until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

Faster and safer Suzuki really could be the MotoGP favourite

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Going into the opening round of the 2022 MotoGP season at this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix, there was a feeling in the paddock that Suzuki was the team in best shape.

And with Alex Rins and Joan Mir a very impressive first and third on day one of Losail practice, that estimation doesn’t seem far wrong.

You might say it’s only Friday practice. But with FP1 and FP3 both running in unrepresentative daytime conditions while FP2 is on the cool night-time track that will be encountered in practice and qualifying, Friday’s second practice was something of a mini qualifying session.

Qualifying is traditionally the achilles heel of the GSX-RR, but that wasn’t the case this time round. Both riders delivered a performance so impressive that it may be that a first Suzuki pole since Aleix Espargaro at Barcelona in 2015 looks likely.

But while the time attack mode was the high point of the day, Rins says that he’s confident that Suzuki’s not only managed to be strong in one area in Qatar but right across the board.

“Today we did a good job in all senses, in the race pace and also in one lap,” he enthused.

“The second lap, the last exit, I was improving a little but I found some people in front, but overall it was good and Suzuki needs to be happy.

“They improved the engine, but they still need to work in some areas. Let’s see on the race day, if we can fight, if we can be there with the rest of the guys – but it looks like we are in a good way.”

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Rins topped the speed traps, a feat he called “amazing” given Suzuki’s usual struggles there.

“This has never before happened in the four or five years that I’ve been here in MotoGP,” he said.

“In the afternoon too, I could feel the speed as well – but don’t say it too much, because then Suzuki [might relax].

“As a rider you always want to improve things, and now we’re pushing so hard to improve the aerodynamic side.”

And with that improved engine performance comes perhaps an unexpected benefit – a bike that Rins believes will be safer to race.

Somewhat accident-prone, especially in 2021 where he crashed out of a third of races, the 26-year-old is cautiously optimistic that the improvement in speed will help him stay focused and stay on the bike.

“We have here a new engine, we have the ride height device, and I think it has helped us to at least breathe in the straight,” he explained.

“Before it was more difficult, full tension, and now I think we can go with a bit more calm.

“It’s less chance to make a mistake. Before, I was on the straights wondering where the rider would come, left or right, and now let’s see.

“We haven’t raced yet still, but overall with the other bikes I’ve practiced and we’re holding the slipstream, which is good news.”

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On the other side of the Suzuki garage, things are just as optimistic, with Rins’ occasionally weak-qualifying team-mate Mir also looking to have made a significant step forwards when it comes to pushing for a flying lap time.

However, while Rins is putting his faith in Suzuki’s new and much-improved engine, the 2020 world champion instead insists that it’s Suzuki’s late-arriving but much-needed rear ride height adjustment device that’s made the difference.

“It’s not that we’ve made a huge step on the engine,” argued Mir. “OK, we’ve improved it a lot, but we’re comparing it to a bike without the [ride height] device.

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“So last year, here, I remember that we were struggling a lot on top speed, on acceleration, because we were not using the device.

“Now, with the device, with a small step in the engine and with a great job at the end of last year to better understand the set-up to make a good lap time with a soft tyre, with everything together we are able to improve the package.

“For sure we have to continue to improve the device, because it’s not completely ready, let’s say.

“We were the last ones, last year, and we have to continue improving it because you can make it with more movement, less stroke. All of this, we have to continue understanding.

“The first prototype was heavier than the one we are using now, and it was a little bit faster. This one, the direction we’re working in – you can see the Ducatis, the Aprilia going down very slowly, and we’re still going down quite hard. But we’ve improved it a lot.”

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When added to the already impressive race pace that he’s carried forward from his best performances of last season, Mir very much sounds like someone who is is expecting to be fighting for front row starting spots on Saturday and for a race win come Sunday’s opening race of the year.

Asked about the prospect of a first MotoGP pole at last by The Race, Mir said: “If we are able to fight for the pole position, like the last two races of last year, I will be really happy.

“We’re following the good steps. There are a lot of bikes and riders able to make good steps, and if we are there and fighting for pole I will be really happy.

“My riding style is always that normally if I qualify good, I race better, so if we are able to make a good step in qualifying we can have a good race.

“I expected to be strong, but it’s only the first day. Perhaps the most important FP2 in all the season, because tomorrow it’s more difficult to make even a 1m54s lap in FP3.

“We’ll try again to see if we can improve. I expected to be strong and in the end we were strong, and we don’t have to look for more than this.”

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