Shinichi Sahara Interview: Part 2 - How Suzuki's 2011 Withdrawal Differed From 2022, And Going Out On A High

Suzuki's MotoGP activities finally came to an end with the Valencia GP, the final round of the 2022 season. Since the bombshell news of Suzuki Motor Corporation's decision to withdraw at the end of the season hit the world this May, every venue and every racetrack has become a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all the team members of Team SUZUKI ECSTAR. On Thursday afternoon, before Team SUZUKI ECSTAR's final race at the Circuit de Valencia Ricardo Tormo, we spoke with Shinichi Sahara, the project leader who has been leading the team for twenty years.

In the second part of this two-part interview, Sahara-san discusses how Suzuki's decision to withdraw at the end of 2022 compares with 2011, when Suzuki paused participation in the premier class. He talks about what will happen to the team at the end of the season, the chances of a return, and the joy of Alex Rins' victories at Phillip Island and Valencia.

Q: Your withdrawal is inevitably compared to that of 2011, but in 2011, it was an announcement of “suspension of activities".

Shinichi Sahara: In that sense, it is different from this time. Although it was a suspension, returning to the racing was very tough. And after returning, it needs a lot of effort to become competitive and fight at the top level. Therefore, even at that time, we did everything to persuade them not to suspend racing activities. In that sense, this is the second time we have worked like this. Although there are some similarities, suspension and withdrawal are different things. Anyway, I think once is enough for this experience!

Q: In 2011, you had a hope to return within some years.

Sahara: Indeed. At that time, Rizla Suzuki had only one rider, Alvaro Bautista, and as I mentioned before, if you have one rider in your team, he doesn’t have an opportunity to improve by competing with his teammate, so when he crashed or did not perform well, it was very difficult to judge whether it was the motorcycle's fault or the rider's mistake. In that year, things didn't go well to get good results, but we received compliments from other manufacturers’ riders saying, "the Suzuki is a good bike.” And it was a time when the technical regulations changed from 800cc to 1000cc, so our target and what we had to do was clear to return to racing.

Q: So, do you feel this year is harder than 2011?

Sahara: Yes. We thank all the people around us because they give us very kind words, saying “come back soon!” or “we are waiting for your return again.” But you know, it is very difficult because the company declared they will withdraw.

Q: For this time, it is withdrawal, not suspension?

Sahara: But what we are doing in the process is similar: we are giving our best to get good results in the races while making sure our staff have new jobs and not get into trouble, and we are also coordinating with the company. In that sense, we are doing similar things, but there is a difference, especially on your mental side, whether or not there is a place to come back.

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As someone said after part 1, it's unusual for a Japanese executive to open up so much. Great to hear his thoughts and enthusiasms. Now we need an interview with Kawauchi and his clipboard!

Interesting connection between Sahara san and Fabio: mutual respect. Talk about a match made in heaven, Fabio on the GSX-RR and everyone else would be toast. 

Shame: if if’s and but’s were candy and nuts every day would be Christmas….but it’s not.

I often wonder the same. Imagine the young MM on pale blue from the beginning. I'm sure he would have less titles but...maybe not. Never to be knowns. Mir and Rins are good pedalers though so I'm sure we've had a fairly good image of the bike.

That gixxerrrr engine in any other frame would be different.  In the M1 "chassis " it would have rear grip problems. Yamaha might loose face, so it will never happen.

Why would Suzuki give away their awesome project? I will never know. But they have given up. Raised the white flag. Suzuki quit!

I'm not happy about that, but I have a bike to ride, let's move on. 

Yeah…nah. Let’s live in the never-never, let’s dream of better things. Those “things” may never see the light of day, but they are better regardless.

Bikes come and go but dreams are hard to kill.