In typical Ducati fashion, a high(er) performance S model is also in the lineup. While mainly identical to the base model except for some carbon fiber bits, Öhlins suspension, different wheels and the formidable S logo on the side of the fairing, its greatest distinguishing feature is its use of road-legal DTC, or Ducati Traction Control. I know what you're thinking, "wasn't DTC available on the 1098R?" Yes it was, but it wasn't approved for road use. Because the system on the 1098R would cut spark in extreme cases, that left unburned fuel to make its way to the catalytic converters--a lethal combination for the life of the stock exhaust system. Like the old system, the new traction control version will retard ignition timing when only minor intervention is needed, but instead of cutting spark in extreme cases the system on the 1198S cuts the fuel--thereby leaving no unburned gas to destroy the catalytic converters. Further refining of the system also makes it harder to detect when the DTC is working.
With its bodywork off, you...
With its bodywork off, you can see the magnesium alloy engine covers (painted black). Both the base and the S model benefit from Brembo brakes, but the S adds Ohlins suspension, carbon fiber trim pieces and 7-spoke forged Marchesini wheels (as opposed to the 10-spoke variety on the base).
On the base 1198, fully adjustable...
On the base 1198, fully adjustable Showa suspension components handle road imperfections. Like past Ducati flagships, a separate link is available to change ride height without effecting other settings. Note also the magnesium valve covers.
The S model also benefits from standard DDA, or Ducati's Data Analyzer (optional on the base model). DDA records a number of parameters like throttle opening, vehicle speed, engine speed, engine temperature, number of laps and lap times. But perhaps the neatest feature of the DDA is the addition of an exclusive channel specifically to monitor the traction control. The system can monitor when the DTC is activated, for how long and at what level it is put to use. This addition was included after 1098R customers complained about not knowing when the traction control was being activated. Now after reviewing the data riders can know exactly where they are losing time.
Putting It All To The Test
Essentially, what we have with the 1198 is a cross between the 1098 and the 1098R--a bike that takes the base 1098 and pushes it that much further, but meets its match with its racing homologation cousin. The S model suffers from even more of an identity crisis as it's barely distinguishable from the 1098R, save for some less expensive engine internals and other bits here and there. But it does come with DTC--something you will find on the R model, and a better version of it to boot.
Ducati reserved the Autodromo Internacional Algarve in Portimao, Portugal as our personal testbed (more like playground) to try the bike firsthand. The brand new facility recently played host to the season finale of the World Superbike series in 2008, where now three-time champion Troy Bayliss won both races. To help us get the most out of our time there, Bayliss himself tagged along and helped show whoever could follow the fast way around the track. It should be noted that Ducati brought only S model bikes to the intro, clearly wanting to show off the DTC at a venue where it would come in handy.
Differences between the old and the new start to become more noticeable at speed--the bigger engine makes its presence felt immediately. The increase in horsepower is evident when hurtling down the front straight, but it's the increase in torque that really gets your attention when you twist the throttle. Power comes on from as low as 3,000 revolutions, but the Testastretta Evoluzione engine really hits its stride when the tach passes the six marker. That power continues to be felt until just before redline.
One of these Troys has more...
One of these Troys has more hardware than the other...
Our Öhlins-equipped S model bikes handled the largely smooth surface of the Algarve track with ease; turn-in was rather easy considering the huge rotating mass between the rider's legs and the 1198 held its line with ease. We were also pleasantly surprised at how well the bike responds to suspension inputs--early on the bike felt like it had a rearward weight bias mid-turn, leaving the front end feeling light. This was especially noticeable during high-speed sweepers. Adding two clicks of compression damping to the shock reduced rear wheel squat mid-turn and gave back some much needed weight bias to the front tire.
The harsh initial bite under braking that some (including SR) have complained about on the 1098 has been remedied on the new model with brake pads of a different compound, making for a drastic improvement. Hurtling down the front straight, the 1198 is teetering on the top of fifth gear. Grab the lever and the braking zone is entirely downhill. No matter, the Brembo's are so strong that they inspire the confidence to extend your braking marker later and later. Feel at the lever is excellent and made for precise trail-braking.