That Suzuki is working on a MotoGP prototype for a return to the premier class at some point in the future - 2014 is the date Suzuki staff have referred to officially in all their communication - is well-known. There have been several reports of the bike being tested, but no real photos or information on the bike. Until yesterday.
On Tuesday, respected US publication Cycle World published spy photos of the brand new Suzuki on its website, taken while testing at Sugo. Even better, along with the photos, they published a detailed technical analysis by Kevin Cameron, the magazine's technical editor and probably the leading authority on motorcycle racing technology. The bike, according to both Cameron's analysis and Cycle World's sources, is an inline 4, and not the V4 that Suzuki had previously hinted at. The engine is inclined forwards considerably, Cameron suggesting that it could be by as much as 30°. The engine is just visible in one photo, and is clearly inclined significantly, certainly more than the Yamaha M1 engine used in their 800cc bike, which they displayed at Valencia. The advantage of using an inline 4 is improved weight distribution, with the space behind the engine (where the rear cylinder bank would be on a V4) freed up so that the fuel tank can be located there.
Based on the two exhausts visible on the right-hand side of the bike, as well as reports from persons present at the scene, Cameron also deduces that the engine does not use the normal "screamer" firing order as commonly found in inline fours such as Suzuki's own GSX-R1000, BMW's S1000RR or Kawasaki's ZX-10R. The two separate exhausts suggest a "long bang" configuration, similar to that used by Yamaha's M1 MotoGP bike and YZF-R1 sportsbike, in which the crank pins are spaced at 90° angles two each other.
The most interesting piece of speculation by Cameron concerns the electronics. Cameron writes: "in one of the cornering photos, [the rider] has the throttle pinned, suggesting advanced electronics in use." The intriguing possibility is that Suzuki may have elected to drop Mitsubishi, who supplied electronics throughout the Japanese factory's period in MotoGP, and are testing another system. The technical partner stickers that appear on the bike show oil company Motul, spark plug maker NGK, chain supplier RK, tire manufacturer and data recording supplier 2D. A sticker bearing the name Mitsubishi is absent from the bike.
The technical partner stickers themselves beg the question of why they are there in the first place. Though Suzuki have made no secret of their MotoGP program, it is still a little way off being ready for public consumption. So why they would add the sponsor stickers to what is clearly a development prototype is rather puzzling. Why go to all that effort?
Unless they were expecting photos of the bike to appear, that is. The spy photos obtained by Cycle World are of the highest quality, clearly having been taken by a professional photographer using top-of-the-range equipment, including a large zoom lens. Though Sugo is a public track, when rented out for a private test to a manufacturer, photographers lugging 500mm lenses around are generally shooed roughly away. There is clearly a benefit to Suzuki to have spy shots of their bikes appear in the media, as it raises the profile of Suzuki's racing program, and generates a lot of publicity.
So perhaps the photos were leaked, or if not leaked, then a blind eye turned to the presence of somebody taking photos of something they ostensibly shouldn't be looking at. Allowing spy shots to be released to the press generates interst in the program, and could perhaps be a sign that it is further along than previously announced. Though the official press release announcing Suzuki's withdrawal from MotoGP stated that the goal was to return in 2014, once source close to Suzuki recently hinted to MotoMatters.com that a 2013 return was not beyond the bounds of possibility.
For the full and detailed analysis of the spy shots of the Suzuki MotoGP machine, we heartily recommend that readers head over to the article on Cycle World and ponder Kevin Cameron's thoughts on the matter.