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Tom O’Kane: “Suzuki have committed a lot more"

Tom O’Kane: “Suzuki have committed a lot more'

Aleix Espargaro’s crew chief, Tom O’Kane, discusses his time with Suzuki, the challenges of the new rules and seamless gearboxes.

A mainstay of the paddock, Tom O’Kane has worked with Suzuki for over a decade and has been the crew chief to a number of riders such as Chris Vermeulen and has seen and worked with multiple iterations of Suzuki's MotoGP™ machines. O’Kane and Aleix Espargaro joined forces as crew chief and rider in 2015 as Suzuki re-joined the MotoGP™ World Championship. After a successful return, O’Kane and Suzuki are firmly focused on pushing ahead in 2016, as Tom O'Kane discussed exclusively with

You’ve been with Suzuki for over a decade now, is there anything noticeably different about Team Suzuki Ecstar as opposed to the previous iterations of Suzuki you’ve worked with?
“I’d have to say the resources are noticeably more this time. I think Suzuki have committed a lot more to this current project than the previous one I was involved in. Until this project I’ve never seen a situation where I think we could challenge for consistent top finishes.”

Do you think that the bike and Espargaro can battle for the top six every race, as Viñales has made his goal?
“Yeah, you know barring crashes or mishaps or a rider having a bad weekend or whatever, we should be there, that should be our position this year. Over the winter Suzuki have made a very good step with the engine and the new electronics seem to be working quite well for us. We should be in the top six every race, we’ve got to be getting podiums.”

How have the changes to the electronics helped a younger team such as Suzuki? Has it removed a lot development work?
“This is my personal opinion; yes it probably has helped us because other teams have had a very long run and a continuous run of years developing the electronics system themselves so the other teams last year were definitely at a very high level. In my opinion this has levelled the playing field as it was intended to do.”

How does the spec ECU system change the amount of work over a test or race weekend?
“Initially it is more work. I would say for the first half of this year there will probably be more work. I would see it, hopefully, evening out after that time. Suzuki have anticipated this and put in place extra resources to deal with that.”

And how is your rider, Aleix Espargaro, adapting to the new electronics and tyres? It seemed like Phillip Island was a difficult test for him.
“Phillip Island was difficult, there’s no two ways about that. Basically front grip was the problem for him in Phillip Island. At the Valencia test the end result was good for him and the Sepang test we had a good test there, the bike felt good to him and he had a lot of confidence in the front tyre. I would say let’s move onto Qatar and see. Obviously it’s the test with a race after it and that’s the important one but anytime Aleix had tested the tyres during last year he had the same issues as everyone else had in the past with Michelin, with the new tryes they introduced in Sepang, the first time for us running them, we came away from there with Aleix having a really good feeling especially with the front going into corners which is what he needs to have confidence in to ride the way he wants to.”

Is there any work you as a crew chief have to do between now and Qatar to help Espargaro overcome the disappointment of Phillip Island?
“I mean, obviously on the technical side I’ve just finished up with Phillip Island stuff this morning [Thursday 25th of February] with reports and what not and looking at all the data from there. I’ve started on Qatar from then so basically on the technical side it’s a matter of going through all of last year’s data and reports and basically trying to anticipate how the situation will change with the new tyres. We have a new base geometry setup that we’ve been using since we switched to Michelin and it is a setup that works around the Michelin tryes. It’s a direction we’ve gone with the Michelin tyres and that will be the basis of our starting setting at the Qatar test and we’ll go from there.”

Will Suzuki bring the fully seamless gearbox to Qatar? It seemed there were some issues with the testing of it in Australia with Tsuda.
“Tsuda will be running that gearbox at the Qatar test of the first day. Hopefully then we’ll see, the issues that he had in Phillip Island don’t prevent him from testing it in Qatar at least, that’s the important thing. But obviously anything, any issue with the gearbox is something that you have to take pretty seriously of course. Suzuki are being careful about it.”

How much does a fully seamless gearbox help? Is there a noticeable change in lap time?
“Honestly I couldn’t put a lap time difference on it. It definitely stabilises the bike going into corners. It’s definitely a big advantage.”

MotoGP, 2016, Aleix Espargaro, Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

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