2011 Ducati 1198 SP | Review

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2011 1198 SP

Ducati did not release a SP model since the Tamburini era (916-998), but this changed for 2011 with the 1198 SP. The Ducati 1198 SP is a replacement model for the 1198 S (there will be no R model).

The Italian superbike is loaded with features. The 2011 1198 and 1198 SP both get the Ducati Quick Shifter (DQS) as standard but the 1198 SP gets the full Ohlins suspension package, including a TTX rear shock and Ohlins steering-damper.

Another special feature is that the aluminum fuel tank comes from last year’s Corse Special Edition, and weighs less than the Corse’s 15.5 liter tank, but with the added benefit of an 18-liter fuel capacity.

Many should know that the 2011 1198 SP is only something to keep us all entertained while the real machine is being developed by engineers who used to be busy with the World Superbike program. These Ducati engineers will be working on something brand new for 2012, which is supposed to be a huge improvement on the already impressive 1198.

The engineers will be placing much effort into this 2012 motorcycle since Ducati is taking a sabbatical from the World Superbike Championship. This action, and the fact that Xerox wanted to pursue other advertising venues, allowed del Torchio (Ducati CEO) to make an easy decision to improve on the 2012 Ducati Superbike.

A little bird from Borgo-Panigale told me that the competitors will cry when they get to know what Ducati’s up to for its 1198 Superbike replacement…

But back to the business of testing the 1198 SP at Imola. The 1198 SP isn’t a great deal different from Ducati’s current 1198, but that Quick Shifter is the latest Ducati gadget we’ve been given to play with. T

he last time I rode an 1198 was at Portimao with Troy Bayliss. This time I got to be embarrassed by Carlos Checa, a man that’s been racing at the top level for much longer than Bayliss. Checa took his 1198 to a double victory here at Imola only three weeks before the test, so the Spaniard was a good man to hang around with for riding tips.

The 170 horsepower 1198 SP isn’t exactly under powered, but it’s the underdog on the spec sheet in the power department. But I guarantee you that Ducati’s Quick Shifter will with greater ease than an extra 10 horsepower keep your laptimes at the very least equally fast as the latest Ninja or gixxer.

I don’t have vast experience with Quick Shifters, but I have tried a few bikes in the past with them. Ducati is the first manufacturer to offer this as standard on a production bike. There are very few things from a race bike we can’t expect to be standard on Ducati’s top future superbikes.

Down the start/finish straight at Imola I keep full throttle open while just kicking the gear lever up. I always gear up without using the clutch on racetracks; the difference a Quick Shifter makes though is that you can keep the throttle fully open whilst doing that.

Gearing up that way is nearly three times as fast as the conventional way. And that’s just the operation itself not considering the loss of speed from blipping off the throttle.

The ECU calculates the injection and ignition cuts based on the revs, throttle position and actual speed at the instant point you push the gear lever up. The experience of racing down a straight doing this is of a super automatic feel.

You obviously do what you’d always do, but just tell your brain to deactivate your left clutch hand until the down shifts. Ducati says it takes 80 milliseconds to perform this shift up using the DQS, and 230 milliseconds without. Down the straight this feels nearly as a boost in power because of the very rapid virtually lossless acceleration it gives.

The DQS aids in corner exits as well, particularly if you are dealing with left-handers (which there are plenty of at the anti-clockwise Imola). During these left-handers, your elbow is usually stretched out near your knee, making it awkward to use the clutch if you have to shift in the corner.

The quick shifter gets me from corner to corner very fast so it’s a good thing Ducati have added a highly sophisticated race derived slipper clutch to aid with the downshifts, too.

The immensely powerful Brembo Monoblocks working through the high quality Ohlins front fork gives excellent feel and control into the corners. Unfortunately for me I was still learning the track when I got my only session on the 1198 SP in the morning. Due to this, I was not on the pace you need to be to really test the traction control, but it’s the same as I’ve tested before on other Ducati models with eight different levels.

I adjusted down from level 4 to 2 so that I had a chance for some wheel spin and other fun things that you can do on a Ducati 1198. Exiting first gear corners the 1198 SP insists on a wheelie, 97 ft. lbs. of torque at 8,000 rpm says so.

Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP Tires in sizes 120/70-ZR17 and 190/55-ZR17 are standard and they were the softest compounds for us to test. The 1198 SP will be available in Red and Black.

Conclusion

The electronic quick shifter is an interesting addition to the world of production superbikes. Not quite as interesting as traction control, but nevertheless now that its out somebody else will follow suit.

The DQS works well too and will make anybody quicker, particularly down the straights. Perhaps it’s that little extra the 1198 SP needs to stay in contention at least with the other road bikes for 2011 until Ducati will have something all new.

It’s a terrible shame about the Xerox team in World Superbike Championship, but I can’t help but thinking that things are still pretty exciting at Ducati.

If you were looking for just one more excuse to buy an 1198, then the Quick Shifter is as good as any. Handling is superb and this engine will always get my thumbs up despite the fact that it’s being threatened by overwhelming figures. Ave Testastretta.

2011 Ducati 1198 SP Positives:

  • Impressive Electronics package
  • 18 liter lightweight fuel tank
  • Superb handling as always

2011 Ducati 1198 SP Negatives:

  • The 1198 is at the end of its development (look upon it in another way, it’s the best 1198 built)
  • No world superbike kudos in 2011