Back in the deep, dark days, when men were men and sheep were afraid, gallant heroes such as yours truly would attempt to woo young maidens with our death-defying skill on two wheels. We had remote reservoir twin shocks, triple-disc brakes and electric starters; we were the new generation.
The year was 1981, and as the Japanese manufacturers were nailing the British bike industry’s coffin shut, along came a motorcycle that immediately became the object of our youthful, testosterone-loaded lust. The reason for our moto lust was a Ducati racing Pantah. What is Big Nose rambling about this time? Bare with me dear readers; there really is a point to all of this.
A gentleman by the name of Tony Rutter raced the bike (his son Michael currently rides in British Superbike) and was highly successful at the Isle of Man on said machine. The bike employed a 600cc Ducati Pantah motor massaged to produce 78 horsepower at 10,500 rpm, cradled in a lightweight frame. It used a single-shock rear suspension system and weighed a remarkable 287 pounds dry. The Ducati Pantah F11 racebike was the most sensuous piece of motorcycle artwork ever to roll in front of our young eyes. With filter-less 40mm Dell’ Orto carburetors and straight-through pipes, we could only imagine what it sounded like.
The Ducati Pantah racebike was quickly elevated to fantasy status. We would discuss how one would immediately be King of the English country roads on such a beast and, of course, what it would be like to ride. Unfortunately, with disgustingly low wages, a large portion of our paychecks sponsoring families in Pakistan, and the rest going to a couple of local breweries, a fantasy it remained.
Fast-forward 23 years, and I am standing beside the Pahrump, Nevada, racetrack outside Las Vegas zipping up my gear while my motorcycle de jour gets started. (Since joining MCUSA I have given up starting my own motorcycles.) The machine in question today is a Poggipolini NCR Millona and, as owner/importer John Murray hooks up the slave starter and fires the barely muffled V-twin to life, my mind slides back to the object of that moto lust so many years ago. Here, right in front of me is the chance to turn back the clock and ride the bike of my youthful dreams. Weighing just 260 pounds wet, and putting 85 horsepower through the gummy rear slick, the space-framed machine is the modern day version of the racing Pantah from 1981.
Climbing on board it is everything I might have imagined the original race bike to be: tight as a guitar string, no steering lock and no way of restarting if I stall. Making a slow, wide circuit around the pit area to get situated, lightly blipping the throttle to warm the booming V-twin, I feel my mouth go dry in anticipation. The controls feel light and slick, and I stop for a few moments to set the multi-adjustable levers to my preferred levels of comfort. The gearbox, with its conventional road-shifting pattern, slips easily into neutral, and the basically stock Ducati motor idles with ease.
My first session is to get comfortable and scrub in the new slicks. Riding with the novices, I gently roll around to re-acquaint myself with the technical Pahrump racetrack while trying to forget this is a $35,000 hand-built machine. Six laps later, I return the bike to the pits, where another journalist heads out with the Intermediate riders. This gives me chance to talk to John and learn a little more about the bike we are riding.
In 2001 the Poggipolini Group bought the NCR (Nepoti Caracchi Racing) brand, the Millona you see here being the result of their first project. NCR? Yes the NCR responsible for Mike Hailwood’s comeback in ’78 and Gary McCoy’s WSBK ride last year. Intended to be one of a limited number of hand-built bikes for the well-heeled track addict, the company leaves the Ducati Multistrada-sourced engine basically stock for reliability, except for the ignition and the HPE Italian titanium and Inconel (F1 material) undertail exhaust. Poggipolini offers some significant tuning options for those interested in going racing, and another eight large will buy you 105 rear-wheel horsepower from an over-bored 1200cc motor. The firm is currently developing new camshafts and expects to see an additional 10 horsepower soon as the bike is doing extremely well in a domestic racing series.
It is quickly time to get back onto the track with the advanced riders, and I tuck in behind a GSX-R1000 to get up to speed. A couple of laps later, pulling out of his draft down the front straight, I dive up the inside into Turn 1 for the pass and go in search of my next victim. Forcing some internal dialogue inside the helmet to remind myself this is the first time I’m really on the gas, I back off and start experimenting with lines and braking points. It quickly becomes apparent that, on a 260-pound race-bred motorcycle, I can take any line I want, any time I want.
The Poggipolini Company manufactures parts for MotoGP, World Superbike and F1, so you know this bike has got the best of the best.
