 unquestionably has cast a huge shadow for the 848 to step out of. On the street it makes for a worthy companion, but riding it any which way but fast just doesn't do it justice. When flogged on the track it seems to come alive, but it's hampered by a few suspension woes-a bit like its bigger brother, really. Was the 848 never meant to step out of the shadows after all? No, instead the 848 walks right beside its brother and casts an even greater shadow. This then raises the question-will there be an S or R version coming in the near future? If history is any indication, we're willing to bet on it.