2013 Ducati 1199 Panigale R Review - Video
Just steps away from a World Superbike racer
Ducati’s new R-spec Panigale will surely be fighting for a spot in the garages of well-heeled sportbike enthusiasts, as it’s the latest in a long line of homologation specials the Italian company has used as the base for its World Superbike entries. The Panigale R takes all the best parts of the sensational 1199 S and adds titanium connecting rods, a lightened flywheel and an adjustable swingarm pivot to create the most capable Ducati sportbike ever seen.
The R’s raison d’etre is to make the Panigale competitive in the seriously competitive World Superbike series. To balance the benefit of the extra 200cc available to twin-cylinder bikes like the Duc, there are fewer modifications allowed to the engine internals than four-cylinder racers. As such, the 1199 R is fitted with featherweight titanium connecting rods and a lightened flywheel, allowing the motor to pick up revs quicker and, thanks also to DLC-coated rocker-arms, spin up 500 rpm higher to its 12,000-rpm redline.
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As technically interesting as these engine upgrades are, they don’t affect the Superquadro’s peak power rating which remains at 195 crankshaft horsepower at 10,750 rpm. This lofty number seemed a little optimistic after we dyno tested a Panigale S last year in our Euro Literbike Shootout. Chain-driven motorcycles typically lose about 10% from their crank ratings when tested on a dyno driven by a bike’s rear tire, which would translate into about 175 rear-wheel horsepower. However, our test bike cranked out 162 ponies – commendable but short of expectations.
Further aiding the R’s acceleration is a shorter final-drive gear ratio due to an increase of the rear-sprocket tooth count by two to 41 teeth. The 15/41 combo is now also homologated for use on the other Panigale models in the lineup.
The R-model Panigales we tested at the world-class CotA track were fitted with a Termignoni Racing EVO exhaust system that is shipped with the R in a box and includes dedicated ECU mapping. The “track use only” system is said to offer a 3% increase in top-end power and a healthy 15% boost in the midrange. It also sounds delicious. Also available from Ducati is a Termi slip-on muffler ($1999) and a new Racing Pro full exhaust system that features extended-length headers to broaden the Superquadro’s powerband. It retails for a princely $3568.90, and the 160mm longer headers necessitate removal of the passenger footpegs.
All Panigales receive updated ECU mapping, which our guest-tester pal Kaming Ko says has drastically improved the smoothness of throttle application on his 2012 model. Ducati claims a significant boost in power from 3000 to 7000 rpm. And to address complaints about excessive heat emanating from the rear cylinder, Ducati is now supplying a heat shield that covers the aft cylinder’s header and can be retrofitted to last year’s Panigale at no charge.
Another key element to ensuring the Panigale racebike can adapt to the world’s racing circuits is the R’s adjustable swingarm pivot. In addition to the standard setting, the pivot location can be set to positions at +2mm higher, - 2mm lower and -4mm lower. The higher position reduces rear squat and delivers maximum agility. The negative positions deliver more traction for the rear tire by increasing the amount of rear squat, which enables greater longevity for a rear tire over a long race.
As you might expect on a high-line Ducati, the Panigale R is bathed in carbon fiber. The lightweight sportbike jewelry is implemented as fenders, heel guards, a shock cover, ignition switch surround and in the upper fairing’s inner panels. CF protectors are placed on the single-sided swingarm and clutch cover. Ducati says the R’s curb weight is 417 pounds with its 4.5-gallon aluminum tank full.
The 1199 Panigale R is dressed in Ducati red with defining white race features. The aluminum fuel tank sports a mix of red and brushed aluminum, Ducati Corse graphics in white decorate the fairing, while Ducati Corse logos adorn the fuel tank and front fender.
Riding It Like We Stole It at CotA
Okay, that’s enough of what it is. Now for the important part of how the $29,995 machine works around the incredibly challenging and fun Circuit of the Americas. We were riding the impressive new circuit one week after Honda and Yamaha had tested their MotoGP bikes in Austin prior to the inaugural GP to be held there next month.
Interestingly, Ducati didn’t take part in the test days at CotA. However, Duc riders Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies got to spin some laps on Panigales during the R’s press launch. Hayden warned the section of esses beginning at Turn 3 was challenging to figure out because it appears from the saddle as a vast expanse of colored asphalt, with few defining features. The Kentucky Kid said the Turn 9/10 section, where you accelerate up and over a crest of a hill, was his favorite.
