interview special-features sylvainguintoli
“It’s really busy, but bikes are my world” - Our Test Rider Sylvain Guintoli is a man of many talents, and he certainly doesn’t waste them! From testing with our MotoGP team, to winning the Le Mans 24hr Endurance race, and asking tough questions in the paddock with BT Sport. We sat down with him in Sachsenring to find out how he balances it all…
"It’s really really busy but bikes are my world, so it doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything crazy or over the top, it just feels like I have lots of different caps"
QUESTION: Sylvain, you truly have become a master of multi-tasking, do you enjoy this new lifestyle?
SYLVAIN GUINTOLI: “I really do, it’s busy and it’s exciting, because I have my main role which is MotoGP tester for Suzuki, and then this year I’ve added the World Endurance Championship which is a really nice challenge for me because it’s back to racing full time which is really motivating for me. And then the TV thing too. The last few years I’ve done like ‘wildcards’, guest appearances as a presenter and commentator just doing little bits at some races. But recently I’ve been doing that more and more because I really enjoy doing it, and its really interesting to me to be seeing the job from both sides. So it’s really really busy but bikes are my world, so it doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything crazy or over the top, it just feels like I have lots of different caps.”
Q: Which do you find the most difficult, which is the hardest role to slip into?
SG: “They all feel good now, initially the TV role wit BT Sport was quite difficult because it’s not easy to be on camera when you’re live and you need to ask questions - especially in the pitlane where there’s a lot of noise. And you have to focus on being engaging; live performance is something special. So I would say that this is the one that took the most time to understand how to do it properly. But after a while, once you’re used to it, it becomes really fun. I find it fascinating from a technical point of view too and I love finding out how all the bikes work and how the tyres work for them - it’s a bit geeky but I find everything about the bike world fascinating. But if I’m honest, riding bikes is the only thing I truly know how to do because I’ve been doing it for 25 years, so it almost feels ‘easy’ now.”
Q: You have to be neutral when you’re working for TV, is it hard when you need to come into our pit box and interview (Team Director) Shinichi Sahara for example, and ask ‘uncomfortable questions’? Questions that as a test rider you know it’s better not to ask, but because you’re also a journalist you have to?
SG: “Actually that hasn’t really happened. I know what it’s like to be on the other side so I try to be really respectful and not ask embarrassing or difficult questions. I prefer to always put a positive spin on everything and ask people about the good side of things. Whether it’s a question for Suzuki or for anybody else. I want to show MotoGP in a good way and I want to do that by having people feel comfortable speaking to me.”
Q: In some ways all your jobs link up, for example being a MotoGP test rider helps you in endurance and also it helps you when interviewing people. Could you explain how each role compliments the other?
SG: “It’s never completely separate, there are always lots of parallels, for example MotoGP bikes and superbikes/endurance bikes are very different but there is always a link between them - one job can always inspire you in the other. You always find some interesting factors that you notice and learn from. I’ve picked up things in endurance that could change the way I ride the MotoGP bike, or the other way around. Life is always a school day, you’re always learning, even after so many years. The MotoGP bike is always evolving and it’s the same in endurance so in this way multitasking is great because you can always bring in new ideas and help each project move forward.”
Q: You have to do many laps as a test rider, so in that way testing in MotoGP is already an endurance activity?
SG: "Yeah, it’s really good training, because you do a lot of laps as a test rider, sometimes up to 100 laps. In the Le Mans endurance race, over the course of 24 hours, each rider does about 300 laps. You have to be able to keep the concentration and speed up and keep your head sharp, so it’s definitely good training!”
Q: Is MotoGP more physically demanding than endurance riding?
SG: “The GP bike is faster and it brakes harder, it also corners faster. But the endurance bike is heavier and in some ways harder to handle. It’s difficult to compare them because they’re quite different and require different techniques, but for sure they’re both physically demanding.”
