The Marchesini wheels are not look-alikes. They are identical to the forged magnesium hoops that Casey Stoner uses and nearly 10 lbs lighter than those found on a typical sportbike. The 16-inch rear wheel carries one of the custom Bridgestone BT-01 tires—a 200/55 item with a new compound that "gives both extraordinarily high grip and yet light handling." Having watched Casey Stoner all season, I am inclined to believe their claims.
The bike is the Ducati Desmosedici RR; and I am on the track at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Bending through the banked turn onto the long straightaway, I carefully wind on the throttle, as there is no traction control (although Ducati are developing it and the bike is wired for it) and I am only in second gear. With around 200 hp being pumped into that rear Bridgestone, I am fully aware that a highside could be on the cards. There is a definite notch in the power delivery from off- to on-throttle, but slow hands make for smooth riding. Paradoxically, for such dominating power, the Desmosedici is actually a pussycat, but it does have teeth. (Click image to enlarge)
Once tapped, there is no lag in the power delivery, no waiting for it to catch up with your right wrist. As the bike straightens up, the torque floods in, it is afterburners on and I am fired down the straight like a shot from a gun. The Ducati sings sweetly—not MotoGP loud, despite the track exhaust fitted to this bike (it comes with a street-legal system, too)—but the whirring, throaty, insistent howl is as intoxicating a note as I have ever experienced.
As a MotoGP derivative motor this V-four is an outstanding example of Ducati’s purist thinking. Cylinders on the clutch (left) side fire in fairly quick succession, only 90 degrees apart. They are closely followed by the generator side cylinders at only 290 degrees. Again, they fire closely together. The complete sequence does not restart for another 340 degrees of crankshaft turn, and that is what gives the Desmosedici its "big bang" feel and liquid-smooth torque curve. (Click image to enlarge)
The entire case-hardened valve-train is gear-driven directly from the crankshaft; naturally the titanium valves are opened and closed by Ducati’s signature desmodromic action. Further weight savings are had by using die-cast magnesium for the clutch cover, cam covers and even the oil sump. The cassette-type 6-speed gearbox and slipper clutch are similarly related directly to the race engine. Downshifting gears is a butter-smooth affair; there are no missed shifts, no hesitation at all. When coming down from warp speed, a back-torque limiting clutch helps me focus on the track and my riding, rather than managing the machine. Throttle connection is excellent. So, although the power is enormous, its delivery is linear, and that makes the bike easy to ride.
The chassis is very stable and not overly wheelie-prone. Although the rake is a steep 24.5 degrees, and adjustable to 23.5 if you need it, this is offset by a relatively long trail and wheelbase. Under hard power, and helped by the Öhlins steering damper, there are no serious twitches, and there is certainly no nervousness. On Miller’s straightaway, I am able to keep the bike perfectly on line, so I can focus on my gearshifts. The rev-limiter cuts in at 14,200, but an easily read row of red LEDs on the instrument panel progressively show me when to flick my left foot. The street-pattern gears mesh smoothly and instantly as I flash past the pits; remembering my Freddie Spencer School training, I keep my eyes up and scan ahead for my braking markers.
A readout of 290 kph flickers briefly on the one-piece Marelli dash. Past the end of the pit wall I spot the countdown boards and, discretion being the better part of valor, I decide to brake a little early. With just two fingers covering the brake lever, I pull carefully yet firmly. A light progressive touch is all that is needed to dramatically slow 370 lbs of Ducati for Turn 1. (Click image to enlarge)
Brembo claims to spend more on R&D each year than the rest of the US brake industry combined earns in revenue. That money pays dividends here, and they have developed a lighter and stronger monobloc radial caliper for the Desmosedici. Using only 2 pads instead of the typical 4, the calipers bite on 330mm discs that, despite a 12% increased surface area, don’t increase weight. Braking feel is perfect. Even though the riding stance is comfortable, the braking force seems overwhelming as my weight is pushed forward, but the Desmosedici maintains its composure. I grip the aluminum tank with my knees to hold some of that weight off my arms, until at the right moment I slide to the left side of the seat and hang out my knee. As the bike turns in, I marvel at the neutral handling, and how precisely the bike can be placed on the track. The Öhlins gas-charged suspension is well-matched to my weight and gives the bike its taut feel; but it is not harsh. The Desmosedici goes exactly where I want it to, turning-in perfectly and absorbing track vagaries that would upset a lesser machine. (Click image to enlarge)
In Italian racing red (what else?) the Desmosedici is spectacular elegance. Pictures don’t do it justice; each gorgeous nuance is breathtaking. This is one of those machines that, every time you look at it, you notice something more. But make no mistake; this is no trailer queen, no exhibition-only prima donna. The frame is Ducati’s trademark rigid trellis that’s comprised of a complex series of various diameter tubes. Weighing 4 lbs less than the 1098, the Desmosedici’s frame has almost double the torsional stiffness; an astounding achievement. Almost all of the rest of the chassis components are created from carbon fiber, for both strength and light weight. The entire sub-frame and seat, the complete fairing and radiator shrouding, the front sub-frame, airbox and air-intakes—and of course both the front fender and footpeg hangers—are all beautifully crafted for both form and function. The long and beefy aluminum swingarm—a claimed 35% stiffer than the 999’s—also reflects the focus of this dazzling machine.
Ducati’s 2007 MotoGP Championship was achieved in such a dominating fashion that it left the competition stunned. With such a dramatic and traceable lineage, the Desmosedici RR is not only incredibly rare, but it is also the spectacular performer one would expect.