While the Panigale R isn’t nearly as exotic as a MotoGP prototype racer, the new WSB-spec Panigale is nearly as quick around a track. Ducati pointed out that Carlos Checa lapped the Phillip Island circuit with a time of 1:30.795 on a race tire during the WSB season’s opening round. That’s just a little more than half a second from qualifying on the front row of a MotoGP grid at the Australian circuit!
The road-legal Panigale can’t keep up with Checa’s factory racer, but it is a fierce track monster nevertheless. It fires up with a fearsome, deep bark from the Termignoni exhaust, and its revs up with much greater alacrity than non-R Panigales. If for some reason you didn’t think the R was a veritable bad-ass bike, a few moments revving it up in the saddle (upholstered with special “race-style” fabric) will definitely change your mind.
Pulling out onto pit lane portends the bike’s lofty performance potential. The Superquadro is yanking arms from as low as 4000 rpm before exploding like a rocket at 8000 revs. Peak torque arrives at 9000 rpm. The R is equipped with the same quickshifter (DQS) as fitted to the Panigale S, allowing speedy upshifts without using the clutch or backing off the throttle. It’s a certain benefit, especially at a racetrack, but upshifts are banged off with more jerkiness than other premium quickshifters.
Unwinding the tricky esses section was easy once we learned to trust where the track led, as the Panigale is one of the nimblest literbikes on the market. The Panigale R feels slightly easier to tip into corners than the S model even though they both share the same forged aluminum wheels and chassis geometry, so perhaps the lightened engine internals play a role.
Brakes and suspension are identical to the Panigale S, which is to say excellent. Compact and light Brembo M50 front brake calipers are state of the art and are coupled to a track-developed ABS system. And the electronically adjustable Ohlins suspension is premium equipment – the only thing it lacks is dynamic damping control like the Skyhook system seen on the new Multistrada or the DDC fitted to BMW’s stellar HP4.
The Panigale R is fitted from the factory with excellent Pirelli Supercorsa SP tires. But for the abuse on the CotA, we rode on Pirelli’s updated Supercorsa SC Version 2s. We always enjoyed the old SCs, but the V2s are even better, boasting a new tread pattern, shape, carcass construction, compounds and materials. The fact that we were occasionally dragging our toes in corners at CotA is indicative of their gluey grip, as ground clearance wasn’t an issue when we previously tested the Panigale S at two different tracks.
Instrumentation via a large TFT color display is excellent – it’s attractive, comprehensive and easy to read. It can be toggled from a road setting with prominent speedometer and gear-position indicator to a track display that shows lap times via the GPS-enhanced Ducati Data Acquisition (DDA+) system that also delivers circuit map-linked data.
The CotA track’s longest straight follows the second-gear Turn 11, and it was immensely satisfying to fully open up the throttle at the corner exit, letting Ducati’s Traction Control system manage tire slip while the rider controls the inevitable wheelie, and keeping it pinned as the speedo voraciously gains velocity in huge gulps while the rider tucks in nicely behind a taller windscreen than fitted to non-R Panigales. Graduated red shift lights clearly signal when it’s time to shift to third, fourth and fifth gears. One more upshift sees speeds climb to 185 mph, after which the speedo goes blank.
The Brembos get an extreme workout as more than 150 mph is shed before Turn 12. Stability during braking is superb despite the immense power at your fingertips, and I never felt any ABS intrusion.
The Panigale R quickly bends in to corners even while trail-braking, exhibiting excellent turn-in response. The R feels smaller than any previous Duc superbike, even pre-916s. The Ohlins suspension worked so well on this new circuit that I didn’t bother trying to alter the setup from its stock settings programmed into the ECU’s Race mode.
The Panigale R works so well on a racetrack that it’s difficult to find anything to complain about. But we’ll try.
The bike’s power delivery suffered an occasional lag when accelerating out of second-gear corners. Not a flat spot, per se, but feeling more like a small ride-by-wire glitch. Shifts up and down through the tranny are good but not perfect, as the gearbox isn’t as slick as something like Aprilia’s RSV4’s. Finally, it was mildly disconcerting when the handlebars would weave slightly under maximum acceleration. Definitely not a tankslapper, but it was condition noticed by several riders.
So, Is the Panigale R worth $5000 extra over the Panigale S? For a street rider, who may not need or notice the benefits of titanium connecting rods and adjustable swingarm pivots, maybe not. But if you want the raciest street superbike on the market, this is it.
Keep in mind, Ducati’s previous R model, the 2008 1098R, retailed for $40K. So perhaps you can convince your banker or your spouse that you’re actually saving $10,000. Plus, you get a two-year unlimited mileage warranty. See, it’s a practical choice!
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