Sunday, May 8, 2011

2008 Ducati 1098R First Ride

Ducati literally rewrote the rules to get its 1098R into the World Superbike ranks and we tested the 1198cc Twin at Alabama s Barber Motorsports Park.
Ducati literally rewrote the rules to get its 1098R into the World Superbike ranks and we tested the 1198cc Twin at Alabama's Barber Motorsports Park.
After much anticipation, the 2008 Ducati 1098R has finally arrived and after a day of pounding out laps on the machine that is supposed to swing the World Superbike balance of power back to the Italians, we came away impressed.

When the 1098 debuted back in 2006, Ducati was optimistic about the bike's potential. Much to the dismay of superbike fans it didn't make an appearance in the premier racing series' that year, though it ultimately turned out to be a huge sales success, with dealerships cleaned-out from coast to coast. Soon, the buzz of the impending arrival of a 1098R was the hot topic. While the rumor mill was churning, the company flexed its muscle and initiated a rule change in World Superbike which would allow 1200cc Twins to compete alongside the 1000cc In-Line Fours in an effort to reduce the cost of participation. By employing the old adage, "there's no replacement for displacement" to its benefit, Ducati would now be able to use this 'advantage' en lieu of costly performance tuning to keep Twins competitive. The door had been opened to allow Ducati to supersize the 1098 and turn it into the machine it hopes will return them to a position of dominance.

Although the 1098R looks similar to the standard bike, this is a pure homologation special with nearly everything it takes to compete at the highest level of racing right out of the box. Leading the long list of high-tech racing components is a bigger, badder 1198cc version of the Evoluzione Testastretta motor which is managed by a fully-functional traction-control system and wrapped in some seriously good looking bodywork. The lower belly pan, side panels, seat assembly and front fender are made of carbon fiber with all but the fender left unpainted so as to contrast with its racing red paint. It's easy to see that the bike looks the part of a no-holds barred racer but the question is whether or not it has the juice to back it up.

A handful of the world's moto-press had the opportunity to sample the 1098R at Jerez in January, but the rest of us had to wait a month for our chance to ride Italy's finest at the 16-turn Barber Motorsports road course in Birmingham, Alabama. Our troupe of journalists was joined by 1993 World Superbike Champion Scott Russell, who was there to show us the fast way around the 2.38-mile track, along with a massive supporting cast from Ducati North America and Pirelli. Once the tire warmers had the super-sticky Diablo Supercorsa SC2 buns up to temp, we got our first taste of the 1098R.

Climb aboard this Ducati and it feels exactly like, well, a 1098. It's thin through the middle and sharp edged with an aggressive riding position that is ideal for riding fast on a track. Thumb the starter and it comes to life with a symphony of sounds, starting with its dry clutch rattling and that wonderful Ducati Twin pulsing out of the dual Termignoni underseat exhaust. Click the 6-speed tranny into first then drag the clutch to compensate for its tall first gear and soon the party is underway. Both clutch and shifting action are smooth and precise. Crack the throttle open on the high performance L-Twin and it accelerates as hard or harder, than any of the open class superbikes we've tested. It comes on with authority, making power rapidly while its ever-present exhaust note rewards the rider with a wonderful mechanical melody. It's easily one of the most exciting motorcycles I've ever ridden.

Climb aboard this Ducati and it feels exactly like  well  a 1098.
Ducati literally rewrote the rules to get its 1098R into the World Superbike ranks and we tested the 1198cc Twin at Alabama's Barber Motorsports Park.
Carving up corners on a bike like this is a real treat. It does retain the basic handling characteristics of its 1098 sibling, requiring a bit of effort to get it to turn-in initially, as compared to the Big Four's bikes which tend to be more flickable right off the lot. The forged, 'racing gold' colored Marchesini wheels quicken the steering versus the standard 1098 and are one of the few pieces of hardware that distinguish it from the base model or S other than the trademark white front and side number plates. Once you get the 1098R tipped-in and roll it through any apex, the fun really begins. Whether squaring off sharp turns or carving through sweepers, the 1098R is as stable as they come. Whatever the secret recipe Ducati applies to its sportbikes handling characteristics, it's nice to know they continue to return to the well for this bike. As I make the transition from the edge of traction at full lean and dial on some throttle a moment before getting onto the meat of the tire, the much-lauded traction control system comes into play.

