A year ahead of schedule, Kenny Roberts got a ride on Suzuki’s new four-stroke GP bike when he tested the V4 XRE0 in Japan over the weekend.
And his hopes of getting back to winning ways on it have been boosted by Suzuki’s plans to field two the new four-stroke GP bikes in this year’s Japanese championship.
Suzuki will let Akira Ryo and Akira Kagayama loose on the new machine in the domestic. The Japanese team will effectively operate as the permanent test bed for its GP effort.
With most of the early races in the 10-round All Japan series on alternate weekends to GPs, it will give the factory a chance to experiment with different parts, rather than gambling on them being run by Roberts and Gibernau in the high-pressure environment of a GP.
Because the bike is a GP prototype, defending Japanese champion Ryo and Kagayama will not be allowed to score points in the All-Japan national series because the bike does not conform to superbike rules.
Neither Yamaha nor Honda have plans to follow suit with the YZR-M1 or RCV in Japan.
While Suzuki's Japanese contingent will be constantly developing the bike, the men that really matter got their first ride on the XRE0 in Japan at the weekend.
Roberts and Gibernau joined Ryo and Kagayama at Ryuyo, the Suzuki factory test track, for a full day of testing on the Dunlop-shod machine.
The GP duo were given a pre-test briefing with the factory race department management before getting to grips with the new 990cc,V4 four-stroke racer which insiders say is developing well over 200bhp.
Gibernau said; " Obviously you can't forget that this is a brand new bike, but my first impressions are very positive. We obviously started later on our four-stroke project compared to the other factories and we are going to have to work hard to get on the pace. The chassis is good, the engine is good, the tyres, suspension and brakes are all good. We just have to concentrate on matching everything up and making the whole thing work. "
Roberts was also happy with the early shakedown; " Certainly at this early stage of the development Suzuki has done an incredible job with the design and concept of the whole motorcycle. The first time I saw the machine I was very impressed how tidy and complete it is at such an early stage in its development. After this initial ride I am really encouraged. "