First ride: Is Ducati's new 959 Panigale Corse worth £1900 more than the stocker?
Ducati’s 959 Panigale is the connoisseur’s sportsbike. Just like the still-brilliant Suzuki GSX-R750 it’s less about brute power and more about big corner speed.
With a relatively modest 148bhp at the crank and weighing more than its 1299 Panigale big brother, the standard 959 isn’t a brain-mashing, tyre shredding wheelie monster, but show it a clear piece of twisty road, or track and it’s every bit as fast as superbike and easier to ride. It’s well equipped, too, boasting Brembos, a full array of electronic rider aids and a quickshifter.
But there’s never been an ‘S or ‘R’ version, until now. This new Corse edition costs £1900 more than the £13,999 base model and comes with a host of goodies, which we put to the test at here at a sun-scorched MSVT trackday at Brands Hatch.
There’s little wrong with the standard 959’s fully adjustable Showa Big Piston Forks and Sachs shock, but we all know top drawer suspension is always an improvement. But as cool as they look, the Corse’s Öhlins forks and shock aren’t an obvious step forward, which just goes to show how well set-up the base model is.
Ride-quality is slightly improved, but you’d need to ride the Corse back-to-back with the stock 959 to really feel the difference and fit stickier tyres to work the suspension harder. But here at Brands it’s easier to dial the Öhlins to suit the rider and feel the changes a few clicks of damping makes.
Stability, feeling for grip and the barely-marked standard Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa are all signs the Öhlins is working perfectly.
The Corse also has an adjustable Öhlins steering damper, but the Ducati is so unflappable it’s not needed, even over the Kent track’s swooping start/finish straight.
Although Ducati claims the new lithium-ion battery weighs 2.5kg less, the Corse is only half a kilo lighter than the base 959. We reckon the Ohlins suspension is slightly heavier than the standard machines Sachs/Showa, so the weight saving is minimal.
A titanium work of art
Euro4-friendly titanium Akrapovic cans don’t make any extra power, but recording just 97db on the Brands Hatch noise meter, they’re trackday friendly. Judging by the comments from people on the day, few have come round to the 959’s side-mounted exhaust design.
Just like Dovi’s
A lumo-orange MotoGP-inspired paintjob stops you in your tracks. It’s the same retina-burning colour and satin finish as the £72,000 Superleggera and it transforms the 959’s looks.
A golden lap of Brands
With a clear track there’s little to rival the smile the Corse puts on your face. Be brave, let go of the brakes early into Paddock, Druids, Graham Hill, Surtees and Clearways and let Ducati’s sweet chassis do its thing. It’s roomy to climb over, compared to most sportsbikes, but so thin it’s hard to grip with your legs under hard braking and cornering.
Traction and ABS are too intrusive on track, so we turn them all off and you miss not having a quickshifter. The 955cc Superquadro V-twin runs out of puff quickly, so you need to feed in extra gears exiting Druids and Graham Hill.
Pirelli Rosso Corsa tyres do the job admirably, but they’re old-generation now (we rode the much improved Rosso Corsa II at its launch in South Africa a few weeks ago) and the Ducati doesn’t have the oomph to keep up with a well-ridden 1000 along the straights. A heart-in-the-mouth dive bomb is the only way to get past.
Judging by the crowd it attracts at Brands Hatch the 959 Panigale Corse edition is worth the extra £1900 for its wow factor alone. It’s still the 959 Panigale we know and love – easy and non-threatening to ride fast and born to tackle fast corners. A solo lap of Brands borders on spiritual.
The Ohlins is a small step up in performance and adjustability, but it’s not huge and there’s no power gain from the new end cans.
Tot up the cost of the Corse’s extras and it adds up to a lot more than the £1900 premium, but you can buy a used 959, or even an 899 cheaper and upgrade it for less.
Engine 955cc 8v V-twin
Frame Airbox monocoque
Suspension Öhlins Fully adjustable 43mm NIX forks and TTX36 rear shock.
Brakes 2 x 320mm front discs with four-piston radial Brembo M4.32 monobloc calipers. 245mm rear disc with twin-piston caliper
Dry weight 175.5kg
Seat height 830mm
We first saw the new 959 Panigale when it was unveiled at the EICMA show in Milan last November as we reported here:
Ducati unveils 959 Panigale Corse editon
Ducati’s new Panigale V4 will, rightly, be stealing the limelight as we roar into 2018, but spare a thought for this little beauty, too. Keeping the tradition of special high-end models as a model edges closer to being replaced, like the 848 EVO Corse, next year’s range will include a Corse edition of the 959 Panigale.
Apart from the beautiful paintjob, there are some choice engineering updates to set the Corse apart from the stock model. Essentially an ‘S’ (Ducati don’t make one), the Corse gets the full Öhlins treatment, with a TTX46 rear shock tucked in under your left thigh, and a 43mm NIX30 fork at the sharp end. Refreshingly free of electronic intervention, the perfect road or track setting is just a couple of clicks away. Also added from the same catalogue is an adjustable Öhlins steering damper, while the use of a lightweight Lithium Ion racing battery also helps the weight loss.
You can’t help but notice the beautiful road-homologated titanium Akrapovic shotgun silenced system snaking up the righthand side of the bike, either – which is standard fitment on the Corse – complete with GP-style gauze over the exits. Sadly there’s no bare aluminium on the tank, something which characterised previous Corse models, but who cares when the paintjob looks this good?
Expected to arrive in February 2018, at £15,895 from your local dealer.
See all the hot new 2018 bikes at Motorcycle Live this November 18-26.