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The most powerful Ducati, the Panigale V4 S ridden on one of the most technical MotoGP circuits, Sepang. To say that our socks were knocked off would be an understatement
Here’s a confession. The rider you see in these highly dynamic photographs isn’t me. It’s Ducati’s official tester, Alessandro Valia, the man crazy enough to help the Italian team develop a rather historic motorcycle. However, the scraping of knees and elbow sliders while leaning into corners, pulling a power wheelie while exiting corners, and getting the tail out going into corners should be a walk in the park for any skilful motorcycle rider – all thanks to a red Ducati sportsbike.
Not just any red Ducati, make it the ultimate Ducati sportsbike on sale today, the Panigale V4. MotoGP-style lean angles of over 50 degrees, anyone? Don’t worry, as demonstrated by Valia and as I personally found out on the race track, it’s quite possible to scrape your knee and elbow sliders while still being in absolute control of the motorcycle.
Okay, I may have gotten a little carried away, I didn’t really scrape my elbows. But had I grown big enough gonads to do that, I could have – it’s the sort of a big bike that instills a lot of self-confidence, persistently urging you to push your limits on a race track. It’s not just the most powerful Ducati, but at 211bhp, it certainly is the most powerful production sportsbike worth your money, and despite that, it still handles like a dreamy 800cc supersport.
Wondering how that’s possible? Well, alongside all those class-leading power figures, there lies a web of best-in-class tech wizardry that works overtime to make life easier in that surprisingly comfortable saddle. You heard it right, the Panigale V4 is a lot more forgiving compared to most of its litre-class rivals and that sort of reassurance isn’t easy to come by.
And when you’re at the helm of what is the most powerful production sportsbike of the modern era, that sort of reassurance helps you calm your nerves. What doesn’t is riding on a technical racetrack like the Sepang International Circuit for the first time. The changing elevation, blind corners, tight corners at the end of long straights, it can play havoc with your brains, especially if it’s your first outing in Sepang.
But did I wet my pants? Not really. After an entire session of learning the track and getting used to having the V4 under me, I quickly found my rhythm and by the second session, I was thoroughly enjoying my time at the track. Am I a quick learner? My resume says so, but on that outing, it was only 25 per cent me; the rest, I owed to the V4.
Having a powerful sportsbike at your disposal and going fast around a racetrack is seldom a given. It’s a different ballgame if you consider yourself a MotoGP/WSBK-level rider, but for the rest of us biker janta, setting fast lap times is a learning curve. However, if you have a superbike that reads V4 S on its fairing, you can thank your stars and your folks for buying you a `31-lakh masterpiece. It’s going to make you look and feel like a pro on two-wheels, sometimes just one. And it’s possible thanks to the Panigale’s four fundamental pillars – the new lightweight frame, the MotoGP-derived engine, its class-defining electronics and the leech-like sticky Pirellis. On my first track session, I did try tackling them individually, but I soon realised I can’t possibly single them out as firstly, I’m no Valia and secondly, the V4 is a recipe with these unique ingredients blended so well together that it’s difficult to call out the different spices used.
For instance, the new V4 motor not only propels the Panigale forward with the intensity of a missile, but thanks to its counter-rotating crankshaft, the engine also improves agility by further tightening the line when accelerating around corners. Then there’s the rear brake, which, apart from doing its primary job of shaving off speed, also helps the rider steer into corners through its ‘Slide-by-brake’ feature. Not to forget the introduction of a new 6D IMU that uses advanced levels of Ducati Slide Control and Traction Control to decide the amount of acceleration needed to safely manage slides and wheelies getting out of corners.
In short, Ducati has gone all out in bestowing its flagship with every little piece of tech its engineers have developed lately, and if I were to explain them in detail, I would grow balder and older, which wouldn’t be a great sight.
So, let me get back to things that should interest you, such as the new motor. Derived from the 1000cc MotoGP motor, the 1103cc Stradale motor offers a greater, wider and smoother surge of torque. It’s got 211 Italian stallions raring to go at the slightest provocation, but the collected manner in which they do, is something to die for.
It’s no torque surge-monster like the older Ducati L-twin, but the mid-range is pretty strong and if you keep that throttle pinned, the V4 lunges forward with an unfathomable thrust, enough to scare the living daylights out of an unmindful rider. A good thing is that even in the wildest ‘Race’ mode, acceleration isn’t snappy and once you get your brains wired to the intensity at which the V4 can rocket past 8000rpm, life is much more relaxed in the fast lane.
What further helps you relax on a racetrack is the new chassis. Remember, it may have more than a passing resemblance to the 1299 Panigale, but the similarities end right there. The Panigale V4 is as refreshing as a cup of freshly brewed coffee, from the finest of beans, that too. There’s a newly developed ‘front-frame’ that’s extremely lightweight, then there’s the semi-active Ohlins suspension on the V4 S that is simply fantastic on a track outing, knowing exactly what you need depending on the rider mode and your actions in the saddle. It’s also got a great companion in Brembo’s new Stylema calliper, which is basically the advanced version of the famed M50 Monoblock. And the entire package is rounded off by the super sticky Pirelli Diablo Supercorse SP, specially developed for the V4. Believe me, for a road tyre, the grip levels out on the track and around corners were simply mind-blowing.
When you put all of this together, what you get is a sweet-handling superbike. The Panigale really does bowl you over with its ease of rideability. Yes, the V4’s electronics play a huge role in the way the motorcycle behaves on the track, but the best part of it all is that neither of it feels unnecessarily obtrusive – it lets you feel you’re in total control of the situation while the system constantly figures out the best configuration for every corner on the track! You can still choose to override it all by switching to manual, but you’ll also need very big unmentionables to do that.
After spending an entire day at Sepang, to my surprise, riding the biggest, the most powerful Panigale didn’t feel terrifying at all. Its angry front-end may look intimidating at first, but treat it with much-deserved respect and the V4 will love you back, big time. I won’t deny, all that brutal acceleration past 8000rpm was too much to comprehend in the beginning, but the more laps I put in, the easier it became to whack that throttle open.
I certainly relished the company of the Italian nannies as they let me concentrate on simpler things such as accelerating, braking, leaning into corners and accelerating hard again. There’s no denying, the V4 did make me look and feel like a far better rider. Developed in close collaboration with its Corse division, technology from the racing world has been neatly incorporated to offer a road-legal masterpiece that’s also the closest thing possible to its MotoGP counterpart. The Panigale V4 is a new chapter, a new direction that Ducati is heading into and from the looks of it, things seem very promising.