Restricted to Death
August 1st, 2013 - You've seen it at every race this 2013 season in SBK World Superbike as the once dominate Ducati name with has been left floundering in mid-pack with their new Superquadro powered 1199 Panigale. Team Alstare Ducati factory riders Carlos Checa and Andrea Badovini have been Qualifying and Finishing in mid-pack, behind the other factory teams and just in front of the privateers. While World Superbike TV commentators Jonathan Green and Steve Martin tell us each week the 'New Panigale is still going through a difficult development program".
That may be organizer Dorna / SBK's official line - a "difficult development program", as they try to pull as many 1000cc in-line four cylinder Manufacturers as they can - hit hard by global economic collapse, back into the depleted World Superbike grid. But for the Bologna manufacturer who's unmatched passion for building winning sportbikes has garnered them 17 World Superbike Championships in the 25 years of World Superbike racing, getting a new Superbike design right, the first year, is not the problem - witness Carl Fogarty's 1995 title win on the new 2nd Generation 916/955; Neil Hodgson's 2003 title win on the new 4th Generation 999 in 2003; and Troy Bayliss 2011 title win on the new 5th Generation 1090/1198 in 2008. Winning 17 world titles in 25 years shows Ducati knows how to design and develop winning bikes right out of the factory front door.
Plus, in box-stock form, the 1199 Panigale is probably the best of the current street legal Superbike on the market with its light weight, incredible handing, electronic controls and adjustability, and power equal to the best of the competition from BMW and Aprilia.
Proving Ducati's winning potential with the all new 6th Generation 1199 Panigale was the simple fact that in the 2012 Superstock 1000 Championship the newest Ducati was in the hands of Eddie La Mara on the privateer Althea Barni racing Team Italia 1199 was able to take 5 Podiums, 2 Pole wins and 1 Race Win against strong factory backed teams from BMW and Kawasaki. Only reliability problems with the stock 1199s engine's heavy steel connecting rods held it back the first season, rectified in 2013 by the change to new lighter Titanium rods and valves in the 1199R model.
So why has Ducati become an also ran in the 2013 World Superbike Class with the new 1199 Panigale which should be dominating again with its all new short stroke, hi-rpm Superquadro engine? It all has to do with FIM SBK Rule Book and the restrictions placed on 1200cc V-twin bikes, while, the 1000cc 4-cylinder bikes can run virtually unrestricted. Ignoring the additional weight restriction (compared to the 1000cc 4-cylinders bikes), the Ducati 1098/1198 had to run in mid-way thru 2012 after Carlos Checa won the 2011 World Championship again for the bike, the 5th Generation Testastretta engine was always required by the FIM to run 50mm intake restrictors on its stock 63.9mm throttle bodies.
The 5th Generation 1198R Testastretta engine has a 106 x 67.9mm bore x stroke (1198cc) and makes peak power of 195hp at 11,900 rpm. With its broad, torquey powerband delivering gobs of mid-range power and provided for great rear tire grip, the FIM mandated 50mm restriction of air flow at peak RPM wasn't a big concern to be completive in World Superbike.
But the new Ducati 1199 Superquadro engine with its even shorter stroke 112 x 60.8mm bore x stroke (also 1198cc) was designed as a higher revving, higher horsepower engine to keep up with the horsepower race in the marketplace dominated by BMW and Aprilia, et all. On the stock production bikes the peak horsepower RPM was raised from the 1198's power peak at 9,975 rpm to the 1199's at 10,775 rpm. We asked the Ducati Corse Press Department to show us the powerband of a Corse prepped 1199RS with its Superquadro's even bigger stock 67mm throttle bodies, with and without with the FIM mandated 50mm restrictors installed, and they declined to show or tell us any numbers.
We can assume though, that if the old 1198RS Testastretta race engine made it's peak power at 11,900 rpm, then the new Superquadro's 1199RS engine, in direct relation to their street counterparts, needs to make its peak power at 12,900 rpm. All at a sacrifice to that once famous Ducati mid-range power. However, with the FIM mandated 50mm restrictors installed, the new 1199RS can't pull in any more air and breath at the higher 11,900 rpm it needs to spin to say competitive this 2013 race season.
The previous 1198 Testastretta engine came stock with 63.9mm Throttle Bodies and was required byFIM rules to run 50mm intake restricters to reduce power. The new 1199 Superquadro engine has massive new 67mm Throttle Bodies are bigger than on most race car engines. But it still had to breath through the 50mm Restrictors at the start of the 2013 race season, on an engine designed to make its peak power 1,000 RPM higher. The new engine now needs 1000 rpm x 1198cc more air per minute pulled though those same tiny 50mm restrictor plates - that's equivalent to 316.5 gallons of air more per minute!
So the new 1199RS is probably only making the same 195hp peak horsepower as the old 1198RS, but now with the loss of the old engine's big advantage in mid-range power and traction. The new Panigale with its narrower powerband, can't pull out of the corners like the old bike, while on the big straightaways its down some 30+ hp / 10 mph to the much more powerful 230-240hp 1000cc 4-cylinder superbikes.
Strike One: Effectively, Ducati shot itself in the foot with the new 1199 Superquadro engine. Which on its own is an incredible engine. But In designing it to make more peak power to stay completive in the Superbike street market, it gave-up the famous mid-range power that Ducati enthusiasts love.
Strike Two: Then in SBK World Superbike the 50mm intake restrictors have nullified its designed-in power increase.
