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Suzuki's hunt for horsepower resumes!

Suzuki's hunt for horsepower resumes!

Suzuki seems to have achieved the Holy Grail by upping horsepower without making the power delivery more aggressive...

With nineteen years of experience reporting on MotoGP™ for Motorcycle News, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2015 season he joins the team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

Just when we thought a memorable MotoGP season couldn’t get any better, Suzuki decided to up the ante with its best qualifying performance for 22 years in Barcelona today!

When Maverick Vinales and Aleix Espargaro finished first and second at the end of this morning’s third practice session, it looked a reasonably safe bet that the new GSX-RR would be able to challenge for Suzuki’s first pole since Chris Vermeulen headed qualifying eight years ago at a wet Assen.

But even the Suzuki staff looked a little shell-shocked when Q2 ended with Espargaro in pole position and rookie sensation Vinales second, with both of them decimating Dani Pedrosa’s two-year-old pole record.

The last time Suzuki were first and second in qualifying was way back in 1993 at Jerez when Texan legend Kevin Schwantz and Alex Barros took a 1-2.

To put that gap into some perspective, Schwantz retired less than two years later and is now just six days shy of his 51st birthday (sorry Kevin).

Optimism at Suzuki’s potential this weekend was raised when the GSX-RR rolled out with a modified engine aimed at boosting acceleration and top speed.

Suzuki’s main weakness on its return to MotoGP competition for the first time since 2011 has been its underpowered motor.

A search for precious horsepower should have been undertaken during the winter lay-off, but was put on the backburner when Suzuki blew three engines in just one weekend when Randy de Puniet took part as a wild card in Valencia last November.

The quest for power became a quest for reliability instead, so engine development stalled.

Suzuki quickly fixed its reliability gremlins and in the first six races of 2015, Espargaro and Vinales used just two engines apiece.

The hunt for horsepower could recommence and the result was a slightly faster engine for the fast and technically demanding Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

But Suzuki seems to have achieved the Holy Grail by upping horsepower without making the power delivery more aggressive. And they have also avoided the additional power upsetting what is arguably the sweetest handling bike on the grid.

The way Espargaro and Vinales can attack corners on the brakes, carry excellent corner speed and remain rock solid stable on corner exit shows how good the frame is.

A seamless gearbox is in the pipeline but engine performance will remain priority number one for Suzuki.

If Suzuki can find a bit more grunt to close the big gulf in top speed that still exists between Ducati and Honda, what is a six-rider scrap for individual glory and a three factory battle for technical supremacy might well be extended in the near future.

Suzuki has to grasp this opportunity to establish itself as a major power again in world racing.

They’ve got two seriously fast, young and motivated riders who will extract every last ounce of performance out of the bike.

Some factories must be wondering how Espargaro never registered on their radar before, while the capture of Vinales was an inspired signing and an incredible coup for a manufacturer returning with a brand new team and machine.

They have already delivered positive results so far in 2015 to encourage Suzuki to aggressively develop the bike to the next level. If today’s result doesn’t light a fire under the engineering group back in Japan then nothing will.

Of course, tomorrow’s race will be a completely different proposition. Jorge Lorenzo’s race pace is frightening once again and today’s qualifying was helped a lot by Suzuki’s access to the soft option Bridgestone rear tyre.

In race trim, with everybody expected to race the medium option rear, Lorenzo definitely has the upper hand. And the last time Suzuki was on the front row with Espargaro in Argentina, he was barely seen after the first three corners as he quickly dropped back to seventh.

Regardless of what happens in tomorrow’s race, I bet Suzuki management have already got a framed copy of today’s timesheets hanging in the boardroom at the factory in Hamamatsu.

It would be great to see them in the frame for the podium tomorrow too.

Enjoy the race.


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