So, who's the King of Speed? In a straight line, Ducati's 999S will have the Mitsubishi for breakfast, but around bends
Evo IX versus the 999S Ducati 999S motorcycle and a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX GSR

IT'S one of those sweltering days that only Singapore's climate can dish out, and I'm wrapped in a thick jacket and leather gloves. Needless to say, there are droplets of sweat free-diving off the tip of my nose. Some of them have nothing to do with the heat, but owe their existence to the anxiety I'm feeling at the prospect of what I am about to do.

Let me ask you this before you read on: Do you feel the need for speed? Does the thought of watching the scenery transmogrify into a hyperspace blur of fuzzy lines make your heart beat faster? If so, have we got a story for you.

Since Life! brought you a review of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX several weeks ago based on a drive in Japan, we thought we might put the rally-bred rocket to a different sort of test.

Meet the Lancer's foe for the day, the Ducati 999S. It's a more-than-worthy adversary to the Evo IX, since it's as much an icon in its own universe as the Mitsubishi is in the four-wheeled world, and there's a similar amount of racing DNA coursing through its genetic make-up.

While the Lancer Evo is a cousin of World Rally Championship-winning cars, the 999S is closely related to the MotoGP machines made by Ducati. And what Ferrari is to F1 racing, Ducati is to MotoGP.

Anyone with an ounce of petrol in his veins already knows all about the Lancer Evolution - the all-wheel drive traction and turbo punch of the engine, and the four straight WRC titles with Tommi Makinen from 1996 - but the Ducati's relatives are not short on racing credentials of their own.

For some perspective, consider this. The fastest speed achieved by an F1 car at the Chinese Grand Prix last year was 333.5kmh (a Sauber-Petronas). Earlier this month, a Ducati clocked 342.9kmh during MotoGP's Shanghai outing.

Which brings us back to why I'm in a jacket, and why I'm sweating. I've been assigned to take a Ducati 999S and the Evolution IX on a back-to-back drive, in order to crown a real world King of Speed, a sweaty-palmed task if ever there was one.

Contest factors

THIS is a contest that ignores all other factors. Comfort doesn't matter. The air-conditioned micro-climate of the Lancer's interior means it might as well be springtime in Japan for the Evo's passengers, while the Ducati will fry your family jewels with a constant gust of hot air venting its way out of the fairing, at the same time toasting your buns with the heat rising off the exhaust muffler mounted above the rear wheel, but that doesn't count.

Looks don't matter. Evolution No. 9 may radiate Japanese cool, with its row of vortex-inducing winglets on the roof and aggressively flared wheel arches, while the Ducati's scalpel-sharp edges ooze the impossible flamboyance of Italian design, but I'm not supposed to care. Only one thing carries weight here, and that is the issue of which machine will cover ground faster.

Let's start with the Mitsubishi. The best way to identify an Evo IX is probably from its new front and rear bumpers, which have slats and holes to improve aerodynamics and cooling. A new turbo, along with variable-valve timing and lift, improve engine breathing, allowing for much more linear power delivery, but you still have to wait until 3,500rpm before anything happens.

Get the turbo boosting, however, and the Evolution packs the kind of wallop that would have the driver of a half-million-dollar supercar pretending not to see you. The wives and girlfriends of Evo drivers must have pretty beefy necks, indeed, in order to withstand the G-forces resulting from the Mitsubishi's brutal forward thrust.

If you think the Evo is fast, however, the Ducati is on another planet altogether. The Evolution's five-second 0-100kmh sprint time is nothing to yawn at, but the 999S is unbelievably violent when asked to take a lunge at the horizon. It outpaces the Mitsubishi in any rev range. But at 6,000rpm or so, the superbike finds a second wind and all hell breaks loose.

This S version of the 999 range is second from the top of Ducati's Superbike family, with fully adjustable suspension settings, weight saving parts and an engine tuned for 143bhp. It tips the scales at just 186kg, so add an out-of-shape journalist at 66kg, and you're looking at a package with half the Evo's power but more than five times lighter.

The result is a violently fast machine that puts you at Point B before you left Point A. Raw figures from Ducati aren't available, but the sensitive measuring equipment I sit on (otherwise known as my bum) says it will do 0-200kmh in less than 10 seconds. In short, accelerating hard in the 999S feels like being shot out of a bazooka.

So the Ducati has the Mitsubishi for breakfast in a straight line, but around the bends is where the Evo makes up a lot of ground, and then some.

