When the going gets tough, Ducati brings out a new model to beat the opposition. Cheating? No, just bending the rules...
Ducati have been shrouding themselves in mystery of late, and the launch of the new 999R US-homologation special at Laguna Seca was no exception.
Development chief Andrea Forni and his team have done a thorough job on the already oversquare 999R engine. Bigger valves - intake up from 40 to 42mm, exhaust 1mm wider at 33mm - are made from titanium instead of steel, so are 35% lighter, and have slimmer stems retained by 749R-style cones, not shims. New cams with more lift mean the valves open further, too.
Reshaped cylinder heads and new pistons boost compression while titanium conrods bolt to a lighter crankshaft with a revised internal lubing system. The Marelli fuel-injection is revamped with a more sophisticated ECU and 12-hole injectors. The result is more torque through the range and a power increase of 11bhp to 150bhp, delivered 250rpm earlier at 9750rpm.
While they were at it Ducati made a few cosmetic mods, fitting a slightly wider screen, and blocking off the fairing slashes above the air intakes for an aerodynamic benefit. Revised Öhlins forks feature a top-out spring and reworked damping, and there's a new Öhlins shock too, with modified internal valving for more precise damping adjustment.
But that new motor was the star at Laguna, ladling out huge amounts of midrange with a stunningly quick-revving charge to the 11,000rpm limiter. The Duke shot along pit straight clocking 150mph-plus before cranking it left over a crest, then braking like crazy for the hairpin.
Fortunately, the lightweight (181kg dry) Ducati's radial Brembos were predictably sharp, as was the rest of its chassis. Set up racy with extra rear ride height, plus its steering at the steeper, 23.5° angle, the R was deliciously flickable, even through the gut-churning downhill, left-right flick of the Corkscrew. The bars shook slightly over a couple of crests until I firmed up the Öhlins steering damper, but the bike was taut and responsive.
The current 999R costs £19,995, and this version will cost more. But this is an even more powerful and polished example of what's already the best road-going Ducati.
TYPE - SUPERSPORTS PRODUCTION DATE - 2004 PRICE NEW - £20,000 ENGINE CAPACITY - 999cc POWER - 150bhp@9750rpm TORQUE - 86lb.ft@8000rpm WEIGHT - 181kg SEAT HEIGHT - 780mm FUEL CAPACITY - 17L TOP SPEED - 175mph 0-60 - n/a TANK RANGE - N/A
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