The 2018 Ducati Panigale V4 Is A Sportbike Powerhouse | Cycle World
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The 2018 Ducati Panigale V4 Is A Sportbike Powerhouse

A detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the new V-4 engine from the factory in Bologna, Italy

At a time when sportbike sales are declining worldwide, Ducati took on a double challenge: develop and launch the hottest-performing, most expensive superbike in its history while ending production of its most powerful V-twin, the Panigale 1299, into which the company’s greatest tradition had been poured.

As motorcyclists, we sometimes identify ourselves with a specific brand in the name of often-irrational ties: sound, look, and, above all, force of a given technical tradition. Ducati’s 90-degree V-twins have accumulated enormous momentum in those areas, beginning with the special victory with the 750 Supersport at Imola in 1972.

There were good reasons to expect the Panigale V4 might have to elbow its way to real success in a difficult market to duly repay the massive investments its development, validation, and homologation demanded, let alone the effort required to set up new molds, tooling, and assembly lines.

Turns out, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali hit the nail on the head. Five months after delivery of the first flaming-red V-4 superbike, sales are hovering around maximum production potential. Apparently, the motorcycling community perceives Ducati as the Ferrari of two wheels—a symbol of engineering supremacy, be it two or four cylinders.

If this positive start is confirmed in future months, the Panigale V4 may one day be recognized as motorcycling’s ultimate success story, thanks in part to its unique MotoGP-derived engine. As you can see here, no compromises were made at any step, from the first sketches to the tooling and production of each component for final assembly.

Ducati V-4 Engine Assembly Line

Ducati V-4 engine

Ducati V-4 engines headed to meet the rest of the Panigale V4. Maximum engine production potential is 90 units per day but the assembly line currently delivers 50 because the second line handles two models, the Panigale V4 and Panigale 959.

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V-4 engine production line

On the V-4 engine production line, all tooling is either digitally managed or digitally assisted. Here head bolts are rigorously torqued by a multi-head tool; the operator only starts the process and visually controls it. Remember head-bolt cross-torquing? Now you can forget it.

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Ducati Panigale v4 Production

A special sealant that has taken the place of traditional gaskets is applied by a laser-piloted, fully automated dispenser.

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Ducati Panigale v4 Production

At plain-bearing insertion time, the connecting-rod head cap is separated from the stem by this automated tool to prevent even microscopic deformations.

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Ducati Panigale v4 Production

Even manually operated tools are digitally controlled. When the bolt is tightened to the correct torque number, a light on the handle changes from blue to green.

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Ducati Panigale v4 Production

Con-rod cap torquing is one of the most critical operations in the assembly process of a high-performance engine like the Ducati V-4. The process is entrusted to a fully automated digitally managed tool; the operator only starts the process and controls it visually.

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The Story of the Project Panigale V4

synthesis of the story of the project Panigale V4

This picture shows the synthesis of the story of the project Panigale V4. On the left is the 2015 Ducati Desmosedici MotoGP engine from which most of the basic features of the new street legal V-4 were derived: 42-degree cylinder-block layout, 81mm bore, and design of the thermodynamic section. The main difference is in the camshaft drivetrain, which is operated by gears on the racer and by Hy-Vo Morse chain and gears on the street-legal one.

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Panigale V4 and the Panigale 1299

The Panigale V4 and the Panigale 1299 side by side to underline that, by being rotated 42 degrees backward, the V-4 is much more longitudinally compact, compared to the V-twin which still is more of an “L” rotated 21 degrees backward.

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The longitudinal compactness of the V-4 translates in a mass that is much easier to properly locate inside a motorcycle frame to obtain a correctly biased weight distribution. The forward protrusion of the horizontal cylinder in the V-twin forces the front wheel away from the center of gravity. To compensate, a rather longish swingarm is adopted. That never happened because there was a tendency to keep the wheelbase short for maximum agility. But this always caused, in my opinion, a less-than-ideal weight-distribution bias and consequently all Ducati chassis had a tendency to understeer exiting corners. It is interesting to note that while the Panigale 1199 lived on a wheelbase spanning 56.5 inches, the Panigale V4 rides on a 57.8-inch wheelbase. Not only is the new V-4 more compact, consequently allowing the front wheel to be moved backward, closer to the center of gravity, but it has a much-longer swingarm—23.6 inches, 3.0 longer than that of the 1199. Rule of thumb suggests that the center of gravity here is located at least 4.0 inches forward of where it is on the Panigale 1199. And that made a big difference determining an announced 54.5 front/45.5 rear weight distribution, never seen before on a Ducati.

Panigale V4 complete with its injection system

The Panigale V4 complete with its injection system that uses oval throttle bodies and variable-geometry velocity stacks. The oval throttle bodies have an area equivalent to a 52mm round opening.

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three-quarter-front image of the Panigale V4

This three-quarter-front image of the Panigale V4 better evidences the beautiful compactness of the engine that in fact tips the scale at 143 pounds, only 4.8 more than the 1299 V-twin.

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Panigale V4 engine

Each cylinder of the V-4 is fed by two injectors, one inside the inlet runner under the throttle and in constant operation, and one shower head above the throttle that is activated when full power is demanded.

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Panigale v4 Throttle control

Throttle control is fully by wire, with one step motor for each pair of throttle bodies, all fully managed by an ECU that also actuates the motors that run the geometrical variation of the velocity stacks.

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Panigale V4 two superimposed bellmouths

The velocity stacks consist of two superimposed bellmouths. You can see the upper one inserted in the lower one for the tallest configuration and maximum torque delivery at low and middle revs. When the engine soars to higher rpm, the electric motor drives the upper bellmouths upward so the incoming charge rushes directly down the lower bellmouth to better synchronize the frequency of the pressure waves with the progressively reduced time available to rush down the open valves.

