‘Lap-time has always been a very clear target’
In conversation with Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali
For DUCatI’s Boss, the DeCIsIoN to develop a mass-produced V4 superbike dates back several years, to shortly after the launch of the 1199 that itself seemed revolutionary at the time. “It was a typical moment after you have just launched a new product,” he recalls. “we had to start to think, ‘what is next?’ “we very openly analysed how we can make the bike better; more rewarding for the rider. and with it being sports bike, how can we make it faster, because the whole game in this environment is to make the bike fast on a racetrack, and with less effort.”
Domenicali realised he had to choose between two alternatives. “one was to improve our superquadro [V-twin] engine, which we already knew would become 1,300 cc in 2015. for sure, there was some thinking that a lot of the heritage of the company in the last 20 years is developing the twin. on one side, it is a pity to stop the development of this platform.
“But on the other side, we thought that with a 116-mm bore, the ratio between bore and stroke of this engine was already very extreme. It was getting rather complicated, so we thought it would be trying too hard to continue that concept. and we had the Desmosedici in MotoGP, with which we had a lot of experience through racing. so we thought that this would be the proper time.”
for Domenicali, one factor that made the switch easier was that the V4 would retain much of the character of the V-twin. “Due to the firing order and the way the crankshaft is set, when you ride the bike up to 11,000 rpm it very much feels like a twin.”
the other key factor in choosing a V4 was that although a volume-produced engine would be new for Ducati, much of the development work had already been done. “we didn’t experiment with firing orders because we had played a lot in MotoGP. we knew this firing order very well, it’s the same one as in MotoGP and it’s really the best solution.”
similarly, the engine’s dimensions and combustion chamber shape came directly from racing experience. “we set the bore at 81 mm to keep it the same as MotoGP. Valve dimension, ports, all the thermodynamic elements came from our experience. we just use a longer stroke in order to gain the fantastic mid-range between 4,000 and 8,000 or 9,000 rpm. this is the best for track-days and riding on the road.”
the V4’s frame was also very much shaped on the track. “again we did not try many solutions because it is derived from our experience. with MotoGP we had made a lot of tests with different chassis, disconnecting overall stiffness from lateral stiffness. for a bike that has to reach a very high leaning angle, it is very important to have the cornering characteristics that come from a disconnection between the types of stiffness.
“Changing the thickness of the aluminium to alter the stiffness is pretty easy,” says the Ceo who began at Ducati as an engineer in the early 1990s, working on the steel-framed chassis of the sweet-handling supermono race bike. “the difficult part is setting the target. once you have the target, the design structure to reach this target is a kind of kid’s job with the design tools that we have today.”
as that focus on handling at extreme angles suggests, Domenicali was always clear that the Panigale’s focus would be on pure performance. “the lap-time has always been a very clear target, but this comes partly from rideability,” he says. “for example, the way it is possible to control the bike with the throttle: close the throttle and the bike turns, open it and the bike oversteers a little bit. we wanted to make a track-day enjoyable because you are fast, but with total control of the bike.”
that search for control extended to further development of electronics. “when we have 214 Ps we’re starting to enter the world of real race bikes. at this point, you are running at a high speed so you need proper skills and knowledge of the racetrack. But the software and hardware are developing super quickly, so I think it’s far easier to ride this bike than to ride a less powerful bike 15 years ago.”
looking to the future, the V4 engine will inevitably be adopted by other models, starting with a 1,000-cc Panigale for superbike racing homologation. “our range in the future will be a mixture of one solution or the other, depending on the vehicle and the capacity. the V-twin with DVt that we have in the Multistrada 1260 is a super engine, very balanced, so we’ll keep developing that.”
the V-twin will also continue for smaller-capacity models, partly due to cost. “we will definitely not make a ‘super-mid’ V4. this engine has many components so it is expensive, and will be only for top bikes.
“But I think this platform has the potential to expand. Not in this shape, because this engine is very much a racing inspired sport application. But many of the components of the V4 engine can be shared with a bigger platform, so in the future we may see more bikes from Ducati around it.”
We knew this firing order very well, it’s the same one as in MotoGP and it’s really the best solution