Chris Vermeulen made his Suzuki GSV-R debut on Monday (Nov 7) as preparations for the 2006 MotoGP world championship kicked off in Valencia – less than 24 hours after the final race.
The Australian, who signed a deal recently to replace axed former world champion Kenny Roberts Junior, completed 28-laps in a 90-minute stint this afternoon.
He logged a best time of 1.34.9 in his second short stint of eight laps as he began the tough process of trying to help John Hopkins turn round Suzuki’s fortunes in the premier class.
Vermeulen gave his first impressions immediately after completing his GSV-R debut and speaking exclusively to MCN he said: “I really enjoyed it. The bike is very comfortable and easy to ride. It is going to be a tough job and we have got months and months of hard work to try and make the bike as good as possible for the start of next season. I’ll go to a few tracks I won’t know next season and so it will be hard work from that point of view as well.”
Vermeulen only used standard Bridgestone tyres this afternoon and used a set-up close to what Japanese test rider Nobuatsu Aoki used in yesterday’s Valencia GP. The 2005 World Superbike runner-up, who joined Suzuki after Honda couldn’t secure him a spot in 2006 on board an RCV, said his first impressions of the Bridgestone tyres had been a big plus on day one.
“We just used standard Bridgestone tyres and they have a very different feeling, especially the front, and the lean angle you can carry with them is incredible. What it feels like is unreal. It felt like I was leaning over trying to find the edge and I never actually got there. The front feels very good. It’s very planted but its not giving me a lot of information at the moment. That could be the tyre or it could be the way we’ve got the bike set-up. I basically ran a set-up pretty similar to what Aoki used in the race. I just changed the fork springs. That might not suit my riding style down to a tee at the moment," added Vermeulen.
It didn’t take long for Vermeulen to detect one of the major weaknesses of the GSV-R. A lack of top speed and acceleration is the major area Suzuki engineers have targeted to put right for 2006 and Vermeulen said it was easily noticeable after his two appearances on board the Camel Honda RCV in Australia and Turkey last month.
He said: “It doesn’t have the out and out horsepower for sure, I noticed that pretty much straightaway. It is very mellow which does make it easy to ride but that’s the problem, we know that, and everybody is working hard to put that right for next year.
“When you get second and third gear out of the corners it goes well but then after that it just doesn’t seem to drive like the Honda. Obviously it is very fast but not to the level of one of them.”
Vermeulen also quickly found out the benefit of working directly with a factory team in Valencia, which had been one of his requests to HRC that they couldn’t fulfil to prevent the former World Supersport champion switching to Suzuki.
He added: “They will do anything for me basically. I struggled with the rear brake initially because the pedal wasn’t wide enough. As soon as I came in they found one in the back of a drawer, modified it and made it bigger for me within 15 minutes. Suzuki is a factory that has won world championships and hopefully we will be able to do it again one day. That’s the goal. The team works very well together and they are 100% behind me.”
A host of riders will be making their debuts for new teams this week, including Sete Gibernau on the Marlboro Ducati and Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner on Honda’s RCV. Vermeulen is back on track on Wednesday and Thursday.
A full report on the winter’s first major test will appear in next week’s Motor Cycle News.