The following is an interview which leading Japanese MotoGP journalist and friend of MotoMatters.com Akira Nishimura conducted with the heads of Suzuki's MotoGP program, Shinichi Sahara and Ken Kawauchi. Nishimura conducted the interviews in Japanese, and translated them into impeccable English. I then edited them in English for style. Any inaccuracies or errors are therefore mine. - David Emmett
Team SUZUKI ECSTAR had a tough season in 2017. From the beginning, Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins faced severe difficulties and finished the year without getting a single podium. As a result, Suzuki will be granted concessions again for the 2018 season. On the other hand, Iannone and Rins showed their competitiveness at the final four races, which indicated Suzuki had found the light at the end of what proved to be a very long tunnel. Suzuki’s MotoGP project leader Shinichi Sahara and technical manager Ken Kawauchi talked frankly about their hard effort in the challenging year and expectations for the forthcoming 2018 season.
Q: Everything looked smooth in the preseason. At the season opener, Iannone took the second row of the grid in qualifying, and Rins started the race from 18th position and fought his way through to reach the checkered flag in 9th place. The opening round of the 2017 season was good for Suzuki. When did you come to think “something is wrong…”?
Kawauchi: It was very early. In Argentina, Alex complained, “I cannot stop the bike as I wanted and it’s difficult to hold the line.” Andrea had been saying something similar, and then Alex, who didn’t have enough experience in MotoGP, told us the same thing as Andrea. So, we had a suspicion that something should have been different from last year.
Q: From that time onwards, what did you do to improve the situation?