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Lower Half of the Ducati V4 Engine Crankcase

first production Ducati engine

This is the first production Ducati engine featuring a horizontally split case. Only the Apollo had a diagonally split case, given that the cylinders of its 90-degree V-4 were arranged in an “L” layout to ensure optimal cooling.

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lower half of the crankcase

The lower half of the crankcase as seen from the primary-transmission side. Ducati elected to not use a cassette-type gearbox.

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bottom view of the lower crankcase

This is the bottom view of the lower crankcase. The two square windows interface with identical windows through which the two crankcase-scavenging oil pumps keep the lower half in a negative pressure condition to reduce losses due to the “counter-pumping” effect created by the pressure in the crankcase and also by the interference of splashing oil and fumes with the free rotation of the crankshaft. Ducati adopted a semi-dry sump lubrication system for the V-4.

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lubrication system unit

The body of the lubrication system unit incorporates four pumps, one to pressure feed all vital organs and three to scavenge oil from the crankcase and from the heads.

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ottom view of the upper half of the crankcase

Bottom view of the upper half of the crankcase, showing the nozzles of the cooling oil jets system to the lower half of the pistons.

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Top view of the upper half of the crankcase

Top view of the upper half of the crankcase. The hard-plated cylinders are in block with the crankcase, and each bank is fitted with a knocking sensor.

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short stub that protrudes from the right side

The short stub that protrudes from the right side of the upper half of the crankcase is the support on which “inverted-rotation” gear spins.

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inverted-rotation gear

Here is the inverted-rotation gear. To ensure maximum noise reduction, the gear spins on a plain bearing and the profile of its teeth has been the object of a very accurate analysis. The gear also incorporates the gear that drives the water pump.

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crank throws

The crankshaft is forged flat and the crank throws are set at a 70-degree angle. In a search for maximum lightness and minimum rotational drag, main journals have a diameter of 37.5mm, the crank pins have a diameter of 34mm and, consequently, they overlap by only 9mm, given the 53.5mm stroke. The V-4 is strongly inspired by the experience Ducati gathered from its MotoGP experience.

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Crankpins

Crankpins set at a 70-degree offset were derived from Ducati’s MotoGP experience. Through finite-element analysis, the V-4 project team also evaluated a more conventional 180-degree crankpin setting, but in the end the 70-degree offset was transferred from the GP engine to the production model because of the more favorable evolution of the torque curve consequent to the “twin-pulse” firing sequence: 0–90 and 290–380. In addition, the crankpin offset does not alter the natural balancing qualities of the 90-degree V-4. On the other hand, it reduces the load on the valve train.

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Con-rods

Con-rods are high-tensile steel forgings and use 12-point-type bolts. They measure 101.8mm center to center for a 1.9:1 rod-to-stroke ratio, which is far better than the 1.78:1 of the 1199 V-twin. Note that the rod head is slightly offset to the stem to reduce the offset between the axis of the cylinders, thereby reducing the rocking primary imbalance that the offset causes. That is the reason Harley-Davidson still uses a fork-and-knife rod arrangement.

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tops of the 81mm pistons

The tops of the 81mm pistons are hard anodized to better control the consequences of micro detonations.

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forged pistons

Short, light, and strong, the two-ring (plus oil ring) forged pistons are a modern design, as confirmed by the nine-cavity inner structure. Each top is more markedly domed than we are used to seeing but compromises were required to achieve a whopping 14:1 compression ratio.

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steel alloy construction

Valves are conventional in their steel alloy construction and measure 34mm intake and 27.5mm exhaust.

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combustion chamber

The combustion chamber is compact with neatly designed squish areas. Valve seats are in sintered metal and a special 10mm spark plug was adopted to leave room for the valves to be place as closely as possible to the center of the combustion chamber.

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Valves

Valves are set at a 25.5-degree included angle, 12 degrees for the intakes and 13.5 degrees for the exhaust.

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Inlet runners form a steep angle

Inlet runners form a steep angle (not more than 15 degrees) to the valve stems, as the great Dr. Duckworth preached, and are slightly venturi shaped where they curve to create an appropriate tumble effect.

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exhaust ports

The exhaust ports are slightly more arched in their profile.

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desmodromic distribution of the V-4

The desmodromic distribution of the V-4 is the natural peak of the evolutionary process that started when Gigi Mengoli developed a mechanically sound, compact, and easy-to-maintain desmo valve train for four-valve combustion. This system looks extremely neat and accessible, with three cap-type supports, one at the left, near the driven end of the cams, and two duly spaced and inclusive of the spark-plug access pit.

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Cam profiles

Cam profiles are relatively moderate and produce 10.45mm of lift at intake and 9.45mm at exhaust. The closing rocker arms of the latest generation are extremely light and solid for supreme stability even beyond 14,000 rpm.

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center-section upper half of the camshafts supports

These are the center-section upper half of the camshafts supports. They are bolted in place and bored with extreme precision. From that moment forward, they must remain in position and with the orientation they had when machined. They are duly marked to avoid any mistake when inserted in place.

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upper half of the valve-train camshaft end support

This is the upper half of the valve-train camshaft end support. The cams turn directly on aluminum bearings machined into the head.

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data-matrix codes and analog numerical identification marks

Speaking of quality control, note the data-matrix codes and analog numerical identification marks that allows the cylinder head to be traced from raw forging to its final fully machined and polished state. No messing around for what is perhaps the most advanced street-legal motorcycle engine in production today. Well done, Ducati.

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