Q: Physical strength on the bike is one thing, but how do you cope with the hectic aspect of your jobs; flying a lot, travelling, working hard. Do you have time to do normal things like calling home to your family while you’re on the road?
SG: "We try to do that as much as possible, obviously this June has been very busy with races and travelling and testing, so at the moment I can’t spend as much time as I want with my family, but this is part of the job and my family understands it. And on the flip side, there will be times when I can spend a lot of time with them when there’s not so much racing and work. But this is life, when I’m away I work hard and it’s intense, but then when you’re off you can spend precious and privileged time with your family. Last year, like many people, I had a lot of time at home so that was nice in terms of being with loved ones. But even this year there are times without too many commitments, for example in July there are no MotoGP races and just one Endurance race in Estoril. It’s on and off and you just have to deal with it.”
Q: How do you relax after such an intense and action-packed period?
SG: “I don’t really do relaxing! I don’t really have a day when I think ‘ahh, I’m relaxing today’, I just do the normal stuff, some exercising but lighter exercise than when I properly train. I also chill out with the kids and family, enjoying good times and having a laugh. Switching off from intense training, eating well, and spending time with family and friends is such a good way to relax, it’s so good for your mind and body.”
Q: Speaking of family, you have six kids, what’s the first thing they demand from you after you’ve been away from home?
SG: “Like every kid, they just want cuddles from their dad and they want to be close and spending quality time doing things together. After I’ve had time away they don’t really demand anything or ask for anything, they just want to be with me. It’s so nice, and I value that so highly.”
Q: How difficult is it from a mental point of view to switch from one activity to another? Do you need to make a mental switch between work activities or does it just flow?
SG: “Yeah, it really does just flow. I know the GSX-RR really well and when I jump on it it’s like an automatic switch in my head and I’m immediately focused on putting in laps and giving feedback to the team. The endurance bike, the GSX-R, is similar, I think after so much riding during my career it feels pretty natural to get on any bike. Then you also adapt quickly to the crew around you because we all know each other well. And with the TV stuff you just kind of slot into it and I’m always excited to think about what I’m going to report that weekend so immediately when I arrive I’m thinking: ‘What’s new? Who’s in good shape? How will the race be?’”
Q: You’re a World Champion, some riders settle down after taking a title for various reasons. But in your case you’re still full of activities and projects. Was this a deliberate choice to keep yourself busy or was it a question of what life offered you and the chances you were given?
SG: “It’s a while since I was World Champion! (laughs). I think in the end it comes down to what you want to do and the motivation that you have, as well as how much you want to put into your job. I’m the type of person who if I start something I want to go all out, I want to commit to it and put in maximum effort. When I started testing with Suzuki in 2017 I told the team ‘I want to give this everything, I want to do it fully, and I’m 100% focused on the job’ and Sahara-san said ‘Yes, come on! Let’s do that!’
It was the same with endurance, we decided to go racing so we’re putting a lot of effort into that and together with SERT (Suzuki Endurance Racing Team) we’re giving our maximum and that paid off in Le Mans with victory. Just because you commit to something in life, doesn’t automatically mean that good things will come out of it, but I think the chances of achieving what you want are heightened when you try hard.”
Q: Team Suzuki Ecstar in MotoGP is known for having a family atmosphere - with the team very connected and in harmony. Is this the same with SERT? Do you feel this is a Suzuki philosophy or just a Team Suzuki Ecstar approach?
SG: “This team, Team Suzuki Ecstar, have created the perfect working environment, because there’s the full factory status and all the rigorous work that comes with that, and the work ethic that comes from the Japanese side. And you also have the European side which compliments it well. Suzuki were outsiders when they came back into the championship, but everyone was so determined, despite not being the biggest team. I think this created a brilliant solidarity and spirit among the team members and this remains even after winning the title last year. The SERT team has a long history but this latest set-up is also a new venture and from what I can tell so far, as a new rider on the team, the atmosphere is fantastic and I feel like this is a Suzuki mindset - both are driven by the same philosophy.”