The Ducati Traction Control (DTC) is no cheap substitute. It is the very same system utilized on both Casey Stoner's title-winning Desmosedici and the Ducati Corse World Superbikes. It features eight entirely different 'profiles,' which may be adjusted from the on-board computer on the LCD dash. All the available data offered by the Ducati Data Analyzer (DDA) and the selection of settings is managed through a handlebar-mounted toggles switch on the left bar. Ducati techs had the DTC set to profile four during the first half of the day. The ignition cut-out on this setting is not overly abrupt, allowing the rider to feel the system actually work without dramatic intervention on every input. We turned it down to profile two after lunch and the difference was quite noticeable. The bike would step out further during acceleration before it would kick in on level two versus level four, revealing just how hairy things could get on this beast if the DTC was not in place. Each setting is designed to provide a progressively more intricate profile as the rider learns to take advantage of the system over time. Think of it as levels in a video game. As you learn to get the most out of one level, you move to the next and if all goes as planned the rider will learn how to use the DTC to his/her advantage. Interestingly, the level eight profile was developed by test rider Vittoriano Guareschi specifically for professional riders aiming to get the most out of the DTC experience. For us mortals, the middle-of-the-road setting proved to be a useful selection that shows what the DTC is capable of without overwhelming virgin 1098R riders like us.

When the traction control interferes it feels like you are hitting the rev-limiter. It isn't as intrusive as one might expect on lower settings, but it did take a bit of getting used to as I've never ridden a bike with this type of sophisticated electronics. Most of the time it came into play while driving out of tighter turns because the speeds were low and the bike was on a small contact patch, or while dialing in a bit too much throttle while on the deck through Barber's ultra-fast bends. Those conditions could be a recipe for a high-side but the DTC takes that out of the equation and leaves the rider to concentrate on getting a good drive, proper braking and choosing a good line - all key to turning a decent lap. And all of this takes place within a nanosecond inside the DTC. It uses wheel sensors to track wheel-spin before using the same software algorithm used by Ducati Corse to instantaneously alter ignition timing to restore traction.

Tipped over into the corners  the Ducati 1098R is a stable ride which utilizes the MotoGP-derived DTC  Ducati Traction Control  when powering out of the turn.
Tipped over into the corners, the Ducati 1098R is a stable ride which utilizes the MotoGP-derived DTC (Ducati Traction Control) when powering out of the turn.
Another bit of previously unattainable racing technology is the Ohlins TTX36 shock. This component can easily go unnoticed, but in the case of the Ducati 1098R it's a big deal considering how much effort was spent explaining the shock's goodness to us. The TT designation refers to the Twin Tubes piggy-backed to the shock body. Each of these tubes houses the pistons and shim stacks that control rebound and compression damping. Any suspension tuner will confirm that tuning standard suspension is a matter of compromise because any change in one area affects the other when searching for the perfect set-up. The TTX36 is Ohlins' answer to this age old problem as it works to keep rebound and compression separated from one another. I'm not too finicky about bike set-up and the baseline settings provided to us worked great. Up front the 43mm Ohlins fork, with titanium nitride-coated sliders, is equally adept at keeping the 1098R rider protected from track imperfections.

As great as the Ohlins suspension package is and as high-tech as the DDA and DTC are, they won't get much attention if the hot-rodded Evoluzione engine isn't up to par. Fortunately, it is. When Ducati lobbied for changes to the World Superbike rules which would allow for increased displacement in two-cylinder machines, it created quite the uproar. So much so that long-time Suzuki sponsor Corona threatened to pull out of the series if the FIM conformed to their demands. Despite the resistance, Ducati got their wish and capacity for Twins has been increased from 1000cc to 1200cc and voila, the 1098R has a place to compete. People will argue the case that the increased displacement of the Twin is an unfair advantage, but there are restrictions in place to keep the playing field level. The rules are set-up so that Twins will be subjected to a 13 lb (6kg) weight penalty and the use of air restrictor plates which can increase or decrease the level of performance based on the results during the 2008 World Superbike season. If it's too dominant right out of the gate then the smaller restrictor plates will be used to level the playing field. Conversely, if they get spanked, then larger restrictor plates will open things up in an effort to close the gap on the In-Lines. Pay close attention in the upcoming months as to how this will all play out - it's sure to be intriguing.

