Disclosure: We rode the Ducati 959 Panigale only on the track, so things like ride quality, heating issues and the overall living with it bit will have to wait till we ride the 959 here in India. But, on the track, the Panigale was an absolute dream. And what a track too!
The Chang International Circuit at Buriram in Thailand is one of the smoothest circuits I have ridden on. It’s a good mix of fast, flowing corners, and tight, odd ones finding the right lines for which took me all day. And even then, I couldn’t get them spot on. The 959 Panigale though seemed completely at home here.
What a gorgeous piece of machinery, and not just in the way the 959 looks parked under the sun, but the way it handles the whole track spectacle. It makes 155bhp and 107Nm of torque from its 90 degree L-Twin Superquadro engine. But since it runs a longer stroke compared to the 899, the torque curve is meatier and easier to access.
On the long straights of Buriram, the 959 dispatched the revs in quick and effortless fashion and the quickshifter eased things further requiring no more than a light flick of the left foot to go up through the gears every time the red lights flashed on the dash. All the while with the throttle wide open. Within seconds I was sitting on the blurrier side of 200kmph. Easy, fast, and thanks to the smart electronics, grounded is what best describes the 959 Panigale when ridden flat out in a straight line.
Then came the corners, along with some hard braking, and the 959 kept producing one mouthwatering goodie after the next. The 959 Panigale now gets a slipper clutch so the clutch is light and under quick downshifts there’s none of the theatrical wheel hop or fishtailing; the 959 just tracks completely straight. And the brakes are outstanding.
The 959 runs twin 320mm rotors along with top spec M4.32 Brembo monobloc radially mounted calipers. And these are tremendously powerful but require the gentlest of efforts at the lever. The feel and progression – not to mention the grip from the front end – just instills so much confidence that it urges you to really go hard on the brakes.
It also puts an arm around your shoulder encouraging you to put the Panigale into the corner as hard as you desire. Now, the 959 might not feel the lightest or most telepathic at corner entry, but the feedback and grip from its front end allows you to chuck it into bends with carefree abandon. And when leaned over, the 959 does your bidding to the tee. There’s lots of lean clearance, it goes where you want, and even if you run wide courtesy carrying a little too much speed into the corner (as I did), it still allows you to come back in with no drama whatsoever. This one really is a forgiving motorcycle.
The grip from the tyres and suspension is right up there. Sure, Ducati would have dialed in the perfect setup for this track with the 959’s completely adjustable front and rear suspension. But the point is, it can be done, no matter what the track or a rider’s skill level; all one needs is some patience and knowledge. The only place where the 959 Panigale requires some effort and planning is quick direction changes. And it’s mainly a physical thing, which doesn’t rob the bike of its handling prowess.
And then when it’s time to exit the corner one can comfortably rely on the 959’s traction control. Set to five in Sport mode, it allowed me to get on the throttle sooner and more aggressively without actually having to wait for the bike to be upright. The Pirelli Rosso Corsa rear tyre which uses Super Corsa compound on the edges to keep the rear end slides to a minimum, must be given due credit here. In Race mode though with the TC set to a more liberal setting, I did feel the rear come loose a bit, but nothing that didn’t sort itself out in quick time.