Track Test: Ducati Panigale 1299

Text: Deyna Chia
Photos: Kendrick Tan

Pasir Gudang Circuit, Johor, Malaysia – 
Ducati’s been appearing in the headlines in recent months with its successes in MotoGP and World Superbike.  Sales year-on-year have been boosted roof with the new, entry-level Scrambler. The marque has launched five new models for 2016, such as the variable-valve timing equipped Multistrada, with several more in the pipeline. Ducati, it could be said, is on a roll.

The brand’s spiritual core though, will always be racing and sport bikes. Which is why the 1299 Panigale is so important: It’s the latest entry into what’s still an undeniably fierce spot of competition on both road and track.

“Race on Sunday, sell on Monday” might be a diffident phrase in this age where the sports bike is no longer the most popular segment, but with Chaz Davies taking podiums and wins in WSBK, does that mean the road-going 1299 is significantly better than the mixed-results 1199 it replaces?

While it debuted globally in 2015, the 1299 has only just begun sale in Singapore officially. Ducatisti SG, Singapore’s new (and sole) official Ducati importer and distributor kindly agreed to let MotoBuyer put the 1299 Panigale through the paces at our “home” circuit at Pasir Gudang.  

The last time we were here testing the Ducati 1199 S Tricolore, the skies opened up. This time, we were greeted with blue skies and a “clean” track, fresh from hosting the Asia Road Racing Championship.

As the number-name suggests, the 1299 has an increase in capacity (thanks to an even larger bore of 116mm), power (10bhp), torque (12Nm more, across a wider range of revs). The internal machinery is a little different too, with Ducati saying some parts, like the con rods and counterweights, are heavier than before – that’s to tame the peaky power delivery of the 1199 and to make the 1299’s engine more flexible and usable. There’s also revised chassis geometry with more rake and less trail, amongst other things.

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It also has all the bells and whistles expected of a top-shelf superbike: Riding modes, power modes, traction control, anti-wheelie, engine braking control, up-down quickshifter and more. The brain behind it is the Bosch 9.1 MP, which also allows for cornering ABS.

Like the 1199, there’s a TFT display, now also including “lean angle visualisation”, a first for Ducati. It’s a pretty dashboard that is full of (legible) information (mode, engine temp, gear, RPM, shift lights etc), that changes from white background (in light) to black (in the dark).

Our test unit came with Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SC2 tyres, which had already been used for track sessions previously, so they were past their best, but it didn’t seem to impede the 1299 much.

Despite the big, scary double-ton power figure, the power delivery of the 1299 was very user-friendly, almost Fireblade-like. As a result, the 1299 is deceptively rapid, its linear power-delivery resulting in a 240km/h (GPS-recorded) top speed along the back-straight.

It’s a very good thing the powerful brakes, a Brembo M50 setup, offered lots of stopping power, good feel and modulation. Ducati also widened the frontal area of the motorcycle for better wind protection and it works, so you can at least save a tiny bit on an aftermarket screen.

Exiting Turn 5, a tricky uphill right-hander, with throttle at the stopper, wheelie control would keep the front wheel hovering over the ground ever so slightly. It’s obvious the electronics package has been refined, delivering power and torque in a seamless and un-intrusive fashion.

With a wheelbase much like the S 1000 RR (only one millimetre shorter), the 1299’s turn-in was measured and precise. We were able to tighten turns mid-corner with little additional bar-pressure, a trait useful for changing lines. Perhaps spoiled with the ultra-light forged rims on the S1000RR, tackling chicanes with the 1299 required a bit more bar input for transitions.

PG (Johor Circuit) is a bumpy track, and we elected to stick with the road settings for the fully adjustable 50mm Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock. They performed better than expected, remaining controlled throughout the session, resisting any pogo-ing, unlike the Sachs shocks found on the BMW S1000RR and Aprilia Tuono V4 which sometimes overheat.

Like many a svelte Italian exotic with luscious lines, the 1299’s ergonomics are definitely track-biased, with arse-up seating position and widely-splayed bars. It’s a physically demanding posture compared to more all-round bikes like the Suzuki GSX-R 1000. But Ducati has made improvements to the cooling, at least. Racers at PG would complain of power-cuts from overheating 1199s operating as high as 105 degrees (coolant temperature), while the 1299 maintained sub-100 temperatures.

We would caution buyers from commuting about town wearing shorts on a 1299, though. For some reason, the metal tank on the 1299 behaves like a heat-sink. In that sense it is a ‘coffee-shop bike’ because you roast your beans en route.

But we’re glad to say that the 1299 is a performance bike first, and a show bike second, as it can lap competitively with other litrebikes on the market now: Shod with Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SC2 tyres, visibly past their best, we were able to clock 1:42 laps with traffic, and a best time of 1:41.

So the 1299 combines a great-looking package with performance and top-notch technology. In short, it does everything a modern superbike should, and more. Is there a catch? Well, the pricing is still classic Italian, that is to say, at just over $50 grand, it’s considerably more spendy than even the high-priced Yamaha R1M, keeping in mind there’s a higher spec 1299 S which includes electronically-controlled Ohlins suspension, forged wheels, additional controls and full LED lights for a $10,500 premium.

Still, price aside, the 1299 is a product shows that the Italian brand can operate at the highest level when it comes to superbikes, and that’s not something you could say of all its predecessors.

NEED TO KNOW Ducati 1299
Engine type 1,285cc, 8V, L-twin
Bore x Stroke 116 x 60.8mm
Gearbox type 6-speed manual with quickshifter up/down
Max power 205bhp at 10,500rpm
Max torque 144.6Nm at 8,750rpm
0 to 100km/h Effing fast
Top speed >270km/h (est.)
Dry (Wet) Weight 166.5kg (190.5kg)
Seat Height 830mm
Price $52,800 (OTR)

Text: Deyna Chia
Photos: Kendrick Tan

about the author

Derryn Wong
Has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. Is particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.