Ultimate Superbikes 1st place: Ducati 1199R Panigale

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Lap time: 1:46.7
Top speed at end of straight: 164.01mph
Max braking (g): 1.19
Max lean: 50.94

Why it’s so special
Ducati built this homologation special for World Superbike racing. It shares the same Marchesini wheels, Ohlins electronically-adjustable suspension and Brembo monoblocs as the S model and the power and torque is the same, too.

But the R has new titanium conrods, giving the Superquadro engine an extra 500rpm and improved durability in race trim.

A four-way adjustable swingarm pivot gives Checa’s WSB team a better chance of setting up the Bologna bullet from track to track.

Although built for WSB, Ducati collectors will love the swathes of carbon fibre and goodies like the race exhaust, ABS, a taller screen, datalogger and racing seat.

Two more teeth on the rear sprocket lowers the gearing and gives the big Ducati extra oomph out of the corners, but top speed remains the same, thanks to the motor’s 500rpm over-rev.

On the track
This time last year, here at Pergusa, the then new Panigale S struggled in our 1000s group test.

Fierce acceleration made the Ducati wheelie, head-shake and bounce out of corners and it was all you could do to hang on under the power of the best brakes in the business.

Over in the German corner, the 2012 BMW S1000RR couldn’t have been easier to ride and in Hodgson’s hands it was three seconds a lap faster than the Ducati. It confused the hell out of the Italian manufacturer because when it tested the Panigale against the S1000RR at Mugello, it was faster than the BMW.

Ducati realised that whether it was in road trim, or race, the Panigale works better at some tracks than others. They returned to this fast, bumpy Pergusa circuit last summer to test the Panigale again. They wanted to find out why it didn’t work and set about changing it and it’s one of the reasons the R now exists. 

Which brings us back to today. All the other bikes here are standard, out of the box, but this Panigale R test bike has been set up by Ducati, using last year’s testing data. It’s as perfect as it can be for Pergusa, so it has a big head start already.

The Ohlins suspension is dialled-in and the swingarm pivot is set in the lowest of its four positions – 4mm lower than standard, which helps with rear grip, at the expense of some steering agility.

In Hodgson’s hands, the 1199R sets the fastest lap. Lots of the S model’s instability issues are gone, but he still had a few issues with it.

From his time on the 500s and the 2004 Ducati MotoGP racer, Hodgson is used to this heady power-to-weight cocktail and can get the best out of the Panigale R. For the rest of us, it’s sensory overload – massive fun, but it’s hard to do the lap times.

The heavier, more ‘damped’ road-going superbikes we’re used to are far easier to ride close to the limit, flatter the rider and are more enjoyable.

Lucky owners will be thrilled to learn the 1199R is the closest thing you can buy to a full-on WSB racer.

Too light, powerful and direct for most of us. But does that make you want one any less? Didn’t think so.

Hodgson says
After riding last year’s S here, the R is better than I thought it would be. It was a handful on the standard road rubber, but the race tyre has transformed it.

It still needs more bottom end power, despite the lower gearing, so it’s a bit frustrating. You have to ride the sh*t out of it to go fast. You’ve got to have the engine singing – second gear is too low for most corners and third gear is too high. It lacks all the strengths of the older Ducatis.

It doesn’t pump as much as the old bike out of corners. The quickshifter and brakes are perfect and the traction control is the best here – I can feel it, but it’s definitely not holding me back. You gain a lot of confidence with it. You can’t feel the engine’s extra 500rpm riding it in isolation.

Riding mode:
Traction control: 2
ABS: 1
Electronic engine braking control: 1
Suspension: Adjustable swingarm in -4mm position (standard = 0). Suspension set electronically within riding mode.
Bars: Bars pulled-in from their ultra-wide standard setting.