In an interview early last year, Ducati's Claudio Domenicali announced that the company would not homologate its 1199 Panigale for 2012 World Superbike competition, preferring instead to wait due to the "far more extreme change in parts and extreme development" in the superbike class compared to the FIM World Superstock support class, which the Panigale was homologated for. Sport Rider finally got the opportunity to test the homologation special of the Italian manufacturer's superbike, the 2013 1199 Panigale R, and will argue that the wait has paid dividends; the Panigale R is a clear-cut evolution of the lineup and among the quickest production bikes to ever sport Ducati badges.
The Panigale R is not the first homologation special to roll off Ducati's production line (think 888 SP2, 996R, 1098R et al), and like those that came before it, this higher-spec model's sole purpose is to give World Superbike teams like Ducati Alstare a better platform to work off of.
New titanium connecting rods...
New titanium connecting rods and lighter flywheel drop a lot of reciprocating weight and allows quicker and higher revs.
Intended for racing
World Superbike regulations were the primary reason for the Panigale R's engine updates. "On a twin, you can't change the material of the connecting rods," explained Domenicali at the R model's recent press introduction at the newly constructed Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. "Twins must be much more stock than a four cylinder," which is why Ducati has gone ahead and equipped the 1199 R with titanium connecting rods plus a lighter flywheel that allows the Superquadro engine to spin up at an alarmingly quick rate. The benefits aren't just reduced rotational forces either; the lighter internals-in addition to new DLC-coated rocker arms-have allowed Ducati engineers to raise the rev limiter from 11,500 rpm to 12,000 rpm, which also permitted lowering the gearing with a two-tooth larger rear sprocket at no expense to top speed.
Swingarm pivot is now adjustable...
Swingarm pivot is now adjustable to one of three positions to tune for varying grip conditions.
The Panigale R is still claimed to produce 195 horsepower at 10,750 rpm and 97.3 foot-pounds of torque at 9000 rpm. New ride-by-wire settings in Race and Sport mode are said to improve engine behavior and increase torque between 3000 and 7000 rpm.
Chassis upgrades include an adjustable swingarm pivot that allows the rider/crew to raise the pivot by 2mm or lower it by either 2 or 4mm via two user-friendly eccentric adjusters. In its highest setting, Ducati claims that the primary benefit is decreased squat and increased agility. The lower pivot positions, for comparison, provide increased squat and improved traction in instances where you're riding on worn tires. Unfortunately we never had the opportunity to move the pivot outside its standard position (the same swingarm position as on the S), although Ducati claims that the lower two positions have provided its Superbike riders the ability to better manage their tires over the course of a race.
At 417 pounds wet (claimed), the Panigale R is lighter than any other literbike on the market. Credit here goes also to the R's lightweight three-spoke forged and machined Marchesini wheels, Brembo M50 calipers, and carbon fiber components, most of which are carryovers for 2013.
Speaking of carbon fiber, the R gets an extra dose of appeal by way of a CF front mudguard, inner fairing panel, ignition switch panel, shock cover, rear tire hugger, heel guard and swingarm cover. Combine the aforementioned panels with the Ducati Corse graphics and brushed aluminum details on the fuel tank and you have arguably one of the most eye-pleasing homologation specials that Ducati has ever sold.
Did we say racing intentions?
Every Panigale R (approximately 1000 units will be produced, with roughly 250 slated for the U.S.) 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 auto laptimes, machined mirror caps and an aero kit. Super sticky Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires will come standard, but Ducati opted to wrap each test bike's lightweight, forged aluminum wheels in even tackier Diablo Supercorsa SC race tires at the international press launch held at the fabulous new Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas.
Overall power from the Panigale R's Superquadro engine is upgraded from the standard model, but it still feels middling below 7000 rpm (despite Ducati's claims of increased torque through the midrange), although 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? Ducati Marlboro rider Nicky Hayden (who was present at the launch, as well as Excite Pramac Ducati rider Ben Spies) 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 on the 1199 Panigale R.
The Panigale R is extremely flickable through a right/left transition thanks in part to its low curb weight, forged aluminum wheels and wide clip-ons. Plus it's 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.
None 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.
Catapulting onto CotA's elongated back straight, which sweeps to the right with an elevation change, is where the Panigale starts to show its few weaknesses, the biggest of which is a slight twitch in the handlebars as speeds increase. Getting up over the front of the bike and behind the R model's generously sized windscreen helped, although it isn't exactly easy for anyone over six-feet tall-the Panigale R's ergos were undoubtedly developed around jockey-sized test riders. My only other concern was that the ignition cut for the DQS (Ducati Quick Shifter) 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 feel 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 any of CotA's extreme braking zones.
A Cut Above
A lot of the updates that you'll find on the Panigale R can be found on the same-model-year Panigale S. Ducati has outfitted both bikes with a larger exhaust heat shield, which should keep exhaust heat from roasting your manhood to a crisp. The ride-by-wire updates will be carried over, and the Panigale S is homologated to run the two-tooth larger rear sprocket. Does that mean that the Panigale R isn't worth the $7000 dollar difference when compared to the Panigale S (the R will retail for $29,995, whereas the S will sell for $22,995)? I wouldn't exactly say that, although I'll admit that the Panigale R isn't for everyone. This bike is for serious track day riders, racers and anyone willing and able to extract that little bit extra performance that it offers over the Panigale models further down the lineup.
If you have the extra cash burning a hole in your pocket, I'd recommend it for the experience alone.
For a more detailed first ride impression of the new Ducati 1199 Panigale R, be sure to check out the June issue of Sport Rider Magazine on your local newsstands soon.