312 KPH Chariot
In ancient Rome, the Cathedrals of Racing were not just Circus Maximus and the Coliseum; there was also the Hippodrome of Milan. As many as twelve chariots, drawn by four horses apiece, would careen around the immense stadium for the pleasure of both Caesar and the local citizenship tifose. It was a dangerous sport and arguably the origin of the Italians’ great passion for all things racing. Two thousand years later—and twenty kilometers to the north of Milan—the tradition carries on at the storied "Cathedral of Speed," the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza.
It is here at Monza that we arrived in nomen veritas ("in the name of truth") to test the latest MV F4, the fastest production motorcycle ever to roll from Cagiva’s factory. The R312 was so-named because during development testing the motorcycle averaged an astounding top speed of 312 kph (almost 194 mph).
The engineering team worked from the updated ’07 platform, but revised the cylinder heads, camshafts and fuel system. The increased nine horsepower results in a robust 183 hp at 12,400 rpm with a 13,500 redline—a 500 rpm increase. Proudly accomplishing their primary goal of more midrange and top end power, the engineers also managed to retain the existing character of the F4 engine with its strong boost below 7,000 rpm. The R312 retains all of the niceties from last year including a side-loading cassette gearbox, chromoly frame, beautifully forged Brembo wheels, radial Brembo brakes, 50mm Marzocchi inverted fork, a Sachs rear shock and an Öhlins steering damper. (Click image to enlarge)
One impressive feature of the new 312 is MV’s back-torque limiting Engine Brake System—MV’s answer to a slipper clutch. It operates electronically using the Marelli ECU. While decelerating, the system automatically allows a bypass to bleed off cylinder pressure on the number two cylinder. When traction was compromised under simultaneous hard braking and downshifting, the system worked incredibly well, reducing rear wheel chatter to zero.
A distinguishing feature of all MV motorcycles is the meticulous focus on fit, finish, components, engineering, control adjustability, and aesthetic detail. When seated on the 312, the cockpit is clean, balanced, uncluttered and super compact for a liter machine. Standing beside the machine everyone will appreciate the exceptional depth and quality of the paint, and the seat’s hammer-finished leather. Looking at such details, cost never seems the primary factor. It is these details that help distinguish an MV Agusta. (Click image to enlarge)
Based on our tests of the F4 1000 R, we were aware that the 312 would require plenty of room to run. With Monza’s layout, the motorcycle would find the space it needed to display its long-legged talent. The track map shows Monza’s layout as 5.8 kilometers (3.6 miles) in length with ten turns. However, "tens turns" is somewhat misleading.
The course is comprised of three incredibly long straights, one of which begins in a gentle up-hill curve and ends with a blind exit. It suddenly deposits you into the Ascari chicane, which is more of a high-speed switchback, a section this motorcycle easily assailed due to an aggressive rear ride-height—ensuring minimal effort to initiate a turn or quick change of direction. What makes this so impressive is, even though this 1000 can change direction at will, in the three very fast, right hand sweepers, one understatedly named Curva Grande, and the others Lesmos One and Two (a vexing decreasing radius), the 312 was rock solid and equally at ease. On corner exit—and hard on the gas—the R312 was supremely manageable, the unmistakable howl of the four pipes just adding to the adrenaline rush.
At the end of the following straight is the infamous Curva Parabolica, another sweeping right-hander that curves 180 degrees, leading back on to the front straight. Slower on entrance but unwinding on exit, the brief but heavy braking entry amply loads the front tire as you sight the entry apex. Maintenance of a high speed is critical, even before you resume picking-up the throttle. Because the Parabolica is a continuous turn, you span the entire bend on the sides of your tires. Terminal cornering speeds at exit are a result of how fast you enter, as opposed to how hard you accelerate through and out. This corner truly tests your patience and courage as you try to gradually, but quickly, unleash the 312’s full 183 horses to propel you onto the long sixth gear front straight. At Monza, approach speeds to the turn one chicane are so great that all attention is focused on the up rushing brake marker, although once we did manage to spy 280 kph (174 mph) on the speedometer, with many more revs left to go.
At the Cathedral of Speed, if a machine is deficient in performance it shows dramatically. But, the F4 R312 dealt with Monza in superlative fashion. The fortunate few who will experience MV Agusta’s newest creation will have their prayers answered. In nomen veritas, indeed.