Ducati's new Panigale V4 S: A track star is born
Like most race venues, the Ricardo Tormo Circuit - a 4km, 14-turn MotoGP track - can be unforgiving.
But on a bike like the 2018 Ducati Panigale V4 S, even I, a non-professional rider, can feel like a hero.
The bike is the first production Ducati equipped with a 1,100cc four-cylinder engine.
It looks compact, even though at 195kg, it is some 5kg heavier than the preceding 1299 Panigale S. But with 214bhp on tap, it has an enviable power-to-weight ratio of 1.1bhp to 1kg.
The all-new ride-by-wire superbike features a 16-litre aluminium fuel tank, partly tucked under the seat to keep its centre of gravity low. Its electronics are found in a cavity in front of the fuel tank.
Its "fairing-in-a-fairing" design, which aids in cooling and aerodynamics, will be hard for aftermarket companies to replicate. Its pincer-like brake lights give it a devilish streak.
As I left the pit lane, its riding posture immediately felt similar to the 1299's - narrow where the seat meets the fuel tank, with slightly raised footpegs.
The V4 S' sweet spot starts from about 8,000rpm. By the time you near its 14,500rpm redline, the soundtrack is a full-on MotoGP wail.
Power delivery is linear - clearly a blessing for track newbies like me who occasionally overshoot corners.
It has an arsenal of customisable electronic aids - riding modes, traction, wheelie and launch controls and cornering anti-lock braking system. These work in concert by taking inputs from a six-axis Inertial Measurement Unit without making interventions too obvious.
After my second session, I found my rhythm and increased my pace. A push on the handlebar is all that is needed to tip the V4 S into turns.
The bike does not protest when given quick steering inputs, and it feels composed under its fully adjustable electronic Ohlins front and rear suspension.
Turns 12 and 13 - a right-hander followed by a quick flick of the bike into a long, high-speed, off-camber left turn over a crest - gave me goosebumps.
With the V4 S leaned over and holding faithfully to its chosen line, I was proud to see 170kmh on the "track display" instrumentation.
But the next moment, I was humbled by a rider who passed me on the outside while keeping a ridiculously low lean and sliding the Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa SP 200 rear tyre. Clearly, Ducati's Slide Control and Traction Control Evo were at work.
The V4 S' explosive acceleration and seamless transmissions are evident on the straights.
As the second gear began to fade and a red bar lit up on the dashboard, I kicked into the third using the quickshifter. My eyes opened a little wider when I felt the handlebar go light and saw the front end lifting.
Every full-throttle upshift comes with a strong hit.
I managed to reach a top speed of 265kmh - obviously lower than the 285kmh clocked at the circuit by Ducati test-rider Alessandro Valia, but enough to make me feel like a MotoGP rider on a charge.
The aching shoulders and thighs at the end of the day were worth it. And scuffed toe and knee sliders were a small price to pay.
For those who can stomach its $81,000 price tag, the V4 S is a dream bike to own.