Superbike vs. Supercar: Ducati 1198S vs. Ferrari 458 Italia

Ducati's 1198S takes on Ferrari's new 458 Italia in a contest as unfair as we could make it

By Barry Winfield, Photography by Brian Vance, Julia LaPalme, Motor Trend

Then, if you're feeling brave, you can switch to a position that eliminates the car's subtle, almost-psychic stability-control system, and then to a position that sidelines the stability system and the anti-lock brakes. Now, you're naked-it's just you and a car worth nearly $290,000.

We felt no need to do that. Instead, we got Justin Bell, former FIA GT2 Champion, to make the fateful decision. As it turned out, he left just the ABS on to run laps at the Streets of Willow-a decision we could confirm visually as the car occasionally rotated into spectacular powerslides.

Despite its lofty (for a car) 9000-rpm shift points, the Ferrari would blast past our small group of onlookers onto the pit straight, then gobble gears in deceptively short bursts of V8 fanfare. With a 180-degree crankshaft, its exhaust note sounds more like two inline-fours than four V-twins, and it's a fantastic sound. At the end of the day, Bell had run a best lap of 1:22.32-the fastest time our friends at Motor Trend had ever seen from a production car.

Then Rapp pulled on the leathers, helmet, boots and gloves that Ducati had sent, and growled the 1198S out onto the track. Like Bell, Rapp knows the Streets of Willow well (he still holds the motorcycle lap record at the adjacent Willow Springs International Raceway), so it didn't take him long to get up to speed. After a couple of stops to check tire pressures and alter the damping settings on the Öhlins shock, he ran a best lap of 1:19.3.

To put that in perspective, I Googled the matter and found California Superbike School instructors who had run 1.24s. There are various forums frequented by regular track-day attendees, and they're all 5 seconds or more off Rapp's pace. He is extremely quick. It was intimidating to ride the 1198S around the track with him in attendance, but I needed to know how it felt, so I set off and ran a few laps.

Despite its fierce exhaust note and dedicated chassis, the Ducati isn't difficult to ride at a moderate pace. It tips-in effortlessly and holds its line well. It also drives off corners like a slingshot, then switches on the afterburners as the tach scrolls toward the power peak. And the brakes are incredible! One can easily grasp why the 1198S does so well on the racetrack. It's taut and responsive, with a flexible power delivery that is accessible to riders at every level. What it must feel like at Rapp's pace I can only imagine...

I had inadvertently left the traction control in its most intrusive level, and could feel it kicking in as I picked the throttle up off the corners. The shifter was still in its one-up/five-down racer position, and although I could accommodate that if I maintained concentration, the idea of instinctively shifting the wrong way motivated me to call it a day. Besides, the photographers' (and videographers') appetite for burning pixels is mind-boggling, and they still had daylight they hadn't captured.

In the end, you can't really say these two vehicles have much more in common than their ability to convey two passengers. Their pricing is so disparate it's ludicrous to even mention. And the whole business of riding motorcycles is so alien to your typical car driver that the two vehicle types are destined to attract their own adherents.

But power, speed and agility are things that can be enjoyed by anyone with an appreciation of fine machinery, and the winners in this competition are the guys that got to sample both machines. Turns out that was just Steve Rapp and me. He got to drive the car for a couple of laps, and I got to take it home. Justin Bell, to his credit, had ridden to the track on his own BMW K1300S. But the notion of riding the Ducati somehow didn't appeal to him.

Then, when we were done, Rapp flew home in his Cirrus Turbo light plane, buzzing the track at 200 mph. Some guys get to play with all the toys...

By Barry Winfield
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