The hardest part of riding the 1299 S is trying to keep the front wheel on the ground – oh, and keeping your arms planted in their sockets
Story by Costa Mouzouris
Photos by Milagro
More power. That’s what tops the list of improvements in the evolution of supersport machines, and Ducati has upped the performance of the latest open-class Panigale, crossing the 200 hp threshold with a claimed 205 hp at the crankshaft. That’s 10 more than the previous generation Panigale, which was already a beast of a motorcycle. I had tested the R version of that bike at Circuit of the Americas in Texas almost two years ago, and found it to be visceral, forceful and angry. After riding the 2015 Ducati 1299 Panigale S at its press intro in Portimao, Portugal, I must say it is positively livid.
The 1299 uses a bored-out Superquadro engine, now displacing 1285 cc, which excludes it from WSB participation, though the 1199 R homologation model is still available, and still displaces 1198 cc. The 1299’s horsepower output is impressive, but what should really grab your attention is its prodigious torque, which peaks at 106.6 ft-lb, at just 8750 rpm. For comparison, the 2015 BMW S1000RR produces a peak of 83.3 ft-lb at 10,500 rpm, and the new Yamaha R1 has an almost identical 83.2 ft-lb at 11,500 rpm – and neither of those machines are slouches. It’s this monster torque that makes the Panigale such a handful on the racetrack. But more on that later.
The chassis received some minor tweaks that quicken steering response, and the bodywork has been altered to deal with the bike’s added potential for high speeds, with a wider fairing and reshaped side panels that improve aerodynamics. The windscreen is taller, and the tailpiece is now split into two pieces, again a feature that improves airflow.
Electronic Safety Nets
Wheelie control and cornering ABS are new to this model, as is the capability to display maximum lean angle in the LCD dash. Returning are eight levels of Ducati traction control (DTC), eight-level wheelie control (DWC), adjustable cornering ABS, adjustable engine braking control (EBC) and three selectable ride modes (Wet, Sport and Race). There’s also an electronic quick shifter that allows clutchless, full throttle gear changes, and provides an automatic throttle blip for clutchless downshifts. The bike is also wired for Ducati’s optional data analyzer, which records lapping data.
Traction control is something I was already sold on, and it was confirmed after riding the 1299 Panigale S at the fast and hilly Algarve International Circuit. This MotoGP racetrack includes a mix of decreasing and increasing radii corners, several steep elevation changes, and one very fast right-hand sweeper that opens up onto a 970-metre front straight. And there are plenty of blind crests that spill over into turns.
The first session was a warm-up to familiarize us with the track layout, though I had previously ridden here. Our hosts set the machines to Sport mode, and the 1299 S felt quite manageable, doing nothing to terrify me. The second session was done in Race mode.
Race mode transformed the bike into a bona fide full-blown, full-stress superbike racer. Until you’ve ridden a 1299 Panigale, you really can’t grasp just how violently it accelerates. With the DWC set in Race mode’s default level 2 position (level 1 is least intrusive), the front wheel had no interest in maintaining contact with the pavement. And I’m talking at the top of fourth gear and going into fifth at speeds exceeding 220 km/h! The front wheel wanted to shoot skyward topping the crest going onto the front straight; it wanted to leave terra firma cresting the hill on the back straight; it wanted to part company with the asphalt pretty much any time the throttle was opened hard exiting turns, especially turns that exited on a slope.
The consensus among riders was that the…