Alex Rins

Interview: Suzuki's Ken Kawauchi And Shinichi Sahara On Winning In 2020, Plans For The GSX-RR In 2021, And Satellite Teams

In the last weeks of December, Japan's leading MotoGP journalist Akira Nishimura spoke to the two Japanese leaders of Suzuki Ecstar's championship winning team. In the interview, Team Director Shinichi Sahara and Technical Manager Ken Kawauchi gave their view of what Suzuki did to win the 2020 MotoGP title with Joan Mir, and the MotoGP team title for the Suzuki Ecstar team.

Interviewing Kawauchi-san and Sahara-san in their native language means they are more open and able to express themselves a little more freely than they would when speaking English, a second language for both of them. Thanks to Akira-san's excellent English, he is able to convey much more of what they have to say.

Though the interview was recorded before the shock announcement that Davide Brivio would be leaving Suzuki, Kawauchi-san and Sahara-san lay out how they saw the 2020 season, where the Suzuki GSX-RR was strongest and its rather glaring weakness, and what they will be working on for the 2021 season. And they set out their objectives for the coming season, and how they hope to achieve them.

Q: In the 2020 season, many things were different from the ‘normal’ seasons, including the race calendar, hygiene protocols, and so on. What was the toughest thing for you?

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Portimao MotoGP Subscriber Notes: Local Knowledge vs Fast Riders, Yamaha's Conundrum, And Suzuki Sinking Without A Trace

According to Albert Einstein's Special theory of relativity, time slows down as your speed increases. The faster you go, the slower time appears to pass. That would explain why the Covid-compressed 2020 MotoGP season has simultaneously felt like it was taking forever and is over in the blink of an eye. 14 races in 18 weeks was brutal on everyone involved, an intense schedule which had everyone working at light speed yet struggling to keep up. You would have to go back to the 1960s to find a season that was so short. But back then, they were fitting 8 races into 18 weeks, not nearly double that.

At least we had a fitting stage for the season finale. In a season with highs and lows, holding the last MotoGP round of 2020 at the roller-coaster which is the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve was fitting, a metaphor for the year made physical. But did that location give the winner, Miguel Oliveira, an advantage at what was effectively his home race? Was he, like Nicky Hayden at Laguna Seca in 2005, better able to unlock the secrets of the Portimão track because he had ridden here so often?

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Portimao MotoGP Thursday Round Up: How To Approach The Last Race With Nothing On The Line

And so the voyage into the unknown begins. MotoGP kicks off its final round of this fundamentally weird season at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimao. The combination of the final round, a new circuit, and the Moto2 and Moto3 titles still at stake meant that it was a long and grueling day of interviews, media debriefs, and press conferences, with barely a moment to catch your breath or a quick bite to eat in between.

It started off with the Asia Talent Cup graduation ceremony, which finished just before the MotoGP rider debriefs were due to start. At the same time as the first batch of debriefs, there were the press conferences for the Moto3 and Moto3 championships, featuring the three title contenders in each class. More debriefs, and then the MotoGP pre-event press conference, this time with the line up expanded from six to seven riders. A final debrief – Valentino Rossi – and then the last press conference of the day, an hour-long discussion with the six MotoGP factory bosses, looking back at the season.

It was a long day. Growing up, my mother used to warn me of the perils of watching too much TV, telling me I risked developing square eyes. Nearly half a century later, I think I finally understand what she meant. Of all the information that was poured into my brain during this everlasting day, I'm not sure I managed to retain any of it.

New track, but an old friend for some

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Valencia MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Pressure Of The Championship Is Starting To Count

It was supposed to be a steady, stable weekend with consistent weather for all three days of the Valencia MotoGP round. But it's 2020, so of course, that didn't happen. After a solid day of dry weather on Friday, conditions turned on Saturday. Not by a lot, but just enough to render chasing a quick time in practice and qualifying a treacherous business, with light rain coming and going throughout.

After the track dried in FP3, it never really rained hard enough to need wet tires. But there was just enough rain at times to make grip supremely treacherous, and to force riders to take bigger risks than they might have wanted. Alex Márquez paid the heaviest price, pushing hard in Q1 after rain had started to fall, the rear coming round on him and snapping back to highside him to what looked like low earth orbit.

