It costs about triple the ‘base’ model of the Panigale, and weighs 12kgs less than the ‘R.’ Here’s the (almost) secret story of a bike that has already become a legend.
Some stories are just made to become legends. Who knows if, in the next twenty years, someone goes back to read through the old editions of this magazine, they will read about a time…
...a time when Claudio Domenicali, future CEO of Ducati, gathered a pool of engineers for a top secret project. This man, who came from the racing division, lifted out from his pocket the radiator cap of a Panigale. “How much lighter can you make this for me?” In fact, he wasn’t speaking only of the cap. That pool of engineers had a blank sheet for an exclusive project. “Go and make a Panigale of your dreams, as powerful and light as you possibly can.” The challenge was laid down. That bike would arrive two years down the line with some staggering figures – not least of which is the 155kg dry weight. Only 500 pieces were produced for the market – all sold out in a matter of a few days. This bike is the Panigale Superleggera.
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM
More than a challenge, this is any engineers’ dream – who can, for once, work without any restrictions and make extreme choices. Projects like the Superleggera become a freeing experience for designers who get to work on these bikes. Two years in the making, a team of 20 people dedicated themselves to the task of making this bike possible. For the first session, they all collected in one room. In the middle was the Panigale. The engineers revolved around it. Starting to think about what to modify and what to replace.
“The difficult, but also best, part of the project was that we started with a base quite similar to the Panigale R, where there isn’t much to refine,” tells us Eugenio Gherardi, project engineer of the Panigale 1199 Superleggera project. “For this very reason we moved to a phase of complete re-examination. If you look at the rear frame in carbon, even by the naked eye one can notice that it is structurally different from that in aluminium of the R, even in its geometry. Different materials have different characteristics and properties. This calls for different calculations and dimensions. The monocoque in magnesium, cast in sand, was completely redesigned in comparison to that in aluminium of the R. It’s not that you make just one mould and its over.”
The bike was redesigned in pieces, and at the same time as a whole – the external forms are the same, but the substance has been changed. “We have put all our know-how inside,” says Gherardi. But was the whole project really conducted without any budgetary limits? How did they get a go-ahead on the components, knowing that ultimately it would cost a fortune to the final buyer? “I’ll take the example of the suspension. We took the best from Öhlins, but not off the Öhlins shelf. We started with some of their best products, and we worked together to customize it to the particular needs of this bike. These are, thus, specific components that are available only for the Superleggera. For the front forks, we mechanized the same in an asymmetric fashion on the two rods as per Ducati design – in order to reduce the weight and maintain optimal levels of rigidity. The shock absorber has been modified to accommodate a titanium spring.”
The 500 units of the Superleggra will be assembled on the production line of the Panigale. The deliveries are expected to take place this summer.
There is a secret in the story of the Superleggera. A secret that some Ducati owners have had to keep under wraps. “The launch of the Superleggera,” Patrizia Cianetti from Ducati marketing tells us, “was obviously thought of as a special project.”
Ducati had identified a community of 7,000 top customers around the world. The Ducati loyalists (and those capable of spending that certain amount of money). People who already have a 996R, a Desmosedici, for instance. “To these top customers, a letter was delivered to their homes signed by Claudio Domenicali himself. It talked about the ‘Project 1201,’ which is the name by which the Superleggera was referred to within Ducati. The letter indicates a private website. There’s a user-id and a password.” Maximum security. The Ducati loyalists access the project. There are still months to go before the official launch. In successive steps, the racing livery and details of the parts are shown. Then, the invitation to visit Ducati – a closed room, and another room. In the middle, there is a Panigale. Totally uncovered. And then there are the parts. Magnesium, carbon, aluminium. Holding the pieces in your hand, detached from the bike is an experience – they make you flip them in the air to demonstrate how light they are. The magnesium wheels looks as though they’re made of plastic. A few days later, the Superleggera is unveiled to the world. And it looks as if it was made to be a legend.
Following are the differences from the 1199 Panigale R. Starting with the tank (1) fairing (11) and bodywork (12) in carbon fiber: the weight comes down by 1 kg. Contour of the bodywork is moulded in the form of an ‘Aero-kit’ (a series of aerodynamic appendices mounted separately on the R). The rear subframe (2) is structurally different than the aluminium one of the R: it’s a ‘box’ of carbon fiber and contains the electronic components. It weighs less than 1kg and saves another 1.2kgs. The Öhlins suspension fitted has been made specifically for the Superleggera (-1.4 kg). As well as the shock absorber TTX36 (3) with a titanium spring. The starter motor (4) takes energy from a lithium ion battery: -2 kg compared with a traditional one! Sprocket in chain and drivetrain 520 (5) : together with other ‘minor’ parts (part of the hardware in titanium, machined parts, other details in carbon fiber), the weight reduces by another 1.3 kg. Exhaust (6) (7) in titanium: - 2.5 kg. Marchesini wheels (8) (17) forged magnesium (-1 kg). Monocoque chassis in magnesium alloy (9) : -1.1 kg as compared to the aluminium one of R. Radial brake pump (10) Brembo MCS 19.21 with remote regulation, for the first time on a production bike. Öhlins Suspension FL 916 (13) with bottoms in aluminium totally customized and covers streamlined asymmetrically. The Superlight has pistons (14) of SBK derivation with 2 segments (-194 grams), valves (15) of the exhaust in titanium and new crankshaft (16), precision balanced with tungsten inserts (- 396 grams). The power goes up from 195bhp of R to “above 200.” Did you manage to count the kgs? The reduction is of 12 kg in total. The electronics are based on an inertial platform: the wheelie control adds to an already rich menu.
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