‘The Ducati Corse paintjob, titanium-coloured engine covers and forged aluminium Marchesini wheels elevate the already beautiful Panigale to supermodel status’
Michael Neeves, MCN Senior Tester on the new Anniversario
Slap bang in the middle of Rockingham’s National circuit is a sequence of left- handers that punishes rear tyres. From the Pif Paf all the way through the blind left of Gracelands (the Northampton track’s answer to Phillip Island’s Lukey Heights), Ducati’s new £23,995, limited-edition, 1299 Panigale S Anniversario is banked at full lean for a dizzying 22 seconds.
Mid-summer sun has baked the track surface to over 35°C. In these conditions even a racing slick turns to grease through these anti-clockwise turns after a handful of hot laps. So squirming on the edge of its 200-section Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP rear trackday tyre, with the horizon at full tilt, the Anniversario twists and slides each time you grit your teeth to squeeze the throttle.
With an identical motor to the standard 1299 Panigale S, the Anniversario has a claimed 205bhp and a skip-full of torque. The last time we put a 1299 S on a dyno it made 196.39bhp at the rear wheel, making it the most powerful superbike MCN has ever tested.
No bones about it, the Anniversario is knee-wobblingly pretty, but it’s also an angry, aggressive, savagely fast motorcycle. It’s crammed with the same power as the Panigale R (albeit 1000rpm further up the revs) and erupts at the merest suggestion of throttle. Quickshifting up through the gearbox and autoblipping on the way back down again, the Ducati spits, bangs and gurgles with venom.
If you want a fast, friendly Panigale, the sweet-handling 959 is the bike for you, but big Panigales are brutal. They leave you gasping in wide-eyed amazement after every encounter.
With such a torrent of grunt at your right wrist, you either need the skill of Panigale-riding, BSB legend Shane Byrne to get through Rockingham’s ruthless lefts, or something Shakey and his rivals have had to do without for the past few years: traction control.
Traction control on road-going superbikes has come a long way recently, thanks to rapid development of electronics technology. The most advanced systems, as seen on the current R1, ZX-10R and Panigale 1299 not only keep you safe when you get on the throttle in a corner, but they also let you hold a slide in complete safety, without needing the skill of a BSB champ.
Ducati fitted swish new traction control and anti-wheelie to the current Panigale when their flagship superbike morphed from an 1199 to 1299 last year. It turned the previously unruly machine into one that mere mortals could safely get the best out of and it immediately became the ultimate trackday bike. It also wiped the floor with the competition in our group test earlier this year.
But now Ducati’s electronic rider aids have evolved a step further and the Anniversario is the first machine to showcase the Italian firm’s EVO traction and wheelie control systems. They’re even more advanced than you’ll find on the £29k Panigale R homologation special, or the instant-classic Superleggera, which cost an eyewatering 54 grand when just 500 of them were built in 2014.
Like the Superleggera, only 500 Anniversario models will be produced to mark Ducati’s 90th anniversary, which makes it even more exclusive than the 2008 Desmosedici RR Motogp replica, where production hit well over 1000 units. Only 45 are coming to the UK.
The new Anniversario is based on a 1299 S and costs £2949 more. For the extra cash you get those new EVO electronics, a lighter lithium battery and a race kit that includes a titanium Akrapovic pipe and carbon goodies. It also gets the 4mm lower swingarm pivot from the Panigale R for added rear grip and stability. Overall the Anniversario is 2.5kg lighter than the standard 1299 and 1299S.
You also get a numbered top yoke,
‘It’s a system up there with the best race bikes, let alone road machines’
but the most striking difference is the exquisite Ducati Corse paintjob and, with its titanium-coloured engine covers and forged aluminium Marchesini wheels, it’s elevated the already beautiful Panigale to supermodel status.
Everything from that glossy paint finish, to the way the key swivels smoothly in the ignition barrel, shouts ‘exotica’. It’s bejewelled with a lottery-win wish list of bling: monobloc Brembos, semi-active Öhlins Smart EC suspension, a quickshifter, autoblipper, electronic engine braking control, cornering ABS and, of course, the new traction and wheelie control.
