Suzuki

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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Davide Brivio Leaves Suzuki For F1 Role

Less than two months after winning Suzuki's first MotoGP championship in 20 years, Davide Brivio has decided to leave his role as manager of the Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP team and move to lead the Alpine F1 team in four-wheel racing's premier class. The move was reported last night by Autosport and confirmed by a press release from Suzuki this morning.

The move comes as a massive shock to Suzuki and the MotoGP world. It is also a serious blow to Suzuki's MotoGP project. Brivio was instrumental in putting the team together to run Suzuki's return to MotoGP in 2015. Brivio joined Suzuki in 2013, at the very beginning of the project which launched the GSX-RR upon the world, and has overseen the team's steady success.

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2020 – The Year Of The Satellite

Miguel Oliveira on the Tech3 KTM at Portimao 2020

The final podium of the Covid-19 compressed 2020 MotoGP season neatly encapsulated so many parts of this strange and fascinating year. On the top step stood Miguel Oliveira, his second victory in a breakthrough year for both him and KTM. Beside him stood Jack Miller, the Ducati rider taking his second podium in a row. And on the third step stood Franco Morbidelli, arguably the strongest rider of 2020, outperforming the 2020 Yamahas on a 2019 M1.

The podium was emblematic in another way, too. All three riders were racing for satellite teams: Oliveira for the Red Bull KTM Tech3 team, Miller for Pramac Ducati, and Morbidelli for the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad. Furthermore, Morbidelli's third place finish wrapped up second spot in the MotoGP team championship for Petronas Yamaha, behind the factory Suzuki Ecstar squad and ahead of the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team.

It was the first time since Qatar in 2004 that the podium had consisted solely of riders in satellite teams. The 2004 race was won by Sete Gibernau, who finished ahead of his Gresini Honda teammate Colin Edwards. Ruben Xaus was third across the line, nearly 24 seconds back, riding a D'Antin Ducati. Xaus finished ahead of the two factory Repsol Hondas, Alex Barros crossing the line 6 seconds before Nicky Hayden.

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Sylvain Guintoli - Suzuki's Third Man

Sylvain Guintoli rides the Suzuki GSX-RR at the 2019 round at Motegi

Up until 2017, the Suzuki MotoGP team did not even have a European test team. They relied on their Japanese test team. But like all the other manufacturers, they were looking at the work done by Ducati and were pushing for a second test team. The opportunity came for Suzuki and for Davide Brivio to campaign for it after Sylvain Guintoli was brought in to replace Alex Rins, their rookie who fractured his ankle in training, and then two races later, broke his left wrist during a practice crash.

Guintoli, the WSBK 2014 champion (on an Aprilia), a former MotoGP, 250cc and BSB rider, rode for almost every manufacturer during his career, including Suzuki, both in BSB and WSBK in 2009/10. He returned to BSB to ride for Suzuki in 2017, but had to miss rounds to replace Alex Rins. The Hamamatsu factory remembered him fondly. "They made changes in Japan and Sahara-san (Shinichi Sahara, project leader) came back to the MotoGP project from the Barcelona 2017 round and I arrived just a little bit before that,” he shares from his home in the UK a few days before that historic championship-winning race for Joan Mir. "When I first tried the bike, I gave the team some comments and told them what I thought about it,” the French rider recalls his experience during three rounds. "Our collaboration started there and we are in its third year now."

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Veni, Vidi, Vici

I came, I saw, I conquered; so said Julius Caesar, after a particularly swift triumph in battle. Which manufacturer will be next to come to WorldSBK, size it up fully and then conquer it - of those currently residing outside the WorldSBK compound at least - is a question without urgent need of an answer. There appear to be no prime candidates standing at the gates for starters.

Right now expansion beyond the known superbike world is not that important for WorldSBK either, not with five important factories competing for honours at a global level, all with bikes that are fully competitive. Or at least would be fully competitive if they all reached their very similar full technical potential as consistently as Jonathan Rea and his crew from Kawasaki have, for six years in a row. In all measurable terms WorldSBK has never been as wide open and accessible to even a new or returning manufacturer looking for instant glory as it is right now. So it would be a good time to join the party.

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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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2021 MotoGP Provisional MotoGP Rider Line Up Complete: Aprilia To Choose Between Savadori And Smith After Testing

The 2021 MotoGP grid is finally complete. Or complete-ish, anyway. Aprilia have finally made a decision on their second rider for 2021, and their decision is that they will decide after the winter tests at Sepang and Qatar have finished.

Both Lorenzo Savadori and Bradley Smith have been signed for 2021, to fill the roles of second contracted MotoGP rider alongside Aleix Espargaro, and MotoGP test rider. Smith and Savadori will run through the testing program, including private tests and the scheduled official tests at Sepang and Qatar in February and March, and Aprilia will make their decision based on the outcome of that, Aprilia said in a press release.

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Portimao MotoGP Friday Round Up: Fun, Fear, And Finding Setup At Roller-Coaster Portimao

Whenever a journalist gets a little too excited over a rider's lap times after FP2, and starts asking them what it means for the race, they inevitably get slapped down with an old racing aphorism. "It's only Friday," riders will say, whether they are at the top of the standings, at the bottom, or somewhere in the middle. Being fast is nice on a Friday, but there is still a long way to go until the riders line up on the grid on Sunday. An awful lot can, and usually does change in the meantime.

That old adage is exponentially true on a Friday at a brand new track where nobody has ridden before. Especially an extraordinary track like Portimao, which snakes all over the Algarve countryside like a roller-coaster hewn into the hills. The track is so different, and so difficult, that there is still a huge amount of work to do before anyone can start to draw conclusions. Add in the fact that Michelin has brought four fronts and four rears (with two different hard tires front and rear), and you have a huge and complex puzzle to solve before Sunday. Two 70-minute sessions on Friday helped, but were still nowhere near enough.

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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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