As the day unfolds, the racetrack is suddenly a very different place as I go faster than I have ever gone before. Where Pahrump used to have two blind right hand corners that are a cause for concern on the Ducati 999R we have with us, they are now my favorite places to attack. Like a WWII Spitfire diving down out of the clouds on its unsuspecting foe, I can stay on the throttle while the heavier multi-cylinder bikes are on the brakes, and out of nowhere slip past. With the near linear power curve from the throbbing V-twin, I short-shift out of the corners using the bike’s superb midrange grunt to power away before they know what is happening.
Putting some serious trust in the front 120/75 Dunlop KR106 slick, I find myself diving into turns at speeds I have never dreamed of, the Millona not fidgeting or protesting my actions anywhere in this process. It is all too much, and returning the bike to John the words, “I’m ruined” are the only sounds I can utter in response to his questions: This thing is just un-f@#kin- believable.
During my next couple of sessions, I progressively get deeper into the fast right-hand turn at the end of the back straight. Every time I seem to pull up short and have to get back on the gas. Responsible for this braking overkill is a front end that wouldn’t look out of place on a Superbike. Using race-spec 43mm Marzocchi forks, the radial-mounted Brembo brakes use 4-piston calipers to grab the dual 320mm wave rotors. With just the lightest brush of a single digit, I can scrub off the desired speed for corner entry, faster than Jennifer Lopez turning me down for a date. There is no dive from the fork, which is so compliant everywhere else on the track they make the surface seem like it could be a billiard table. Later in the day, bouncing and wobbling around on a CBR1000 confirms the track is not that smooth, and I am just more impressed with the Poggipolini’s suspension.
While all this praise is being rained on the GP-spec front end, I have to add the rear to the kudos committee. It is just as good as the fork at keeping the rear wheel solidly in contact with the Pahrump track surface, while not exhibiting any signs of squat or squirm under acceleration. With the fat 195/65 KR108 Dunlop melding with the asphalt exiting corners, it becomes another fantastic place to gain ground on any unsuspecting victims that happen to be in front. Interestingly, the shock is made by Double System, an Italian company, and was picked over an Ohlins alternative by Frankie Chili. It uses a cantilever system, compared to the more modern linkage used these days, which has the advantage of being lighter. It works great for me, and if Frankie says it’s okay, who I am I to argue?
With the fat 195/65 KR108 Dunlop melding with the asphalt exiting corners, it becomes another fantastic place to gain ground on any unsuspecting victims.
We all know the old adage, there is no replacement for displacement, and the same can be said for raw horsepower. No matter how good my drive down the back straight, the open-class bikes consistently pull away. This matters not, as I am still accelerating while they are squeezing their brake levers and I slip by. Riding hard and fast with my buddy (and former MCUSA contributor) Jeff Buchanan on a CBR600 for a few sessions, the Poggipolini just has the nuts to pull him at the end of the back straight, though I have to get my best drive and stay well tucked to make the pass.
Back in the pits, I am higher than a coed on Red Bull and Vodka and jibber incessantly at John Murray about his incredible machine. He has the biggest shit-eating grin and tells me about all the titanium goodies sprinkled around the bike. Screwed into the chrome-moly frame are dozens of bits (nuts, bolts, footpegs, brackets and subframe) made from the precious metal. The wheels are made from magnesium, while the swingarm is aluminum.
The Poggipolini Company manufactures parts for MotoGP, World Superbike and F1, so you know this bike has got the best of the best. John also points out all the bodywork and air scoops are carbon fiber, which I personally feel are a little too understated, but who asked for my opinion?
“Advanced class two minutes,” comes across the airwaves, and it is time to take my last ride. Normally the boogieman time of the day, I hook up with Buchanan and Orange County wildman Will Tate, and we go out and do it to it. Passing anything that gets in our way, and running a three-rider freight train, this is the most fun I have ever had on a racetrack, or on a motorcycle for that point. As fast as we are running, it is the safety margin the Poggipolini has that impresses most. I could turn it up a notch and take off, but there is no need. We are having a blast, I know the end-of-session bullshit fest is going to be animated, and this is what this bike is all about.
Aimed squarely at the very wealthy, dedicated track addict who wants to go fast as safely as possible, the Poggipolini NCR Millona is one of the most incredible motorcycles on planet earth. Easily able to outperform most riders, it is going to make heroes out of its limited number of owners, while remaining a fantasy machine to me. At least this time I got to actually ride it.