Earlier this year at its MotoGP team launch Ducati dropped a bombshell. The company’s boss, Claudio Domenicali, confirmed that a GP-derived V4 engine would power its next superbike. This is that bike. Unlike the 2007-2009 Desmosedici RR, which was an afterthought based on the firm’s first generation MotoGP machine and built in strictly limited numbers and at a sky-high cost, the new V4 will be an attainably-priced, full production model.
The plan was conceived during the development of the 2015 Desmosedici GP15 racer. It was the first Desmosedici to get a completely new engine since Ducati first entered the series in 2003. Unlike the original engine, which was developed purely for racing and later converted to road spec for the Desmosedici RR, the GP15 motor was designed with a road-going derivative firmly in mind. The 2007-09 RR turned out to be so popular that Ducati upped its production to 1500 examples and could have sold more if it wasn’t for the fact that the tooling for the engine parts was wearing out.
Alongside the successful MotoGP project, the Desmosedici RR convinced Ducati bosses that buyers cared more about their bikes’ performance and ability than they did about the firm’s V-twin heritage. A V4 Ducati could be a showroom success.
What do we know about the engine? Well of course it’s got its genesis in the GP15’s V4. Like all Ducati engines in recent memory, there’s a Desmodromic valve train, using cam-operated rockers to close the valves as well as to open them, eliminating the possibility of valve float. Other GP bike makers resort to pneumatic valves to achieve the same result, but they’re not viable for a mass-made bike, so Ducati has an edge on that front. Where the GP engine uses gear-driven camshafts, there are indications that the road version will use cam chains, like the Panigale, to help reduce costs. After all, this bike will need to be less than half the price of the old Desmosedici RR if it’s to step into the Panigale’s shoes.
Buyers will expect phenomenal performance. Ducati already gets more than 200bhp from the 1299 Panigale, and 215bhp from the 1299 Superleggera, so the new V4 will aim to make even more than that. To achieve it, there are suggestions that the firm will follow the same pattern as the existing 1299 Panigale range by making road-targetted versions with a larger-capacity engine, with only the homologation-special ‘R’ model slipping under the 1000cc capacity limit for four-cylinder WSB bikes. Italian sources claim that the base and ‘S’ versions of the new V4 will be nearer 1200cc, giving a useful power and torque advantage over their rivals. Realistically, the firm must have power levels of 220bhp or more in mind for this bike.
While the engine will inevitably be the main focus of attention, the rest of the bike isn’t going to lag behind in terms of innovation either. The new spy shots reveal that the machine is nearly complete, and it’s far from being a straightforward MotoGP replica like the old Desmosedici RR.
The chassis appears to be a halfway-house between the Panigale’s radical, monocoque design, where the airbox doubles as the chassis, and a normal beam frame. The Panigale monocoque was inspired by the 2009 Desmosedici GP9, but the racer has since reverted to a conventional twin-spar frame. Although not completely clear in the spy shots, it seems that the road bike has a half-length beam frame, attached to the engine’s cylinder heads but not extending down to the swingarm pivot. The seat subframe is bolted to the frame and the rear cylinder head.
Wrapped around it is styling that’s clearly an evolution of the Panigale’s design. The front air intakes are larger and more prominent, with the headlights set further back inside, making them almost invisible when switched off. The side panels now sweep up and over the bike’s vestigial frame rails and merge into the tank. The Panigale-style, under-belly exhaust is an impressive achievement, since the latest European noise and emissions rules are endlessly forcing companies to increase the volume of their mufflers.
At the back there’s a single-sided swingarm—of course—and there’s the usual combination of Ohlins and Brembo kit to deal with the springing and the stopping. The engine might be a departure from the Ducati superbike tradition, but the firm isn’t throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As usual with Ducati, we’re expecting a host of electrickery—riding modes, semi-active suspension, all the latest traction, wheelie and launch-control goodies and probably more.
While the V4—it’s sure to get a number and a name by the time it’s launched—will replace the Panigale as Ducati’s main production superbike in 2018, the old V-twin has already been confirmed for next year’s WSB effort. That’s normal Ducati practice; the firm raced the 998 even after it had launched the 999, the 999 stayed on in WSB for a year after the debut of the 1098 and the 1198 remained in action for 12 months after it had been replaced by the Panigale. The big difference is that, so far, the Panigale hasn’t taken any world championship titles. With the chances of victory in 2017 looking slim, 2018 could be its last chance to uphold Ducati’s record of winning WSB titles with every generation of superbike since the championship started in 1988.
It’s likely that the V4 will see race action next year in national championships and perhaps World Superstock racing before making its WSB debut in 2019.
In terms of cost, the bike’s WSB intentions mean that the homologation-special, ‘R’-badged version must come in at less than 40,000 Euros ($45,700). Base and ‘S’ models will cost less, of course, putting them into a similar ballpark as their current Panigale equivalents.
And what of the Panigale? Well, Ducati will reveal the 1299 R Final Edition at Laguna Seca on July 7. It’s been emissions-approved as a 2018 model, but so far it’s the only version of the Panigale to appear on CARB emissions documents for 2018, suggesting it could be the sole version of the bike to be sold next year. Notably, though, the Panigale’s Superquadro engine has been modified to meet the latest Euro4 emissions rules in Europe. Given how capable it is and the new Euro4 mods made for the Final Edition, it’s certain that the Superquadro will remain in production, filtering through to other Ducati models just as the Testastretta did before it.