Ducati's twin-cylinder superbike takes its final bow
Fans of the World Superbike Championship are going to miss the distinctive rumble of a twin-cylinder Ducati in future championships.
For the recent release of a final edition of the 1299 Panigale raced by Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri (in 1199cc form) this year makes one thing certain: Ducati will race a much-rumoured V4 in WSB next year.
The change will bring down the curtain on one of most successful World Superbike campaigns in the history of the championship. Helped by rules that allowed them engine capacity and weight advantages over their four-cylinder opposition, Ducati twins have been the dominant force over the three decades that the championship has been in existence so far.
Since Marco Luccinelli took his Ducati 851 to victory on April 3, 1988, the Bolognese twins have won more than 330 WSB races, the engine capacity ballooning from 851cc to 888, 916, 996, 998, 999, 1098, 1198, and eventually 1199cc as the Ducati trophy cabinet expanded in parallel.
It's this racing legacy that the new 1299 Panigale R Final Edition celebrates, along with the sales success in the road-legal Superbike segment that came with it. For the bikes lived up to the old adage that if you "win on Sunday, you will sell on Monday".
With its 1285cc capacity, the Final Edition won't be raced in WSB as the extra 85cc breaches WSB rules. It's definitely a "roadie" in more ways than one, offered in numbered final edition format to all motorcyclists for as long as there remains a viable market for it.
Consider the 1299 Panigale R Final Edition to be a combination of some of the complex engine technology of the super-expensive 1299 Superleggera, housed in the same 1199 Panigale R chassis as currently raced by Davies and company. Unlike other 1299 Panigale models, the Final Edition meets Euro 4 emission standards, so will continue to be available to all global markets in 2018 when the old Euro 3-compliant models will no longer meet homologation regulations.
Several detail changes also limit the production cost of the Superleggera-derived engine, hinting that the Final Edition won't be priced at a point where only the most cashed-up buyers need to apply for ownership of one.
Like the Superleggera, the FE engine features larger-diameter intake and exhaust valves than the present 1299 models and the 116mm-wide pistons are attached to the lighter crankshaft with titanium conrods. However, these ultra-light 'slugs' slide through steel cylinder liners instead of the aluminum liners of the Superleggera, and the aluminium crankcases of the FE are die cast instead being formed by the SL's more expensive sand-casting process.
A further nod towards affordability is the use of steel fasteners for the FE engine instead of the titanium nuts and bolts of the SL.
These detail differences have evidently had no effect on the engine performance of the Final Edition. The motor makes a Superleggera-mimicking 156kW (209bhp) at 11,000rpm, helped by an all-titanium Akrapovic exhaust system that is a key to its ability to meet Euro 4 noise and emission regs.
Along with the SL, the Final Edition shares the crown of being the most powerful, road-legal, twin-cylinder engine that Ducati has ever made.
As with all Paingale models, the FE adopts a 'frame-less' chassis format, the engine being the major structural component, with the airbox used to attach the front forks, and the rear sub-frame and swingarm being bolted to the rear cylinder and rear-side of the crankcases respectively. This keeps weight down to 179kg before the bike is filled with fluids.
Helping the diet is the use of mechanical suspension instead of the semi-active suspension of the 1299 Panigale S.
Acknowledged Swedish suspension-supplier, Ohlins, provide all the finishing touches for the Final Edition via the bike's adoption of the firm's fully-adjustable 43mm NIX 30 inverted forks and TTX36 rear monoshock with a titanium spring.
An adjustable steering damper from the same supplier will calm the 24-degree- raked front end over bumpy surfaces.
With many initial reports hailing the Final Edition as "the last Panigale", Ducati has had to clarify that the bike will be the last Panigale of this cubic capacity, and that the nameplate will continue to be attached to other models. Obviously that will include the Euro 4-compliant 959 Panigale for some time, as this model has also been future-proofed.
Meanwhile, an exciting new V4-based future looms for the hero models of the brand.
They'll probably be launched under new ownership for the aspirational Italian brand, with present owner, Audi, currently considering proposals from many interested parties for its bike-making subsidiary. Could we be about to witness the merging of Ducati with Harley-Davidson? For many bikers, that would be a marriage made in heaven.