By Alan Cathcart
Photos By Ducati
Ducati is fighting back. Faced with the performance gulf that's opened this season between its 1200cc V-twins and the 1000cc four-cylinder opposition in World Superbike competition, the Italian company is now at work on a radically redesigned engine intended to return the brand to the top of the timing charts. Code named Superquadrata (meaning "oversquare"), this super-short-stroke motor will be all-new and completely different from the current Testastretta Evoluzione that traces its roots to the 1970s. In addition to the new engine, this next-generation superbike will also feature the same "frameless" chassis design as the current Desmo-sedici GP10 MotoGP racer.
The new engine will still be a V-twin, with its cylinders oriented at 90 degrees to avoid the need for a power-sapping balance shaft. But instead of the traditional "L-twin" layout with the front cylinder set almost horizontally like all Ducati V-twins since '72, the new engine will be rotated rearward. This change will permit it to be placed further forward for improved front-end grip, without the front wheel contacting the cylinder under heavy braking-a perennial problem with the current design. Relocating the engine will also allow a longer swingarm, to improve rear grip. The new crankcases will split horizontally, making possible the use of a cassette-type gearbox for quicker, simpler gear changes-the lack of which is a major handicap with the present engine.
Those massive bores will allow the use of bigger valves, but it's not clear how much Ducati's engineers will increase those beyond the present 43.5mm intakes/35.5mm exhausts, given the 50mm restrictor rule that remains in effect in SBK racing. The wide bore will facilitate use of a dual-plug ignition, likely operated sequentially with one spark plug firing an instant after the other to enhance both racetrack performance and emissions control on the street.
Significantly, this revised engine architecture will allow Ducati to adopt the same "frameless" chassis design as on the current MotoGP racer, with the engine serving as a stressed member. Just like the racer, the new superbike's front suspension will bolt directly to a structural airbox attached to the top of the motor (likely carbon-fiber on the R-model and metal on the lower-priced production models), while the swingarm and subframe will attach directly to the crankcases and rear cylinder. The main benefits of this layout are lower weight (saving more than 10 lbs. over the current steel trellis), improved rigidity and greater spatial design freedom. Ducati filed another patent application in February (see Drawing the Line, MC, May 2010) that describes a V-twin version of this design in detail, and makes several references to "volume production."
This will be a major turning point for the Italian company, and it's going to happen sooner rather than later, because more than any other manufacturer, Ducati relies on racetrack success to sell its motorcycles. Spokesmen naturally decline to confirm the existence of any such project, but these rumors have been substantiated by none other than Motosprint's Massimo Clarke-Italy's most respected and well-connected technical journalist. No release date for the Superquadrata has yet been announced, but the November 2011 Milan Show seems likely.