For now these electronics are only for the lucky few 500 Anniversario owners, but you can bet they’ll appear on the next generation of Ducati sportsbikes. That’s progress for you.
Back at the tyre-shredding lefthander the realisation that it’s the kind of corner that will easily turn a shiny piece of powerful exotica like this to scrap if it all goes wrong, sinks in.
Do the new electronics work? The answer is yes. But don’t just whack the throttle open mid-corner. Doing that will send you off-line at best and you can still crash if you ask too much of a tyre when it’s on its edge.
What the electronics do is give you a much bigger safety margin when you’re riding how you would on track anyway. Apply the power, lift the bike out of a corner and you feel the Anniversario’s rear tyre move, but you also feel it slide into a soft, buffering, electronic wall. You quickly realise that nothing scary is happening.
As the laps flash past, the Ducati’s new eight-stage traction control (easily adjustable with flappy left switchgear paddles) gives you the confidence to get on the power progressively harder, until finally you feel the rear tyre spin and slide – and then you hold it there. The Anniversario’s electronics lets you drift the rear like Shakey can in real life, and there’s no feeling like it.
Once you’re out of the corner the Anniversario reveals its other trick. Rather than snaking and pumping as the front wheel goes light under ferocious acceleration, the new wheelie control slows the rate of lift. The electronics keep everything calm. They save you the energy of climbing over the front every time you unleash the frenzied power to the track. It’s a system up there with the best race bikes, let alone road machines.
But you’d need to ride the 1299 S and Anniversario very hard on track to really notice the difference between old and new electronics systems. That’s easier said than done on such an expensive, exclusive machine. But the new Ducati is so confidence-inspiring that it’s easy to forget what it’s worth when you’re in the groove. Good job
the electronics are there, just in case.
The 2.5kg weight-saving over the 1299 S isn’t noticeable without a backto-back comparison, either, but jumping on any kind of Panigale is alien enough after riding a normal superbike, let alone trying to notice the absence of two-and-a-half bags of sugar.
A Panigale is uniquely roomy. It has widely splayed clip-ons, a perchedup-high seat and acres of legroom. It’s like you’re wobbling on top of a tall building at first, but the riding position soon feels natural.
There are other quirks: the motor needs more revs than you’d expect from a twin and the lower gears are short, too. You’re forever changing up and down through the deliciously sprung-loaded gearshift to keep the Anniversario on the boil on track. But on the road the upper gears are tall, so you can’t get into sixth without the motor clattering until at least 60mph.
Push too hard and you’ll get the chassis twisting in protest, but the smoother your riding inputs the better the Anniversario handles, until a point when you’re gliding around the track with the seemingly effortless style and grace of Shakey at his best.
Braking power and stability is astonishing and thanks to the Ducati’s rigidity (the engine is basically the frame) you can let go of the brakes and hurtle into corners faster than on any other road bike. A Panigale’s natural superpower is its speed into turns and high corner speed, but now with such advanced electronics it’s controllable on the way out, too. It might be built for the track, but on the road this Anniversario is smooth, no more uncomfortable than any other sportsbike, doesn’t guzzle fuel and you can see out of the mirrors. But the engine cooks your nether regions on a hot summer’s day in traffic.
Very few thrills can match riding an exotic, limited-edition, thunderous Ducati on the road or track. It’s a very special machine and with its improved electronics and reduced weight the Anniversario has moved the Panigale ahead of the superbike game.
Ôlet go of the brakes and hurtle into corners faster than on any roadgoing superbikeõ
THANKS TO: Ducati Romford (ducati. hysidemotorcycles.co.uk) and Ben Neeves hysidemotorcycles.co.uk)
Ducati Corse paintjob apes that of the Motogp bikes
Rockingham’s long lefthander is a true test of the Anniversario’s EVO electronics