Curva Sito Pons at Jerez, Spain is one of life’s immensely satisfying corners—if you get it right. It is a long, sweeping uphill right-hander taken fast in third gear, and leads onto the back straight. I cut the Ducati 1098R in wide and stayed on a neutral throttle. You can not see the exit until you have crested the hill, but this was my third session, so I knew precisely where it was. The bike held its line perfectly; I aimed for the inside paint stripe and, as my knee-slider grazed the apex, I hamfistedly cracked hard on the throttle. Instantly, the rear tire started to feel greasy and the bike began to slide—I was over the Pirelli’s grip limit.
But, in a split-second the engine note flattened a little and the slide did not materialize. Still hard on the throttle, the 1098R drifted towards the outside edge of the track. I could see the dozens of black tire marks previously wiped onto the asphalt, but, as I straightened up the bike and crested the hill, the engine regained full power and thrust me forward. Tucked in over the tank, the front wheel lifted as I shifted up into fourth. I grinned widely inside my helmet. Holy cow! So this is what traction control is all about. The whole process had happened in the blink of an eye, and it happened so smoothly, so seamlessly, I was shocked.
As a manufacturer, Ducati was definitely on a roll in 2007, and you would hardly refer to it as a smooth, on-the-throttle experience. A 48% increase in sales and a 108% increase in bottom line has translated to a net position turnaround from €50 million in the red in ’06 to a €10 million profit in ’07. The stock value has almost trebled. The Hypermotard and SportClassic models are dramatic showroom successes. As if that wasn’t enough, Ducati humiliated the competition in MotoGP, following it up with the jaw-dropping $75,000 race replica Desmosedici—that instantly sold out. (Click image to enlarge)
Launched somewhere in the middle of this e-ticket ride, was what arguably fuelled Ducati’s stratospheric take off—the 1098. Successor to the 999, a wonderful motorcycle that was never truly accepted by the Ducatisti, the 1098 rocketed Ducati out of controversy and back to its 916 roots.
With the 2008 change in World Superbike rules, Ducati can go racing again. It has increased the motor’s capacity by 100cc and spawned the 1098R that, despite its name, actually displaces 1198cc. Racing and road machines have never been so similar in Ducati history. The R version—weighing only 364 lbs (about 35 lbs lighter than 999R)—is almost identical to the Xerox-sponsored machine that will be campaigned this year by Troy Bayliss and Michel Fabrizio. The minimal differences include the racebike having a re-balanced crankshaft and two-ring pistons (instead of three), a lighter flywheel, and changed gearbox ratios. The roadbike is genuinely the racebike with lights.
The L-twin Ducati desmo engine is now fed by oval throttle bodies, larger dual injectors, and a dry slipper clutch; it is, of course, an absolute gem. With the race-kit ECU installed, it wallops out around 189 hp at 9,750 rpm (rev-limited at 10,500) and 99 ft/lbs of torque at 7,750 rpm. The engine weighs an astounding 12.5-pounds less than the 999R motor, with most of the weight savings coming from the Pankl titanium conrods, lighter crankshaft, carbon belt covers, titanium valves and sandcast crankcases. (Click image to enlarge)
Neatly bypassing any liability issues, the traction control system and 102 db carbon Termignoni pipes are “for track use only”. They come packaged with the bike, but buyers will have to request their fitment by the dealer. For this test at Jerez, Fabrizio set the traction control to level 4 (with 1 being the least, and 8 being the most, sensitive). With almost 190 ‘roid-raging thoroughbreds being rammed at the back wheel, traction control is a highly effective technology.
Identical to the system fitted to both Casey Stoner and Marco Melandri’s MotoGP Desmosedicis, and the Superbikes of Bayliss and Fabrizio, it is in essence a beautifully simple system. The Traction Control Unit works out an “index of speed” through an algorithm based on throttle position, injection parameters and wheel speed. It then interfaces with the ECU and, depending on any differential, selectively reduces torque to the rear wheel by retarding the ignition. Then, if required, it cuts sparks on alternate power strokes. It feels like gently reaching a soft rev-limiter, almost as if you are running out of fuel.It is much more sensitive and seamless than that on my Jaguar; the power drop-off is not as dramatic, and when it comes back in it does not lag as much. Exiting Jerez Turn 8—a left high-speed sweeper—I again found I could come on the throttle hard without the resulting brutal highside. Having feathered the throttle on superbikes for years, it takes some getting used to, but ultimately it enabled me to ride on the edge without fear of accountability.
Coming through Turn 11 (Curva Alex Criville) there is a sharp dip in the track at the apex that, when fully leaned over at triple-digit speeds, would expose a poorly setup chassis. But the 1098R’s smooth Öhlins suspension—comprised of a supremely supple fork, precision steering damper, and new (patented) TTX rear shock (with completely separate compression and rebound damping) allowed me to feel the bump without causing a wobble. (Click image to enlarge)
With so many detail upgrades including Marchesini forged wheels, improved Brembo radial brakes, full length titanium headers, and carbon fiber bodywork, the 1098R is lighter, more powerful and more precise than any of its predecessors. Throttle connection is linear and smooth coming on to the power, and with the perfectly matched Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa tires, handling is neutral and balanced.
There is an uncanny, smooth fluidity to how the bike works; I found it one of the easiest motorcycles to ride that I have ever been on, and that is a heck of a testament to such a powerful machine. The Ducati 1098R is a charismatic, visceral, confidence-inspiring motorcycle created from carefully matched components. It delivers on every level.