Sylvain Guintoli - Suzuki's Third Man

Sylvain Guintoli rides the Suzuki GSX-RR at the 2019 round at Motegi

Up until 2017, the Suzuki MotoGP team did not even have a European test team. They relied on their Japanese test team. But like all the other manufacturers, they were looking at the work done by Ducati and were pushing for a second test team. The opportunity came for Suzuki and for Davide Brivio to campaign for it after Sylvain Guintoli was brought in to replace Alex Rins, their rookie who fractured his ankle in training, and then two races later, broke his left wrist during a practice crash.

Guintoli, the WSBK 2014 champion (on an Aprilia), a former MotoGP, 250cc and BSB rider, rode for almost every manufacturer during his career, including Suzuki, both in BSB and WSBK in 2009/10. He returned to BSB to ride for Suzuki in 2017, but had to miss rounds to replace Alex Rins. The Hamamatsu factory remembered him fondly. "They made changes in Japan and Sahara-san (Shinichi Sahara, project leader) came back to the MotoGP project from the Barcelona 2017 round and I arrived just a little bit before that,” he shares from his home in the UK a few days before that historic championship-winning race for Joan Mir. "When I first tried the bike, I gave the team some comments and told them what I thought about it,” the French rider recalls his experience during three rounds. "Our collaboration started there and we are in its third year now."

The 38-year-old test rider had just stepped off the treadmill as the interview started, and has been closely following all the on-track action this season from home, and sometimes from the TV studios. It's the first year since joining Suzuki that he didn't get the chance to race the Suzuki GSX-RR on track, but he doesn't sound bitter about it. Speaking before the second round at Valencia, Guintoli was planning to go to the two last rounds and support the team, assist in anyway he can while commentating for the French TV broadcaster CANAL+.

How is it watching the races for you now? It must be mad to see it from home?

"It's fantastic, absolutely fantastic. We knew this year was going to be good, but it did not start very well because of Alex’s injury and a bit of bad luck. It was quite frustrating at the start because we all knew that the potential was there and that this year the bike was one step better than last year. It's nice to see it all come together, to see the chemistry of Joan and Alex on the bike and all the team. It's fantastic. I am going to be at the races as well in Valencia and Portimao to witness the end of season, so it's a really happy time at the moment."

The GSX-RR is such an impressive bike, how do you see your part in it?

"It is very good, but it was good before me. It had some strong qualities. When I first rode it, it was already very good, but it's the work of everybody in Suzuki since they came back into the World Championship in 2015. We see how learning from mistakes and focusing on developing with the ideas that the factory has in conjunction with the test team (*including the Japanese test riders Takuya Tsuda and Naomichi Uramoto) and the links with the official team is working really smoothly. Suzuki has done an amazing job at reading the feedback that was given by us and by the factory team and making those improvements to give that full package that the riders needed. It's always been because the bike has always had some very strong qualities. It's always been like working on different fronts to gain some margin."

The bike seem to have the speed the agility and it seem Suzuki managed to solve the single fast lap issue toward the end of the season?

"It is just working very efficiently, and the way I see it the bike was a little diamond to start with anyway and the polishing from Suzuki and all the work that we have done has turned it into something special. It's a great bike to ride, It's not just sufficient on the track, it's also very nice to ride as a race bike. But we don't know if it is solved yet, at the moment the pattern looks good. In Aragon Alex was third on the grid, In Valencia 1 they both qualified well, with second for Alex and fifth for Joan."

"So this is encouraging but this qualifying performance is something we have been monitoring a lot on a longer timeline. So we will see, we tried to come up with some ideas and some we tried already in the Portimao test. We will see how it goes until the end of the season and we will continue to work on this to try to give more ability for the riders to express themselves on the track."

What do you think still needs to be improved on the bike?

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the greatest respect for Guintoli, felt he never quite got the credit he deserved as a racer. Glad to see he's doing so well with Suzuki and that they appreciate his work.

are good, aren't they? He's always seemed more down to earth than most top-line racers, from his home in the depths of Blighty to his large family, not to mention a great sense of humour. I remember after he won one of the opening races at Philip Island (2014?) he had the usual post-race "How do you feel?" question and replied (I won't swear to the exact words) "I feel great, so good maybe we'll go back to the hotel and start another baby!"

Firstly thanks, yet again, Motoshrink - the links you have posted over the last few years have been so enjoyable - hours of fun. Secondly I do feel compelled to observe that the sense of calm and respect that is all we hear from Suzuki, also seems to be in place in Petronas and KTM. I understand how sceptical everyone is of the proverbial 'family atmosphere', cause it really is a hard performace focussed business. But you can treat people with respect even in such a tough business, and honestly I am not sure you can contend that Ducati reaches that goal, (though Pramac seems better) or for that matter Honda, (unless you're Marc...) and I don't think that Yamaha are much better. Every comment from Mr Guintoli brims with respect, and he even talks about 'fun'. 

I wish we could have read it when the interview took place! I suspected the Suzuki team was pretty well run after they smartly signed their two riders for another couple years. Guintoli shed a lot of light on just how well run it is! Ducati would do well to emulate Suzuki leadership. 

Guinters is a fantastic racer and, from what I know, a wonderful human being. I am glad someone finally saw fit to recognize Suzuki's quiet secret weapon, so to speak.