Features

"I must say that 2018 season went better than expected"

Before the 2018 season started, did you set any goals for yourself or the team? If yes, were those goals missed, achieved, or surpassed?

Personally I hardly set clear objectives in terms of numbers - when we started the season I didn’t think about a final position or how many podiums we’d get. Needless to say that the final objective, and the reason we are all here, is to try and win the World Championship. Everything that happens before reaching that goal is simply another step towards it. Winning the title is something which is very very hard to achieve, so our main objective was to lose the concessions as soon as possible, therefore by collecting 6 points (2 points for each second place, and 1 for third place) and losing the concessions quite early in the season I must say that 2018 went better than expected. At the beginning I could never imagine this outcome: nine podiums, four times second, and at least a couple of races very close to the victory. Alex Rins' fast growth, especially at the end of the season where he became very consistent and quick, was also great to witness. I’m very happy.

Where have these positive results come from?

From a technical point of view since last winter we’ve been able to rely on a better bike, we had improved on some weak areas that we found in 2017. I want to say thank you to the engineers in Japan for this, they did a good job during the winter which finally led us to have a better package available. The second reason are the riders: there is no doubt that Alex Rins improved impressively throughout the season, and his increased performance also started a great respectful rivalry between himself and Andrea Iannone, which I believe was positive for both of them as they pushed each other. Last but not least, the whole team working in the garage and travelling together the whole season. We already proved to be a strong squad last year - we stuck together despite the rough season we had in 2017. Finally we came out stronger and we were able to give our maximum. The mechanics, engineers, and technicians worked very well, we made the best out of the material we had at our disposal. Thanks to all these different aspects we achieved this strong season, it was true team work at its finest. I think it’s something extraordinary and I want to draw attention to it.

What kind of emotion do you get from those nine podiums, and how do the achievements change your motivation and expectations?

There’s no doubt that nine podiums give you a very nice feeling, but they also put some pressure on your shoulders because now we must improve even further. These nine podiums represent a record for Suzuki since the MotoGP class era, so now we have the pressure to beat this record. But it’s right that there should be pressure; because this is the sport, this is racing, and what we must deal with. Therefore, I still don’t know how, but we must get even better results and we will do all we can to achieve this. The first and biggest dream we have is to win a race. We’ve placed in 2nd four times, three of which were with Alex, therefore it would be a natural evolution for him to try to win and this will be our objective, hopefully in the short term.

"We already proved to be a strong squad last year - we stuck together despite the rough season we had in 2017. Finally we came out stronger and we were able to give our maximum"

You’ve said your first objective this year was to lose concessions, why?

It might sound strange to want to lose them, because the concessions give you some little advantages, but it’s more important to us to be level with the other manufacturers. The biggest advantage is the development of the engine throughout the season, you get more test days and you’re able to use nine engines instead of seven. These things are helpful but not really imperative for the success of a season. I like to think that we have been promoted to the ‘senior ranks’, we are now even with Honda, Ducati and Yamaha as we all have to fight with the same weaponry. This is nice for us and also more fair. In addition, when we take a really top result it will be more satisfying to know that we did it without any assistance.

In what ways have the riders improved this year?

When Andrea Iannone arrived with us he already had four years of experience and for this reason he was our reference point, especially at the beginning. Then the work we did in the next two years has been to try and help Alex Rins grow. It was our second experience with a rookie and I must say that it is always a balance between technical aspects and mental coaching. Even though you know the rider is talented, there is still a lot of work to do and the whole team have to contribute, from the mechanics to the crew chief, the management, and the engineers. We all did a good job and we can all be satisfied with how we helped Alex to consistently fight for podium positions. We are working to create a top rider and this year we did a great step forward, the hardest part will be to do the final step which is to regularly fight for the victory.

Another young rider has arrived, it’s the third time that Team SUZUKI ECSTAR has taken on a rookie, what is the best way to manage this?

In Italy we say “not two without three”!  Also because the Suzuki factory really like the idea of growing young talents to create iconic Suzuki riders for the future, in the hope that the relationship will last for a long time. We were prepared for Joan’s arrival, from a technical point of view the GSX-RR has improved a lot, it’s becoming more and more mature let’s say, and from the Team’s side we can rely on the experience we have with Maverick and Alex, so we can give Joan extensive support. We strongly believe Joan has a lot of talent, just like Maverick and Alex in the past, and when you work with a talented rider it really motivates you to give your best. Our objective is to help him to understand the MotoGP class and machine as quickly as possible, then try to finalise a good bike for him with the right set up and configuration. Hopefully he will then be able to convert this help into results on track. With us he can keep calm, he doesn’t have any pressure, he can just enjoy this first year of learning and growing, only after that will we expect to turn his talent into solid results.

"We strongly believe Joan has a lot of talent, just like Maverick and Alex in the past, and when you work with a talented rider it really motivates you to give your best"

How big is the impact on the team with the arrival of a rookie?

To enter into a well rounded and experienced team is a big help for a rider like Joan, because he is aware that he can rely on a group of people who have already worked together for years, a team and a bike that have already been capable of great results. I believe this reassures him and I have seen already in these pre-season tests that he looks well acquainted with the team, he feels welcomed. On the other side, the guys who work closely with him are enthusiastic and very pleased with his approach, his mentality, and his motivation. It seems to me that a good relationship is forming.

How are you preparing for this 2019?

We will not have a brand new bike for 2019, but we are working on improving the main elements: engine and chassis. So we tested a new version of the engine that is designed to give us more power and speed, it looks like its working well so now we have to understand how this new engine will affect the overall balance of the bike with all the other elements. This new engine was used by Guintoli in the GP of Japan, Alex tested it in Valencia and finally both factory riders tried it in the latest Jerez test. We had to take a decision on the engine by the end of November but we also have to pay attention to the chassis, we have a new version available but here the choice is harder, we have to understand how and where we have advantages and disadvantages. Nowadays we – just like other manufacturers – have come to a level where the standard chassis is already an excellent base, and improving overall without losing in some areas is very very difficult, it requires very deep analysis. We have different options for the engine, different options for the chassis, and also different options for other items, the hard part now is to piece together the best performing composition with all these elements to bring to FP1 in Qatar. This will cause big headaches during the winter for all our engineers in our headquarters in Japan, but it’s also a very interesting and intriguing part of racing.

How big was the contribution of Sylvain Guintoli and the test team in the development?

We really appreciate the work done by Sylvain and the whole test team because they have had the chance to test some items in greater detail and give us a ‘best of’. Also the items we were testing in Valencia and Jerez were already tested and selected by Sylvain, so then it was the turn of the factory riders. Sylvain has a lot of experience and is very sensitive to changes on the bike, his comments are always accurate which is really appreciated by the engineers. We will continue to work with him next year, because 2018 was our first year with a test team and we had to start developing this new approach, now we are ready to make another step and make their work easier, but also more efficient and productive for us.

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