New Suzuki shines on European track debut

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Suzuki’s new 1000cc MotoGP machine produced an eye-catching performance on its first test outside of Japan yesterday (Monday), with test rider Randy de Puniet finishing just over 0.7s off the best time set by Jorge Lorenzo in Catalunya.

A one-day test session at the track near Barcelona was the first time the new Suzuki was pitched against opposition like Yamaha’s factory YZR-M1 and Ducati’s Desmosedici after an extensive testing schedule in Japan.

French rider de Puniet excelled on the new bike, which sported a striking blue paint scheme, to set the eighth fastest time. The current Aspar Aprilia rider, who has an agreement to test the Suzuki throughout 2013, set a best time of 1.42.676.

That was 0.772s behind Lorenzo’s factory Yamaha, with de Puniet less than 0.5s off the top three.

Suzuki’s strong and encouraging performance came just hours after the Japanese factory had announced it will not be entering the MotoGP world championship as expected in 2014.

In order to focus on developing a race ready and competitive machine, Suzuki’s return to MotoGP for the first time since 2011 has been delayed until 2015.

Some will say that de Puniet’s impressive performance on only his second appearance on the bike, which is codenamed XRH-1, shows it is already competitive and given more development time could be ready to compete next season, as was the original plan.

The difficulty in gauging Suzuki’s true potential is understanding what spec the bike is in its current guise. Is it currently running to the 20-litre fuel tank capacity it will need when it returns? Will it have the same engine performance when restricted to just five motors per season? How will it perform when it has to use the Dorna-supplied Magneti Marelli electronics hardware?

Regardless of those questions, it was still an impressive and encouraging performance from Suzuki.

Former factory Kawasaki and LCR Honda rider de Puniet told MCN: “It was a really positive day because we had only one day here and we lost some time while changing the gearbox and other things but the feeling was exactly the same when I tested the bike in Japan recently.

We improved the lap time a lot during the day and also the other riders have just spent the whole weekend on this track. They are prepared but I jumped off a CRT bike to this prototype bike and I needed two or three exits to adapt my style. I am still surprised to be only 0.7s behind and honestly if we had one more day I think I could have improved a lot.”

The strong point of the new bike is corner entry, according to the 32-year-old, who added: “For me the good point is corner entry, even if we can improve again because I am not at the limit of the bike. The position of the bike is very good and I feel comfortable. The engine for me is good and now we need to push more and more because we have a good base. Suzuki has done a very good job because we have been very fast after just a few hours.”

MCN asked Valentino Rossi, Nicky Hayden and Lorenzo what they had thought of the Suzuki’s performance at the end of the test.

Lorenzo, who topped the timesheets with a best lap of 1.41.904, said: “I didn’t see him on the track. I just saw it in the pit lane and the bike looks nice. The lap time was good and I would like for them to come next year but I hear they will probably come in 2015 and that’s a pity.”

Nine-times world champion Rossi, who escaped injury in a crash at Turn 3, said: “I think first of all it is very good that Suzuki comes back. Another factory team in MotoGP is important. The bike looks good, although I just see in front of the pit. But de Puniet already did a 42.6, which is not so bad and already fast.”

American Hayden, who was second quickest and only 0.051s slower than Lorenzo, said: “It is not a bad start. I saw the lap time and it looked like they got slowly faster all day and a 42.6 is not a bad lap time, especially when you consider this was our fourth day here to set the bike up.

Randy has been here but riding a different bike, so I would say they have done a good job and it is great. We need them in MotoGP and it looks they have done a good job.”

For more exclusive news from inside the Suzuki test team, see the June 26 issue of Motor Cycle News.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt