Over the past few months, the items I have posted here about the Ilmor / Suter bike have pulled a large number of visitors to my blog, as witnessed by the hundreds of hits from Google with the words "Ilmor" and "Suter" in the search query. Today, the long wait for those news hungry fans has finally come to an end, as the new Ilmor Suter X3 was unveiled at Estoril. The bike, a very sharp, pointed, almost KTM-like design, was presented to huge media interest at a news conference this afternoon, where the team commented on the future of the project, and attempted (somewhat unsuccessfully) to dampen expectations for this weekend.
For the presentation of the Ilmor marks the birth of a new era in MotoGP: The Ilmor X3 is the first of the new 800cc bikes to turn a wheel in anger, and it's performance will be monitored with intense scrutiny. Eskil Suter, the Swiss engineer in charge of chassis development, did his best to temper expectations of the bike this weekend, reminding those present that Ilmor is "running an 800 against the 1000 cc machines", which leaves the X3 at an obvious disadvantage, especially along the 210 mph main straight at Estoril. That will not stop the entire racing world analyzing very closely every lap Garry McCoy turns on this bike.
So, what can we expect? Mario Illien, in a previous interview, said that the Ilmor X3 had already set faster times than the Ducati 800 GP7 during testing. And of course, at the post-race tests at Brno, Loris Capirossi put in a lap within 1.5 seconds of his fastest race lap on the new 800. Ducati notably failed to mention whether this time was set on race tires or qualifiers, so it's a little hard to draw any conclusions from this. With Estoril being a shorter track than Brno, and containing a lot of slowish corners, McCoy should be able to get within 2 seconds of the fastest lap during the race. Anything under a second would be sensation, but if the Ilmor is much more than 3 seconds a lap off the pace, then the bike is likely to struggle to be competitive. The first free practice session on Friday morning will reveal all.