It's been known for several months that Ducati plans to replace its existing V2 superbikes with a new V4 generation, and the unveiling of the Panigale R Final Edition has just confirmed it. The high-end road-legal superbike blends the race-spec Panigale R with the rare and collectible Superleggera.
Ducati had conceived a masterful plan when it introduced the GP9 Desmosedici RR MotoGP racer in late 2008. Taking a sharp turn from the steel trellis frame that had landed Casey Stoner with a world championship in 2007, the new bike was built around a carbon monocoque frame unlike anything we had seen in Grand Prix racing for several decades.
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Two years later Ducati introduced the Panigale 1199 superbike, which also ran on a similar monocoque frame design, in this case made from aluminum. The plan appeared to reach a climax with the signing of Italian nine-time MotoGP world champ Valentino Rossi aboard the Desmosedici. This was every marketeer's ultimate wet dream; an Italian legend on an Italian motorcycle in MotoGP, and a World Superbike (WSBK) racer with the same genes.
Unfortunately things didn't pan out exactly the way Ducati had hoped, as Rossi joined the list of renowned riders that failed to ride the monocoque frame to any success. By the time he left to return to Yamaha in late 2012, he had already convinced Ducati to ditch the innovative carbon chassis for the commonly used twin-spar aluminum design.
Despite the fact that it didn't make as much sense any more for Ducati to advertise its superbike's MotoGP pedigree, the Panigale 1199 proved to be quite competitive in WSBK. It is currently contesting its sixth season and, although it hasn't managed to win a championship like the preceding 1198 did with Carlos Checa in 2011, it finished in the runner-up spot in 2015 and a closely fought third place last year in the hands of Chaz Davies. Ducati claims that the Panigale has achieved more than 800 podium finishes in superbike classes around the world.
In the meantime, Ducati introduced the Panigale 1299 for 2015, dubbing the 197-hp (146.9 kW) superbike as the most powerful mass-produced V-twin ever. The WSBK-homologated Panigale R retained the smaller 1199 engine in accordance to championship rules, while the 1299 soon got its higher-spec S-version. The very eclectic and limited Superleggera 1299 arrived in late 2016 with carbon frame, swingarm and wheels, as well as a monster of a motor pumping out 215 hp (160.3 kW) for 167 wet kilos (368 lb).
Ducati CEO, Claudio Domenicalli, poses between the company's WSBK riders, Marco Melandri (left) and Chaz Davies (right), during the unveiling of the 1299 Panigale R Final Edition (Credit: Ducati)
Final Edition Panigale R
At the US round of WSBK in Laguna Seca this weekend, Ducati proceeded to unveil the Final Edition of the Panigale, officially drawing the curtain on the long standing tradition of Ducati twins. Sporting a Tricolore paint scheme in the colors of the Italian flag, it is built around the aluminum frame of the Panigale R, fitted with the mighty motor of the Superlegerra. The Superquadro (as in oversquare) 90-degree V-twin makes use of modified cylinder heads with wider titanium valves, new camshafts and accordingly redesigned ports to produce 209 hp (155.9 kW) at 11,000 rpm, with max torque announced at 142 Nm (104.7 lb-ft) at 9,000 rpm.
As expected, it is fitted with the same race electronics' package as the Panigale R that includes preset riding and power modes, adjustable traction control, engine braking, and wheelie control, quickshifter, cornering ABS, and a GPS-equipped data analyzer.
Without the carbon running gear of the Supeleggera, the Panigale 1299 R Final Edition tips the scales at a more real-worldly 190 kg (418.9 lb). It runs on forged Marchesini aluminum wheels, and it's furnished with a set of Öhlins NIX30 forks, TTX36 rear shock, and of course the top-of-the-line Brembo Monobloc M50 semi-floating radial brake calipers biting on two huge 330-mm disks.
According to Ducati, the Final Edition will be a numbered collectible model, but its production run will not be limited to any specific number. We should certainly expect a price tag above the US$35,000 of the Panigale R, but hopefully far lower than the $80,000 of the rare Superleggera.
During the unveiling ceremony in Laguna Seca, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicalli also revealed that the new V4 superbike will debut at the upcoming EICMA show in Milan, Italy, in November. The motor will be all new, unavoidably borrowing on MotoGP's Desmosedici RR tech, but different enough to satisfy wide service intervals and Euro 4 compliance, all the while outputting more than 200 hp. It will be produced in two versions – 1,200 and 1,000 cc – with the latter obviously destined to chase the elusive WSBK crown against the Kawasaki ZX-10RR and Aprilia RSV4, which have dominated the championship since 2012.
In the meantime, take a look at the final chapter of the V-twins that have been pouring out of Ducati's production line in Borgo Panigale, at the outskirts of Bologna, Italy, for decades: