Monday, December 5, 2011

A MotoGP chapter closes for Suzuki

Suzuki, forever associated with such racing legends as Barry Sheene and Kevin Schwantz, plus some of the most recognisable paint schemes to grace the racetrack (Heron, Pepsi, Lucky Strike, Rizla) will be out of grand prix for at least the next two seasons. 

The manufacturer has contributed hugely to 500cc/MotoGP since its first factory-backed foray in 1974, and been rewarded with six premier-class riders' titles, seven constructors' titles and 90 GP wins. 

The four-stroke era has been less successful and the news that there won't be a bike from Hamamatsu on the grid next year hardly comes as a surprise - although the official line that "...prolonged recession in developed countries, a historical appreciation of Japanese yen and repeated natural disasters" led to the pull-out is only part of the story. 

Not mentioned, but undoubtedly an influence, is the troubled relationship between Suzuki and VW AG. The German giant bought a 19.9% stake in Suzuki in January 2009, but things have since soured and Suzuki is now looking to buy itself out of the deal. 

VW, however, wants to keep hold of its share, and the resultant international arbitration case is likely to last more than two years. If Suzuki does have its way, the buyback will be costly: VW paid 1.7 billion Euros three years ago. 

Closer to home, another possible factor is the present instability in MotoGP. A CRT revolution; Dorna versus the MSMA; talk of 16,000rpm rev limits and spec ECUs - is it really worth pouring huge sums of money into technology that could be regulated out of use two years down the line? 

Changes clearly need to be made in MotoGP, but an uncertain future is not what any investors like and the cost of developing electronics, for example, would be hard to swallow if Ezpeleta did indeed follow through with his threat (used not for the first time) of a control ECU. 

Then there's the small matter of results. That's not to say there wasn't promise in Suzuki's recent form – far from it. But with the team last scoring a podium at Brno in 2008 – a race that saw the Michelin riders barely make it to the finish line – it's hardly a surprise Suzuki decided to throw in the towel. If the GSV-R had been winning races and fighting for championships, surely the decision would have been different. 

So what does the future hold? Well, the fact that the manufacturer has form in taking sabbaticals is some consolation for fans already looking forward to its return. From 1984 to 1986 Suzuki withdrew its factory team to concentrate on the development of the RGV500, competing for most of 1987 before returning full time the following year. 

As it stands, the company is suggesting it will again return, stating that: "Having an eye to returning to MotoGP in 2014, Suzuki will now focus on developing a competitive new racing machine for that class." 

Indeed, development has been underway for some time, and test rider Nobuatsu Aoki has been evaluating both v-four and inline-four 1000cc MotoGP engines. 

Either way, don't expect a repeat of the 1988 season opener, which Schwantz won by over eight-seconds on the new bike. Before that phoenix-like comeback the Suzuki-shaped hole on the grid was filled by privateer entries, but unfortunately there is little chance of a Suzuki-based CRT bike this time round. 

The GSX-R1000 motor is the least over-square of all 1000cc superbike engines, at 74.5mm x 57.3mm; some way off the maximum 81mm bore vital to produce the required revs and therefore power for competitiveness. 

With the face of MotoGP set to change drastically over the next few years, it will be interesting to see how Suzuki's pull-out is viewed in the long term. 

Assuming Suzuki returns, will the factory be hopelessly out of touch due to the 'lost years', or will watching from the sidelines until the rules stabilise allow the brand to pick the most effective technical package to throw its limited resources behind? 

Time will tell, but Suzuki will need to provide regular updates about its 1000cc project if the 2014 return is to be taken seriously. No news is unlikely to be good news. 

source: crash

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