It's just a straight bit of tarmac. How hard can it be?
It sounds like the one of motorcycling's best gigs: just you, a Panigale S Tricolore and the Santa Pod quarter-mile strip. Oh and some timing lights.
I am no quarter-mile expert, infact this was my first time doing this sort of thing, but - like any biker - I like to think I can get away from the lights fairly briskly and during my racing exploits, I've always made a row or two by the first corner.
It's the timing lights that turn an everyday event into one of the most nerve-wracking, brain-twisting things you can do on two wheels. How hard can it be to put a Panigale down 400 metres of empty tarmac? Well as it turns out, quite a lot harder than you might think because it's you versus you: half of you knows what you need to do, the other half is reluctant to do it.
With 195bhp at the crank, the Panigale has the minerals, but every motorcycle I've seen at a quarter-mile event has the wheelbase of an estate car. Something that for this exercise, the Panigale sadly lacks.
Power, as they say, is nothing without control. With its shrunk-in-the-wash looks, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Panigale's wheelbase was just a few inches long but at 1437mm it is actually longer than almost every other superbike; the GSX-R1000's is the shortest at 1405mm, the current ZX-10R is second longest at 1425mm.
So, with its (relatively) long wheelbase and 195bhp you're good to go. Except you can't just jump on the Panigale and do stuff, no. Like with most modern superbikes, you need to venture into the dash and turn on the right riding mode. Now if you own the bike, you'd find it easy but the common curse of the motorcycle journo is having to remember what all the buttons and modes do from one bike to the next.
Can you imagine if they all put the throttle and brakes where they felt like it. Could they not just standardise all of this? It appears not. I'm hopeless at remembering this sort of stuff, so after a few beeps of the horn and flashes of the main beam we're into the dash and switching from SPORT to RACE mode: The same 195bhp but with a sharper throttle response, reduced traction control and the electronic suspension kicks in and firms things up a little.
It might be a bright and clear day but there's a dark cloud of nerves looming over me as I pull up to the start line. Forget RACE mode: as soon as the lights go out I'm in DISASTER RECOVERY MODE. The Panigale leaps skyward, we're doing about 7mph, we've travelled about 10ft and I'm desperately trying to plant the front wheel back on the deck. It's safe to say, the Panigale is not a bike that rewards a handful of revs and a dropped clutch. I scurry off down the strip wondering what the fuck I've let myself in for.
Even with my half-baked first effort, I realise that traction control is the enemy of a quarter-mile time; the DTC kicks in throughout the run. I drop it from 2 (of 8) to 1. I'm still not quite ready for zero, although I'm acutely aware (and slightly afraid) that this is what I'm going to end up on.
I opt for a progressive and not explosive start for my second run - it works. Then the mind-bending stuff starts to kick in and 10 seconds later, it's all over. From the moment the engine revs overcome the clutch grab and start to rise, I pin the throttle. We're halfway through first gear, the throttle isn't just opened, I mean right on the stop. The front lifts sharply but I slot into second before it gets too wild, I shift my weight over the front to keep the wheel down and in doing so, create one of the unhealthiest feelings I've ever had on a bike. The front's a few inches off the deck, while the rear is breaking free. I'm not sliding, Garry McCoy style but it feels big. I'm drifting across the track, despite trying to counter it with my bodyweight. I hook third and shift back down the seat to try and give the rear some grip but the front wheel rises again and I hoik myself over the front. In fourth it all settles down and it's only now that you feel you're actually going to make it over the line in the same lane you started in. The Panigale demolishes fourth, we take fifth and flash under the timing gantry.
I have no idea what time I've done but I'm not sure I'd want to do that again. It didn't feel clean, it didn't meet the 'fast is smooth' mantra ..I'm convinced that quite a few brain cells died during that 10-ish second assault.
I'm sure quarter-mile veterans would cringe at my technique but I didn't back off the throttle once we got rolling despite all the sensations telling me to. Like I said in the beginning, it's you versus you.
Of the brain cells that are left, the majority of them want to do it again. This time with the traction control switched off completely. I could still feel it kicking in through second and third and that's where the Panigale really feels like it's pulling hard.
You remember everything you could improve on from the last run; the body position, the timing of the gear changes, just how much to let that front wheel rise before you shift up but when you line up on the start, those thoughts just evaporate.
I'm not saying no traction control was easy, but it meant I didn't have to second guess what the bike was doing or about to do. I'm not sure the wheel was ever fully gripping through second and third, but I managed to get the balance of weight over the front and then over the rear between gear changes. It felt like the front never touched the ground throughout second gear and all the time, I was getting used to that slightly sideways drifting sensation - just trusting that it would come back into line. I've learned a lot through the years on blind faith alone.
I'd just about started to get the hang of a good quarter mile, when it ceased to be me, versus me. It became me versus a Porsche 911 GT2 RS, a 611bhp rear-wheel drive supercar - the sort we'd all like to pull up next to at the lights.
Except when it pulled up next to me at the lights, I wasn't so sure. The stakes just got raised. Lining up next to that car made me forget the things I thought I'd just learned.
Who was faster? You can see the video here: Ducati Panigale vs Porsche 911 GT2 RS
Video by Neil Carey: www.greendogcreative.com
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