The Pirelli Question

Why the Ducati Panigale did not wear test-spec Dunlops.

The Pirelli Question: Ducati Panigale

"We're a little bit sorry for being a pain in the ass," said Claudio Domenicali, Ducati's General Manager—but not sorry enough to change his mind. When we invited Ducati to participate in this superbike comparison test, we specified that the machines in each of our two price classes would all be fitted with the same model Dunlop tires to remove tires as a variable. But just a few days before the test was to begin, Ducati told us that the Panigale was available for test only on its production Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP tires or the optional track-compound SC version of the same.

Our question was why? Did the Panigale have any underlying issues that were masked or cured by the OEM tires? To answer that, we spoke directly with the man who made the decision, Domenicali. “No, there is nothing specific to use a different tire on the bike. There is no stability issue. In a different world, if we had all the time in the world, we would take a month and refine the systems to work with the chosen tire for the comparison test,” said the man who had led Ducati’s product development and racing teams. Instead, he said, the issue was with the performance of the electronic systems. “The force-versus-slip ratio of the particular tire is important for both the ABS and the slip-control system. The exact tire profile is important for the anti-slip system.”

Ducati had spent a lot of time optimizing these systems for the OEM tires and wanted them used for any tests: “We’re trying to control the engine braking, the ABS—all of this is very dependent on the tire,” said Domenicali. “With another tire, you may not end up with 100 percent of the performance on these systems, important in a test like this. If a customer gets only 98 percent of the peak performance, that’s okay, there is no real problem—but not for a racetrack comparison.”

Given that Ducati was adamant about this decision, we considered renting or buying a Panigale for the test—but that would mean no Ducati support at the track, which would disadvantage the bike relative to the other manufacturers in a different way, as well as us not having a backup bike in case something went wrong.

So, the Ducati Panigale participated on Pirellis, tires that Eric Bostrom said felt very comparable in traction to the Dunlop D211 GP-A DOT racing tires we fitted on the other Exotics. If the Panigale had set the fastest lap time and won the test, we would have put the second-place machine on Pirellis to see if that changed relative performance. But because the Panigale did neither, that wasn’t necessary.