I felt a sense of relief entering pit lane following an eventful 20-minute stint aboard Ducati’s exotic 1299 Superleggera street-legal superbike. Moments after dismounting the signature red machine and removing my Arai, I found myself face to face with Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali.
Not a typical top man of corporate hierarchy, Domenicali not only pilots the ship but is also a passionate and skilled enthusiast who rides the product Ducati sells. In fact, he had just put in a handful of laps aboard a Superleggera as well, and sensing the grinning Italian’s eagerness to hear my thoughts, it pained me to divulge all.
“The power delivery is incredible with relentless drive off corners,” I began, attempting to put into words the desmo twin’s deep well of midrange grunt. It truly is an amazing experience made possible by state-of-the-art electronic rider aids to help mediate the laws of physics, striking the fine balance of optimum acceleration while mitigating the chassis’ desire to wheelie or slide with a level of precision only a world-class rider could muster in the past.
While awestruck by the Superleggera’s lightness and agility, corner holding ability, killer brakes, and outright speed—each full-boil pass up the main straight at Italy’s Autodromo Internazionale Mugello resulted in nerve-wracking chassis weave. And while a degree of movement is typical of a razor-sharp track setup, the instability I repeatedly experienced aboard the Superleggera grew from a subtle bar wag into a pronounced slow oscillation while accelerating hard through fourth gear and persisted well into fifth gear.
I described the handling behavior to Domenicali and company, stating that it was unlike anything I’ve experienced in “recent” memory. My hosts suggested perhaps I had too tight a grip on the bars and pointed out the unique nature of the Mugello straight.
I recall having a similar experience at the very same Tuscan venue in November 1998. Tucked behind the bubble of the Ducati 998 factory superbike of then-reigning World Superbike champion Carl Fogarty, the bike exhibited a good deal of chassis weave powering up the long straight.
Regarded as one of the very fastest stretches of pavement on the current MotoGP and WSBK calendars, the straight of Mugello is neither straight nor flat. A rise following the final corner of the 15-turn, 3.259-mile circuit gets the front wheel of a powerful bike light in third gear and the crested slight dogleg left beyond start/finish provokes a survival instinct to sit up early and scan for your brake marker leading into the tight turn-one hairpin.
My story of riding King Carl’s 998 titled “Bologna Bullet” (February 1999) described the works machine’s incredible 158 hp and speed in excess of 160 mph on the main straight. Riding the 1299 Superleggera at this very venue serves to showcase the leap in technology and performance the Bologna, Italy-based company has delivered to road riding enthusiasts. Lending perspective, the Superleggera spec sheet rates its Superquadro twin-cylinder engine at 215 hp in Euro 4-compliant trim with an additional 5 ponies on tap when equipped with the included Akrapovic race-kit exhaust. Calling up the peak speed recorded by the onboard Ducati Data Analyzer + datalogger showed my bike registered 330 km/h (205 mph) on the straight. I’ve since learned this number was generated by the bike’s speedometer rather than its onboard GPS, thus is subject to about a 5-percent error putting actual speed in the neighborhood of 195 mph.
Mind-warping power and speed aside, the Superleggera (translation: superlight) is a case study in weight reduction. Sand-cast magnesium crankcase, use of titanium connecting rods and valves, slots machined into transmission and other internal gears have helped offset weight gained from the switch to steel cylinder liners in place of the standard Panigale alloy sleeves.
The chassis is where the bulk of weight reduction is found with the monocoque mainframe, subframe, single-sided swingarm, and wheels all constructed of carbon fiber. Even with co-laminated 7075 aluminum inserts, the mainframe is said to be 40 percent lighter than its cast-aluminum Panigale counterpart. The wheels (made by BST to Ducati’s specification) represent a 3.1-pound unsprung weight savings and are said to reduce rotational inertia by 26 percent front, 44 percent rear compared with forged aluminum wheels. Ducati even gave the Superleggera a fixed swingarm pivot (-4mm from standard Panigale) in the name of lightness. Electronic suspension was also deemed too heavy for consideration. The Superleggera’s 43mm Öhlins FL936 fork is said to weigh 3 pounds less than the Öhlins fork on the Panigale R and a titanium spring on the Superleggera’s Öhlins TTX36 rear shock pares an additional 1.1 pounds.
Claimed dry weight is 339.5 pounds with curb weight at 364 pounds with the 4.5-gallon aluminum fuel tank three-quarters full. It’s this relative lightness that immediately struck me as I headed on track for my one and only riding session. Turn-in is light and precise with loads of front-end feel while diving for an apex. Threading the medium-speed esses behind the paddock was a literal snap with the chassis working full side-to-side transition with willingness unlike any Panigale platform I’ve ever ridden.
Cat on carpet midcorner grip from the Pirelli Supercorsa SP radials encouraged a heavy throttle hand on exits as the Ducati Traction Control EVO produced fluid drive with only the slightest hint of slip-and-grip action at the rear. Whether I wrung out second gear off the track’s tightest corners or ran a gear taller with revs dipping under 6,000 rpm, arm-tugging acceleration ensued.
As the first Ducati to include Slide Control (an adjustable parameter of the six-axis IMU-equipped electronics package that works along side DTC) I regrettably didn’t sample each of the three DSC levels to discern its effect. My brief ride was best served with all electronic variables as pre-dialed for the track by the Superleggera test and development staff. Ducati Wheelie Control was assigned to the bar-mount toggle switch allowing on-the-fly DWC adjustment. Any changes to DTC, DSC, or engine brake settings would require my coming to a stop on pit road to access the dash menu.
In my brief experience, riding the 1299 Superleggera was bittersweet. Its throaty intake rumble and deep exhaust note make for a twin ensemble that speaks to the soul. Its racer ergos, firm reactive ride, telepathic level of chassis feedback, and lightning response to input are sublime.
Only 500 bikes are being produced. The $80,000 1299 Superleggera has sold out with a waiting list of folks in line should a sale fall through. Ducati has sweetened the deal with a priceless ownership perk. Each and every buyer is invited to attend a Ducati Superbike Experience taking place at Mugello midsummer. This amazing buyer’s bonus includes circuit familiarization laps on a standard 1299 Panigale followed with a trio of laps aboard a Superleggera and a two-lap climax aboard the Ducati Panigale R factory superbike.
Just remember to hold on loosely. But don’t let go.