Interview: Suzuki's Kawauchi And Sahara On The 2019 GSX-RR, Alex Rins And Joan Mir, And Power vs Control

In the 2019 season, Team SUZUKI ECSTAR made a huge step forward. Alex Rins won two races, at COTA and Silverstone, and concluded the season fourth in the championship. Meanwhile, their rookie rider Joan Mir finished in the top ten on nine occasions and finished twelfth in the riders’ standings, despite an injury and an absence of two races over the summer.

At the end of December, we drove four hours from Tokyo to Suzuki’s hometown Hamamatsu to conduct an exclusive interview with Team SUZUKI ECSTAR project leader Shinichi Sahara and the technical manager Ken Kawauchi.

Alex Rins at Silverstone in 2019

Q: The 2019 GSX-RR doesn’t seem to have a big difference from the previous year’s spec, especially in terms of the chassis …

Kawauchi: Although there was a very subtle difference here and there, the main frame with carbon wrapping is almost the same as the 2018 final version.

Q: Does the ‘spoon’ (the spoiler attachment underneath the swingarm) have some aerodynamic effect?

Kawauchi: There is no big difference, to be honest. Maybe it is just a bit better if you have it on your bike. It is such a very small difference.

Q: Do you improve your lap time with this material?

Sahara: I’d love to believe that it has some positive effect for the lap time….

Kawauchi: We had an interesting thing this season. In the warm-up session when Joan didn’t have it on his bike, he couldn’t set a good lap time. So, we put it back on his bike in the race. It is very hard to say that this material made a difference because you cannot measure the difference under the same conditions. Anyway, data shows it has some good effect, at the same time, it is difficult to say it definitely improves lap time.

Sahara: Like Ducati said, this material seems to have more or less good effect on cooling down tire temperatures, although it is just a bit.

Q: So, does the spoon improve rider’s feeling to get a good traction?

Sahara: It is very difficult to judge because you cannot compare with or without spoon under the identical conditions. When you have the spoon, maybe the tire temperatures would be just a bit lower. Literally, just a bit.

Q: Like this ‘spoon’, Ducati is always very clever at finding regulation loopholes. Does Suzuki try to do the similar thing?

Kawauchi: To be honest, we read the rule book very carefully, but couldn’t find anything!

Q: In the 2019 season, some riders tried to use the rear brake lever on their handlebar. Did your riders do it, too?

Sahara: Not yet. Our riders are very good at using the foot brake. So, we don’t necessarily have to introduce the handlebar rear brake. Maybe we will try it in the future.

Q: Many manufacturers use carbon swingarms, and Yamaha also started using it during the 2019 season. Do you have a plan to follow this trend?

Kawauchi: We have to keep on researching, but for the time being, we still haven't found a clear reason to use carbon fiber for the swingarm.

Q: It makes the weight lighter, doesn’t it?

Kawauchi: It depends. With some designs and structures, carbon material could be heavier than an aluminum alloy one.

Q: And its rigidity should be different from alloy…?

Kawauchi: Characteristics will be different between carbon and alloy. Therefore, feeling from them could be different, too. We will consider developing carbon swingarm. However, it is not in the top of our list of priorities.

Q: When you were developing the GSV-R, you were always trying to reduce the chassis stiffness. Now, the direction of your chassis development is the opposite from those days. With the GSX-RR, you are always trying to make the chassis stiffer, such as with carbon wrapping.

Kawauchi: Exactly. When we came back with this bike, our frame was quite soft. Now we are trying to make it stiffer little by little.

Q: As you said, there is no big difference between the 2018 and 2019 frames. Does that mean now you have found a good balance in terms of chassis?

Kawauchi: We are trying many things, but the new chassis doesn’t overwhelm the current one, which maybe means that we have reached a good balance, more or less.

Q: So, what was your target for developing the 2019 bike?

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More legible, detailed and fascinating feedback from inside the paddock, enhanced by excellent questioning. The season can't come fast enough!

This article brought to my attention that my subscriber role expired yesterday... fixed that quick smart! :)

Now to read the full version...

PS: Yes it IS annoying to have to scroll all the way down the bottom (in this case, 7x 'page downs' to press the 'save' button after previewing.  The save button should be right below the preview.  I have failed to send numerous comments over the years because I simply overlook it.  This is mainly a problem in 'top level' comments, replies to another comment only place the save button below that comment which is usually (but not always!) shorter than the article. ;)

Not a biggie in the scheme of the world, but it's something easily fixed and it should be.  BUT... it's the content that brings us back time and again... not the website.  So I fully agree that content is #1 priority and a flashy modern web redesign can take a seat in the back row if it impacts on the delivery of the great content.

Just read a 2nd time and a reflection arises: what were the best and worst overall bikes 2019?

There were 5 MotoGP bikes out there, looks like we are likely to have 6 for 2020. Would you say otherwise of the bikes (not re riders) over the course of the whole season, or no? It is trickier than it sounds.

1) Ducati (Feel free to argue otherwise)
2) Suzuki (best Yamaha out there)
3) Yamaha (eeked out Honda thanks to huge gains over the year)
4) Honda (unfortunately a doldrum that will end while Marc is there, 2021-2022)
5) KTM (closing in though)
6) Did I miss a bike for 2019?

Yamaha and KTM are on the gas. Aprilia likely. But so is the Ducati by all accounts! Not sure re Suzuki, sitting still relative to the others for Honda?

Ducati is going to get a rider before Honda gets a top bike. Miller creeps up, Zarco next turn to try, Bagnaia one last belated go, and someone like Binder already smelling the hams. Outside shot Dovi finds a miracle.

The Yamaha interview was better. They have more to excitedly share. Suzuki could too! Such a COOL and lovely bike, especially given that their war chest is in a training bra.