It turned out to be a lucky escape for Márquez, the Repsol Honda rider escaping with a painful tailbone and a badly bruised bone in his left hand. His injuries were severe enough that his participation in the race tomorrow is to be assessed during warm up on Sunday morning.

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Europe MotoGP Subscriber Notes: A Champion In Waiting, A Base Setting, And Why Yamaha Isn't As Bad As You Think

For most of the 2020 Grand Prix season, nobody has wanted to win a championship. Every time someone has taken a lead at one race, they have found ever more creative ways to throw it away at the next. Fabio Quartararo got off to a lightning start, winning the first two races of the season. Then he let his lead slip away, Andrea Dovizioso making inroads into the Petronas Yamaha rider's advantage.

Behind the leaders, Maverick Viñales made a strong charge, then faded away, then came back again with a win at Misano 2. Jack Miller started off strong, had a DNF, then a run of good results and another DNF and has been up and down (literally, in a couple of cases) ever since. Takaaki Nakagami closed in relentlessly by finishing inside the top ten every race, until he crashed out of the lead at Aragon 2.

It was hard to see who was in the driving seat of the championship. Quartararo took back the lead at Barcelona, but hasn't finished any better than eighth since then. Dovizioso has slowly slipped further out of reach, while Maverick Viñales has barely stayed in touch with the top of the championship. Franco Morbidelli has won two races to close the gap, but had some poor finishes and a DNF as well.

Throwing it away

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Europe MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Working With No Data, Mir's Mind Games, And KTM's Testing Advantage

What is the point of free practice? It is to prepare bike, rider, and team (not necessarily in that order) for Sunday's race. On a good weekend, you spend Friday testing your base setup and getting an idea of which tires to use. On Saturday, you refine the setup and check how your preferred tire lasts over something approaching race distance. In warm up on Sunday morning, you might try a final tweak in search of more tire life or a fraction more performance.

The goal of all this is simple: to arrive on the grid on Sunday afternoon with the best possible setup. To eliminate as many unknowns as possible, and provide the rider with the sharpest possible weapon with which to do battle. From that point on, it is up to the rider.

That's the theory. In practice, of course, it rarely runs quite that smoothly. There is always something cropping up that makes the whole process a good deal more complicated than anyone hoped, unexpected obstacles to be overcome along the way.

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Teruel MotoGP Subscriber Notes Part 2: The Strangeness Of Who Gains, KTM's Progress, And Yamaha's Engine Situation

It being 2020, last weekend's Teruel round of MotoGP at the Motorland Aragon circuit threw up plenty of surprises, more than can be covered in just a single article. In Monday's subscriber notes, I covered the early crashers, Takaaki Nakagami's lead lasting just five corners, Franco Morbidelli's perfect race, why Alex Rins and Joan Mir came up short, and whether it matters if Mir doesn't win a race this season, the odd fortunes of the Yamahas in 2020, and Andrea Dovizioso as best of the Ducatis.

But there is more to cover. It is worth taking a look at who made the biggest gains between Aragon 1 and Aragon 2, how KTM went from nowhere to nearly on the podium, and the mystery of Yamaha's engine situation.

First, a comparison of how the riders fared between the Aragon and Teruel rounds at Motorland Aragon. In theory, you might believe that being at the same track would mean there would be little to no difference. But as previous back-to-back races at the same circuit has shown, this is very much not the case. Results have varied massively from week to week, as some riders have improved, others have stood still.

Faster second time around

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Teruel MotoGP Subscriber Notes Part 1: Crashes, Pressure, Victories, And Championships

The theme for the 2020 MotoGP season, insofar as one is discernible, is that there are two types of rider: riders who are doing their best to win races but lose the championship, and riders (or rider) who are doing their best to win the championship, but not win races. And never the twain shall meet, so far this year.

That was the tale of the Teruel round of MotoGP, also known as Aragon 2. Before the race, Takaaki Nakagami looked on course for his first podium, and possibly his first win, which would have put him right into the title fight. But Nakagami never even made it as far as the first intermediate timing strip, crashing out of the lead at Turn 5.

Of the three race winners in the top four of the championship, Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo found a way to go backwards during the race, while Andrea Dovizioso never even found a way to go forwards. That put Joan Mir more firmly in the driving seat of the championship, but despite a very strong race to finish on the podium, he never really threatened to win the race.

Winners and … winners?

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