2009 Ducati 1198S Review

Super-cool Super Duc

On Portugal’s southern coast is the town of Portimão, a summer vacation spot favored by many Europeans, primarily for its temperate Mediterranean climate. It’s only a 40-minute drive inland from this restful resort town where you’ll find one of the nicest and newest motorsports parks yet developed. Autodromo Internacional Algarve has only been open a couple of months as of this writing, but it recently served as the final stop for the World Superbike series.

The final round saw Troy Bayliss of Xerox Ducati take wins in Races 1 and 2. In doing so, he seized his third world championship and ended his racing career on a high note, as he’s now officially retired from motorcycle racing. It’s good to see him go out a champ, but it’s also a great loss to the motorbike racing world that such a super-nice guy won’t be wowing the crowds with his exceptional racing skill, and his beaming smile.

Only a couple weeks following Troy’s glorious victory, the Autodromo played host to another significant event: the world press launch of Ducati’s new 1198. Just days ago we brought you an in-depth look at the bike, detailing many of its technical aspects.

A brand new world-class sportbike on a brand new world-class race track. What could be better than that?

This latest Super Duc falls dead in the middle between the outgoing 1098, and the championship-winning 1098R. Not only does the 1198 draw on the strong foundation laid by the 1098, it borrows heavily from much of the 1098R’s advanced engineering, as well as using a good deal of that bike’s components.

Following in big brother’s footsteps

The most significant and slickest goodie gracing the 1198 is Ducati Traction Control (DTC). Note though that DTC is available as standard on the more trick 1198S only. The S model was the bike the press was so gratuitously loaned from Ducati to navigate around the new Portuguese race circuit with its 16 turns, nine right, seven left; many of them blind as they crest or dip through the track’s numerous elevation changes. The track, if you’re wondering, is, well, awesome. And so is the 1198!

The 1198S handles as well as we'd come to expect from Ducati.
The elevation changes and blind corners of the new Algarve Motor Park track reminded Pete of Barber Motorsports Park.

The bike retains the 1098’s geometry, brakes and chassis. It should go without saying, but handling and braking are what we’ve come to expect from Ducati’s recent crop of superbikes: sublime.

As chance would have it, long-time MO contributor, Yossef Schvetz was on hand. It was my pleasure to finally meet face-to-face with our buddy, Yossef. Chatting with him revealed that we seemed to be experiencing the same excitement over the excellent feel and linear power of the Brembo radials. Allegedly unchanged, Yossef and I couldn’t help but note the lack of abrupt initial bite experienced on the brakes as fitted on the 1098.

Racing down the Algarve Motor Park’s (alternate name for the track) longfront straight that includes a short but blind downhill just meters before Turn 1, most of us were braking early in the first sessions for lack of a sightline. What struck me was how precise the Brembos felt, and how linear their power was. The Brembo’s abilities are unparalleled.

My first session of the day was a nerve-wracking experience. I hadn’t experienced so many elevation changes, decreasing radius turns and blind corners since my first trip to Barber Motorsports Park. Think of the Autodromo as Barber, only longer and more challenging. Perhaps if you’ve been fortunate enough to have ridden Barber, this will help fuel your dream of one day riding Algarve Motor Park.

“Blah, blah,” you say. “We already knew the Duc would handle like a cat on Velcro, and its power would be as notorious as it is linear and manageable. So tell us, what’s the DTC like on this street-ready superbike compared to the 1098R?” In a word: refined.


Fresh off his dual WSBK wins and 2008 WSBK title, it was only natural that Troy Bayliss be in town to help entertain, and school the world moto press on how to properly get around the Portimão circuit.

First and foremost let me say that Bayliss is as nice a guy as he is fast. Despite massive images of Troy plastering the garage and hotel walls, he couldn’t be a more humble bloke. I was impressed by how engaging he was. On no less than four occasions he took the time to introduce himself, check-in with us for our experience with the track, and/or say goodbye to as many individuals as possible.

Despite his out-of-this-world talent, Troy Bayliss remains very much down-to-earth in person.

