It has been a good season so far for Suzuki, the Suzuki Ecstar team, and especially Alex Rins. The Suzuki rider won the race in Austin, finished a comfortable second at Jerez, and has not finished outside the top five all season. Rins sits in second place in the championship, a single point behind leader Marc Márquez.
The Suzuki GSX-RR is a much-improved bike over the winter. After the massive steps made in the second half of the 2018 season, a series of refinements during testing have turned the bike into a bona fide championship contender, and a machine to be feared by its rivals. At Jerez, where Andrea Dovizioso got a close up look at the bike of Rins, the factory Ducati rider was full of praise for the Suzuki.
"I think the Suzuki is better than all the bikes in turning," Dovizioso said. "Rins, when he overtook me, his speed in the middle of the corner was amazing. It’s impossible for me to understand but maybe in the hard braking they are not so strong. It didn’t look like it, but maybe they have some limits. When a big talent rides the bike it’s always difficult to see a bad point of the bike. But for sure in the middle of the corner they are so fast."
At the Monday test in Jerez, Suzuki brought a few more updates to test, most notably a new swing arm and their own version of the swing arm spoiler. The swing arm was rated a success, but the spoiler did not fare so well. Alex Rins ran into the gravel with the spoiler and damaged it beyond repair.
After the test, we spoke to Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio about the test, about the competitiveness of the GSX-RR, and about Alex Rins and his chances of winning the 2019 title. "At the end of the day, it's always useful to do this test, especially after four races, because you can start to guess at the problems you are having and the area where you can improve," Brivio said.
"We went through different things today, like for Alex, also a different swing arm to see how it is. Some electronic parts. And then we had that famous aerodynamic device," Brivio said, referring to the swing arm spoiler. With the spoiler broken, the only thing which they could say about it was that it was less stable when it was broken, Rins had joked earlier.
It was mostly just testing details, however. "Small things, like some settings, a clutch setting. You have a lot of time to go through things which are difficult to check during the race weekend. So it's good. Now, of course the main job is to keep working, keep analyzing data, and let's see next race. The target is to keep our package competitive, and try to improve small areas. We're not looking for big changes or a big revolution."
Suzuki test rider Sylvain Guintoli was also at Jerez on Monday, turning laps on the GSX-RR. But the Frenchman's work was starting to turn towards Barcelona, where he will make a wildcard appearance for Suzuki, Brivio explained. "He is progressing a little bit, some electronics, some stuff. But also for Sylvain, his race is coming close. He will race in Barcelona as a wildcard, and we will have another test in Brno before then. So we will go to Brno, have a test, and then come to Barcelona for the race. So he's also now getting prepared for that, and for sure he wants to try to do a good race."
One fast lap
Though the Suzuki has clearly made major steps forward, the one place where it has struggled is during qualifying. Both Alex Rins and Joan Mir have said they have trouble trying to push out a fast lap, though neither understands where the problem is. That presents a problem for Suzuki as well, Brivio explained. "We don't have a clear idea what it can be," he said. "There is no one reason where you can say, OK, we have this problem, and we have to improve this problem. For instance, Saturday when it was qualifying, with the two tires Alex went out with, he was not 100% confident with the front end."
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