Now if you are watching the 1199S/R in SBK European Superstock last season and this season, the stock Barni and Alstare Ducati bikes have been somewhat completive against the stock BMW 1000RR and Kawasaki ZX-10 machines. Sock for stock, even with intake restrictors, the Panigale is somewhat completive in Superstock just as it was designed to be. The only disadvantage for the new 1199 Superquadro in Superstock seems to be the higher RPM motor is not as kind on its rear tires as the old Testastretta long stroke motor was, and now towards the end of a race, the tires are going off and lap times are suffering.
But in the World Superbike class where the 1000cc fours are allowed to employ higher compression pistons with more radical camshaft timing, and breath in as much air as as they need to make even more power. While the 1200cc V-twin bikes - the Ducati1199RS is restricted even further to stock 1199 pistons, although all bikes are allowed to make compression increases by maching the cylinder head surface.
Could it be the new Superquadro engine design is limited in that it can't be modified very much beyond stock to make it competitive in WSBK against the 4-cylinders bikes? That even with the FIM Restrictors reportedly "removed" since Imola in June (the FIM rules do not allow immediate complete removal, only increases in size in 2mm increments, and only after 3 Event Weekends / 6 Races). We hear the 1199 engine, even without Restrictors, only picks up about 5-7 hp more horsepower, increasing power output up from its current 195hp restricted to about 200hp. Not a significant power gain against their 240hp competition.
According to the FIM rules (see below), if the restrictors started the 2013 season at 50mm, they can only be adjusted in 2mm increases, and only after 3 races of poor results. So Ducati Corse could only go up from 50mm to 52 mm at Imola. So the current Ducati 1199 Superquadro engine design has a few more years of losing races before they can keep going up in size and remove the restrictors entirely and run their fully open 67mm throttle bodies. No one at Ducati Corse will tell us if they have tested a Superquadro engine with higher compression and wilder cams, and they won't tell us what size restrictors they are running on their stock 67mm Throttle bodies.
And even with the change to Titanium rods and valves on the new production 1199R homologation bike this year to allow them to turn 500 higher RPM and make more power, it seems the current engine specifications still can't turn the higher RPM's it really needs to make competitive power.
Update - No Restrictors
The race results for Alstare Ducati at Imola, then followed by Moscow, still remained disappointing for the factory squad. Although at Silverstone on the August 3rd-4th weekend, Carlos Ceca was able to put the 1199RS on the front row with a 2nd place in Superpole. But in both races the factory bikes remained down on top speed, and Badovini and Checa fell back in both races to finish in 8th -12th positions.
In Superbike race trim the 1199 Superquadro, now unrestricted, remains down in peak power agains the 1000cc 4-cylinder bikes. And its peaky powerband is not easy on the Pirelli spec tires, causing the tires to overheat and loose grip towards the end of the races, and the bikes falling back in position. Effectively for Ducati in 2013, this year's Superbie race season ihas been a huge disapointment for the exciting new Panigale design.
Is there a solution for Ducati in World Superbike, and the Superbike Market?
Before learning that the current spec 1199 Superquadro 1200cc engine would still be struggling to be competitive in World Superbike even without FIM Restrictors, I'd have had the engine department at Ducati testing a downsized 1000cc Superquadro engine on the dyno without Restrictors to see how much power it can make - modified with high compression pistons, race cams and unrestricted. Going smaller doesn't necessarily mean less power. In GT2 Le Mans Sports Car Racing the factory Corvette team was required to run very small Intake Restrictors on its stock big displacement 6.2 litter V-8 push rod 2-valve engines. They found in testing by going to smaller displacement 5.5 litter V-8 engine with the same size restrictors and air flow, they could rev their smaller engine higher with the same amount of air and make more peak horsepower and remain completive against the the DOHC 4-valve Ferrari F430s.
The same might be true for Ducati in going to a smaller 1000cc V-twin Superbike engine, they could probably make more peak horsepower, plus they would be allowed by the rules to do away with the Restrictors all together. Then just sell 500 examples of a new 1000R Panigale next year to homologate the smaller displacement bike for racing.
But for all the Ducati Superbike enthusiasts bemoaning the loss of mid-range torque with the new 1199 Superquadro engine, Ducati might just be better off to revert back to something like the old 106mm bore x 67.9mm stoke found in the old 1198 Testastretta engine, which also produced the same stock 195hp ratings as the new 1199 engine while running with 50mm Restictors. And perhaps with the removal of Restrictors on this revised 1199 longer stroke / torque engine, Ducati would also have the peak power to keep up with the competition. One other problem though, the new Superquadro engine design may not allow for a return to a longer stroke crank and rod in its current design structure.
Should a smaller displacement 1000R Panigale or a longer stroke 1199R still not prove power completive in dyno testing against the current BMW and Kawasaki Superbikes, and the all new Honda RC211 derived V-4 Superbike coming this fall, then it just might be time to pull the V-4 Desmosedici 1000cc engine out of the closet and homologate it for World Superbike.
Either way Ducati should not be at the mercy of FIM rules restrictions by running a bigger displacement Superbike than everyone else. In fact, I sent a letter outlining all this to Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali back in May of 2013. I didn't get a reply back, either because he thinks I'm an idiot, or because they just may be working on what I've suggested. We'll probably have to wait for Ducati's next big new product reveal at EICMA in November 2013 to see if Ducati has a new unrestricted 1000cc V-twin or V-4, or a long stroke 1200cc Superbike in the pipeline. - Jim Gianatsis, Editor
The FIM SBK 2013 Superbike / Superstock Rule Book
See the Complete Rule book at: http://www.fim-live.com/fileadmin/alfresco/6510004_eng.pdf
188.8.131.52.2 Air restrictors for 1200cc 2 cylinders