With so many racers exhibiting race-face focus to the exclusion of simple interpersonal communication protocol, Mr. Bayliss strikes you as being the kind of person who’d be just as happy farming as he would being World Superbike Champion.

Briefly, let me also say that if you don’t want to take my word for how good the 1198 is, consider that Troy bested the World Superstock time, set only weeks ago, by 2 seconds … on a stock 1198S!

In the morning, the tech briefing was concluded with an homage from Ducati to Troy on his championship. Called, “Gloria, Victoria,” this emotional slow-mo recap had me near to tears. As I jested how the video tugged on the ol’ heart strings, I discovered it wasn’t just I who was the sap, but a number of my colleagues were moved as well. You just couldn’t help but be drawn in.

By the way, you haven’t been passed on a race track until you’ve been passed by a WSBK champ. As humbling as it can be, I found myself saying, “Do it again, Troy, do it again!”

I suspect motorcycle racing will be a poorer place without Troy in the paddock.

According to Andrea Forni, Ducati technical director, DTC has been adapted to this street bike so that it will work without frying the exhaust. DTC on the 1098R functioned primarily by cutting spark, thereby requiring use of race exhausts in order to not damage catalytic converters found in OEM exhausts. DTC on the 1198 works first by retarding ignition depending on various parameters considered by the ECU, then further retards ignition advance as the bike’s brain sees fit.

Finally, if you fancy yourself a two-wheeled superhero and over-power the grippy Diablo Supercorsa SP tires (our bikes fitted with last year’s homologated rear and a new-for-2009 front), DTC will clip fueling as well as retard ignition. However, note again that DTC on the 1198 does not cut spark as on the 1098R.

Choose your Level

We all started the day on Level 4. For most riders this proved a satisfactory setting. However, I couldn’t help but take note of how at times I felt the rear-end move, yet none of the four red lights on the new LCD instrument panel (lighting up in degrees of intrusion, one for limited DTC activation, up to all three plus a bigger red light to indicate cut fueling) came on. Conversely, there were times I was certain all was well and yet the DTC lit-up like a Christmas tree. Just another example, according to Forni, of how DTC is improved and refined for street use. When you think you’re spinning you may not be, and when you’re over-confident, DTC reels you in, doing so in a humble and smooth manner. Eliminating guess work is DDA (Ducati Data Analyzer). Using a simple index, DDA will tell you exactly how much and where in the rev range DTC kicked in.

While the 1198's DTC does not cut spark, that didn't stop Troy Bayliss from cutting some sparks of his own.Session three I put DTC to Level 6, two shy of full intrusion. Though I couldn’t perceive much activation, the system stepped in just when I thought I was the shiznit. Session four, my last of the day, I lowered DTC to Level 2.

Half expecting some serious drama, I was surprised at just how non-invasive this low-level was, as it allowed some manageable drifts. DTC on the 2009 1198S differs from DTC on the 1098R in that it’s “less intrusive in Levels 1-4 while the remaining levels operate to the same degree as they do on the 1098R,” Forni explained to Motorcycle.com.

Why the experience of limited activation by DTC in our 4-session track day? The best educated guess by some salty track vets was that with such sticky tires, DTC simply didn’t come into the picture despite a claimed 170 hp and 97.5 ft-lbs.

Christmas can wait!

If you clear space in your garage in anticipation of the 1198S’ early February U.S. arrival, be smart and know that DTC stands for Ducati Traction Control, not Ducati Highside Control. It works well, but it won’t save you from poor riding habits. Think you can live without DTC? Put your money where your mouth is and bet on the equally-powerful 1198 arriving sometime very soon after the S.

The potent yet entirely manageable torque and horsepower delivery, stunning brakes and telepathic-like handling, all wrapped up in a passionate 1,198cc red package require me to say one thing. Bravo!

Related Reading
2009 Ducati 1198 and 1198S Preview
2009 Ducatis Break Cover at Milan
Ducati 1098S – Italian Rocket Revival
2008 Ducati Desmosedici RR Review
2008 Oddball Literbikes Comparison: Benelli Tornado Tre 1130 vs. Buell 1125R vs. Ducati 1098S
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