2013 Ducati 1199 Panigale R TestDucati’s new Superbike, the 1199 Panigale – and our 2012 machine of the year – gained only one extra CC in engine displacement (compared to 1198).However, in the process, the 90-degree L-Twin engine was completely redesigned, now called the Superquadro, and became even more outrageously powerful than its predecessor.
The only mild fly in the ointment was a somewhat (relatively, it has to be said) anemic mid-range that also prompted a few other tweaks and resulted in the Panigale “R” model (naturally standing for “Race”) that is unabashedly Ducati’s World Superbike homologation special.The Ducati 1199 Panigale R sports a more aerodynamic screen, the obligatory carbon fiber accouterments to save even more weight, and modified heat shields that can be retro-fitted to existing models.More dramatically, the engine has titanium con-rods and a lightened crankshaft and flywheel that result in a 195 Horsepower(!) engine that gathers revs startlingly quickly right up to its extra 500 RPM redline.These changes plus the re-mapping of the Ride-By-Wire fuel delivery, not only fixes the hole in the mid-range (giving 10-percent more torque at 87 mph and 18-percent more at 125 mph) but also allows the Panigale R to run slightly shorter gearing of 15/41 that doesn’t compromise top speed. Different exhaust systems are available including a PRO system that’s for race use only (yes, really).The R’s chassis (such as it is) is unchanged, however for the first time ever a Ducati now comes with an adjustable swing arm pivot (+ or – 4mm in either direction). Dropping the pivot to -4 mm gives increased squat at the rear and subsequently improved grip.Interestingly Carlos Checa prefers a +2 mm setting to the pivot that he says gives him more stability, and better turning at the front and quicker changes in direction. Although the recent World SBK race at Phillip Island didn’t end particularly well for the Ducati, it did set Pole Position in its first ever outing.Ducati doesn’t do things by halves and in keeping with their full commitment philosophy they launched the Panigale R at the spectacular new Circuit of the Americas road course just outside Austin, Texas. Helping to launch the bike were two of MotoGP’s finest – Nicky Hayden (Ducati Team) and Ben Spies (Pramac Ignite Racing Ducati).The people of Austin are southern hospitality at its finest, and the genuineness of the welcome was wonderful. The track itself (slated for a round of MotoGP in just over a month – I can’t wait) is incredible.Designed by Herman Tilke for Formula 1 racing, it’s highly technical and physically draining to ride. Twenty corners are connected by a couple of long straights, and three of those corners are effectively hairpins that require hard, hard braking from high speed.
Turns 2 through 6 are a linked sequence that sees speed building quickly through them, only to culminate in a decreasing radius corner that drops you into (7) a 90-degree left. Several of the corners are double and even triple apex turns, and many of them are blind at the entrance so you’d better know where you’re going because you’re traveling fast if you’ve got it wrong.Naturally the track is smooth as glass, so the Panigale just lapped it up while I tried desperately to get my head up to speed and figure out what was coming next.While learning the track for the first two sessions, I was continually in the wrong gear – and yet the improved fueling and terrific mid-range simply pulled me out of trouble time and again.Such is the capability of the motor I can’t be entirely sure I was actually IN the wrong gear – it would take many more laps and some experimentation to actually decide. The Panigale R is literally just fire it up and forget it – just go figure out the track and let the bike take care of itself.If I’d had a little more time I’d have dialed in more damping at the rear and possibly even brought the swing arm pivot up to Checa’s specs; I’d have liked to have tried that. The rear was squatting a little too much through Turn 2 (about 110 mph) and it was causing a slight waggling at the rear when coming back on the gas.Likewise hitting the gas hard coming on to the straight would cause a mild headshake as well. There’s nothing wrong with the bike, it’s just a matter of dialing it in to my preference and style, so even with these two minor wiggles the R is astonishingly impressive.Let’s go ’R’acing!