As it is, the 1098R powerplant is a massaged version of the standard 1098 motor with titanium conrods, titanium valves, lighter crankshaft and a high-tech traction control system. Its oversquare 106mm x 67.9mm configuration is the result of a 2mm decreased bore and 3.2mm increased stroke compared to the standard 1098. Decreasing weight was a key element of the 1098R design and the effort to shave lbs paid off with a 4.9-lb (2.2kg) reduction versus the 1098 motor and 12.4 lbs (5.6kg) less than the previous generation 999R engine. All these lightened components add up to one fast-revving, hard-charging motor that is going to give the Fours a run for their money. Connecting corners on this Twin takes the Ducati riding experience to the next level. It comes on hard but thanks to the DTC it's actually quite easy to ride like a champion. Huge power wheelies through the first three gears and enough torque to pin your eyeballs back in your head are not always trademarks of Twin power, but it is with this bike.

With eight different settings  the DTC system uses sensors to detect wheel-spin and alters ignition timing to restore traction for improved drives out of the corner.
With eight different settings, the DTC system uses sensors to detect wheel-spin and alters ignition timing to restore traction for improved drives out of the corner.
After logging a grand total of two hours seat time during six 20-minute sessions on board the 1098R, one thing that really stands out is the usable power it makes through its 10,500 rpm redline. While the DTC makes the nearly 200 horsepower easy to access, the Evoluzione mill is still a rip-roaring ride like no Twin we've ever ridden before. To take advantage of the increased power output, third-, fourth- and sixth-gear ratios are higher than those on the standard or the S models, while a multi-plate dry slipper clutch helps keep ham-fisted downshifts in check. The test bikes we had at our disposal at Barber were also equipped with the Factory Race Kit that comes with all 2008 Ducati 1098Rs. The US-spec kit includes a full stainless steel/titanium Termignoni exhaust system with carbon fiber canisters (which has an MSRP of $3000 if purchased from your local Ducati dealer), air filter and reconfigured ECU that once installed, "initiates the dialogue that controls the traction control system." Ducati claims the fully kitted 1098R machines we tested produce 189 horsepower and 101 lb-ft of torque.

As rapidly as this bike approaches corners it's good that it is equipped with some of the best braking components in the business. Four-piston Brembo Monobloc calipers and massive 330mm disc brakes are an incredibly powerful combination on the track. We can go on and on about the level of feel, power and the sheer enjoyment of using them but let's be honest, unless your name is Bayliss or Russell you'll never tap into the potential these binders have. They'll still haul this bike down from 150 mph and allow for some serous trail braking antics for even a rider that don't possess world class riding skills. Lap after lap and turn after turn the confidence that the R inspires is what makes it such a blast to ride fast despite the exclusive MSRP.

Since the odds of getting a ride on one of these machines is slim we must take pleasure in the style the 1098R brings to the table. Its Ducati racing pedigree is evident in every aspect of this bike from the trellis frame, single-sided swingarm, sophisticated electronics package and wind-tunnel derived bodywork slathered in luscious red paint - all of which point to the undeniable fact that this is a pure race bike. The $39,995 price tag and a limit of 300 units on U.S. shores ensures that only the most serious riders will get to experience it, but there's no harm in dreaming about it. Whether the 1098R is worth 40-large is entirely up to you. But if you're looking to own the most unbelievable Ducati this side of a Desmosedici, then this is it.

"Ducati is a brand with racing in its DNA," says Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchico. Doesn't everyone already know that? Just look at the 1098R for proof of how influential this philosophy is to everyone at Ducati.

No comments:

Post a Comment