QUESTION: In 2017, from a technical point of view, Team SUZUKI ECSTAR struggled much more than everyone expected, and it was clear early on that it would be difficult to fight at the maximum level. What has changed this year compared to last year?

KEN KAWAUCHI: Last year, as many people know, we changed our engine specification for the whole season. The main differences between the two engine specs were found in handling. This issue, added to what happened with Alex and his injuries, and also with Andrea struggling to adapt to the bike in his first year with us, didn’t let us improve as much as we wanted. Even with the work done by the test riders, Sylvain Guintoli and Takuya Tsuda, we couldn’t get a really good result. But in the middle of the season we tried to fix some of the handling problems, we tried some new parts and we also worked on the chassis to get more balance, because we were not allowed to get a new engine due to the regulations. But with the changes we made, we were able to finish the last part of the season with a competitive bike, especially in the last four races. 

Q: How much did you learn in terms of technical improvements?

K. K: Last year we understood, because of the problems with the engine, which was the correct path to follow for the future. So from the very first moment that we tried the new 2018 specification, we already knew which was the better way to follow. We also realized we could combine some good things from last year as a result of the continued development with the new engine spec.

We are pretty happy with the opening part of the season with both riders

Q: Four podiums so far in the first half of the championship, and regularly fighting for the top positions. Did you expect such a strong start?

K. K: Before the start of the new season honestly our main target was try to fight for the podium in all races, but we didn’t expect such great results so early on. So we are pretty happy with the opening part of the season with both riders. We are very competitive even if we had some crashes in some races where we could have fought at the front.

Q: Considering this, how far from the victory do you think Team SUZUKI ECSTAR is right now?

K. K: (Laughs) There is one Spanish rider in MotoGP who is very, very strong… (more laughs). In this top class it’s not easy to win, you need a special combination of things. For sure our bike is now very competitive, and our riders are very fast, but we need a chance to combine everything. Of course if we have the opportunity we will try to achieve a win as soon as possible, but this category is very hard and very competitive.

Q: Which parts of the bike are you working the most on now?

K. K:  Now we are pretty focused on improving the stability on braking and corner entry. We need to step up in this matter.


Q: Speaking about Alex Rins, last year as a rookie he couldn’t complete a normal season because of the injuries he suffered, but he was still able to finish the season in a good way. What do you expect from him in 2018, and does he have much room left to improve as a rider?

K. K: I hope and I expect that Alex can be always in the Top 6, both in the  practice sessions and the races.

Q: Let’s switch to Andrea; it seems that he is getting stronger step-by-step, and he has had some podiums and strong performances. How can he further improve his performance?

K. K: Initially, Andrea’s riding style and the GSX-RR’s characteristics didn’t match very well and were not very well suited. But Andrea has the speed, he is very fast, and he has worked to become more comfortable on the bike, that’s why he has achieved some good results.   

Q: How important is it from a technical perspective for a MotoGP team to have both riders challenging all the time and motivating each other to improve the performance of the bike?

K. K: It is very, very important because, for example, last season when Alex was out because of the injuries and Andrea was alone to develop the bike he couldn’t get good results. This year with both riders in good shape, they are competing together in some races for the same objectives and for a team this is an ideal situation.  

Q: You had a test in Barcelona just before facing Mugello, did you find something new to help Team SUZUKI ECSTAR step up in the coming races?

K. K: We tested so many new items and we were able to confirm that we are going in the correct way, but most of those improvements will come into play for next season.