Power point

IN RANGE-TOPPING GSR trim, the Mitsubishi has all sorts of tricky chassis systems up its sleeve, including computer-controlled axle and centre differentials. These enable the Evo to direct the engine's power to where it's needed most, and the result is unbelievable agility around corners, coupled with astonishing grip.

You can flick the Mitsubishi into bends with no regard for the laws of physics, then apply acceleration with the certainty that it will think its way all the way through the curve, and go precisely where you point it. This latest Evo simply doesn't run wide, nor is its tail as easy to unstick as those of Evos past. It feels as if it's painted on the tarmac.

The Ducati is no slouch around corners. But the 999S is an intimidating ride at first, with an uncommonly racy riding position. There's a lengthy reach to the handbars, and the footpegs are mounted high up, forcing you into a crouch. An hour or two of familiarisation later, however, and you soon find yourself leaning further and further through hairpins, and making use of the excellent anchors to brake deeper into corners.

Get to know it better, and it's soon apparent that the Ducati is a wonderfully stable, yet agile tool with which to attack corners. You have to work at it, though, shifting your weight from side to side within the saddle, cranking your head in the direction you want to pursue, and applying strong, steady pressure on the handlebars.

In contrast, threading the Evo through bends is a cinch. You merely point the wheel and squirt the throttle. You tend to pay the most attention to ensuring that you hit your braking point and to finding the right gear for the bend.

In more skilled hands than mine, the Ducati would easily be hustled around bends at a much faster pace, with far smoother rhythm. It's a bike for experts. The Evo, on the other hand, turns an otherwise challenging road into child's play.

We more or less prove this when we take both vehicles, driven by average drivers, on a friendly dogfight down a favourite collection of curves. Predictably, the Ducati left the Mitsubishi for dead between corners, but was quickly caught up when the stream of trickier bends began to flow. It boils down to guts, as well. Ensconced in the safety cage of the Lancer, with airbags all around you and a seatbelt to hold you in place, you feel secure at speeds that have the sensible rider wondering about the consequences of a spill.

On the Ducati, while juggling between throttle, clutch, front brake, rear brake, gear lever and weight distribution, you are constantly on the lookout for hazards: a damp patch here, spilled sand there, even a fallen twig. All could mean the difference between an exhilarating ride and a painful tumble.

So which takes the honours? Without a doubt, the Ducati is the out-and-out faster machine. But it is emphatically not for everyone. If speed is something you feel you have to work towards, like honing your skills to a level worthy of a precision tool, choose the yellow thunderbolt.

Myself, I choose the Mitsubishi. I fell in love with the Ducati, but ultimately realised that, apart from being short of the serious riding ability to be worthy of the 999S, my relationship with it would always be compromised by the fact that I am somewhat lacking in the bodily bits that spell the difference between a eunuch and a man, to take full advantage of its raw power.

The Evolution is the Speed King here, mostly because it makes it just so easy to jump in, find a good road and never feel like a fool behind the wheel. Drive it, and you might almost believe you were Makinen, on the way to yet another WRC victory. Perhaps it all boils down to a contest between computer-controlled four-wheel-drive and rider-controlled one-wheel-drive.

That I prefer the latter reflects on me more than on the Ducati. I'll certainly never look at a 999 rider the same way again.

Catch the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX today at Kallang Auto Centre. The finals of the Mitsubishi Best Dressed Car Contest, an appearance by action movie star Jackie Chan and demonstration drives of the Evo IX are among some of the highlights of the event.

No doubt about it, the Ducati is the out-and-out faster machine of the two. But it is emphatically not for everyone. If speed is something you feel you have to work towards, like honing your skills to a level worthy of a precision tool like the Ducati 999S, choose the yellow thunderbolt.

SPECS

MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION IX GSR

Price: $155,988 with COE

Engine: 1,997cc 16-valve turbocharged inline-4

Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Maximum power: 280bhp at 6,500rpm

Maximum torque: 400Nm at 3,000rpm

0-100kmh: 5.0 seconds (estimated)

Top speed: 180 kmh (electronically limited)

Agent: Cycle & Carriage

DUCATI 999S

Price: $49,620 without COE

Engine: 998cc 8-valve V-Twin

Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Maximum power: 143bhp at 9,750rpm

Maximum torque: 112Nm at 6,000rpm

0-100kmh: 4.0 seconds (estimated)

Top speed: 256 kmh

Agent: Minerva Motor