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Two decades have ticked now by without Suzuki having reigned supreme in the premier class, with Kenny Roberts Jr back in 2000 the last time that the Hamamatsu factory has tasted title success. But twenty years on, does 2020 present their best chance yet at achieving the ultimate goal: the MotoGP™ World Championship?
There mostly likely candidate surely comes in Alex Rins. The Spaniard now entering his fourth year as a MotoGP™ rider having enjoyed his best season yet in 2019 where he finally became a premier class race winner in Austin before following it up with a second career win at Silverstone. After finishing as runner-up in the Moto3™ World Championship in 2013, runner-up in the Moto2™ World Championship in 2015 and now with back-to-back top-five Championship finishes in the premier class, can the bridesmaid finally become the bride?
If Rins is to finally achieve his lifelong ambition of becoming a World Champion, he’ll certainly be pushed all the way by Joan Mir. The 22-year-old is ready to steal some headlines in 2020 after having to play second fiddle to 2019 Rookie of the Year Fabio Quartararo throughout his debut year. Now in his second year in the premier class, Mir has a real belief he’ll be a regular front runner in 2020 and can consistently get the better of his teammate.
Rins ended the Qatar Test third on the timesheets after showing strong pace in Malaysia too. Despite not wanting to think about a title tilt just yet, the 24-year-old has a quiet belief he might have to wait just over seven days for his third career victory: “I feel strong for the race weekend, so I can’t wait until Friday. I’m feeling confident, if not for the Championship, then for the first race because I like to go race by race. I think we made a step forward compared to last year on the rhythm and the consistency, so let’s start racing and see where we are.”
On the opposite side of the garage, Mir again impressed. Already a Moto3™ World Champion, the Mallorcan is back at full fitness in 2020 and will, without doubt, push his more experienced teammate all the way. Despite not getting the chance to use Suzuki’s updated 2020 chassis at the Qatar Test, he feels ready to fight for a debut podium at the opening round.
“The truth is that we’re really close to the top guys,” said Mir at the conclusion of pre-season testing, “and the pace is there, we have the pace. But we also need it in the race now, that’s the difficult part. The team are doing an incredible job, so we need to continue working like this.”
The Hamamatsu factory are now working around the clock to prepare four 2020 chassis in time for the opening round of the season, but Suzuki made progress in a handful of other areas too, as Suzuki Ecstar Team Manager Davide Brivio explains: "It was a positive winter but now we need to take ‘the exam’ in the race. I feel positive because we were able to go through our plan in order to select the right parts and put our package together.
“We’ve made a step with our engine compared to 2019, we’ve selected a new chassis, we’ve homologated our new aerodynamic package. Both of our riders are happy and it’s encouraging that they’ve always been fast during the winter. But, of course, the race will be the biggest test for us. I think we’re in good shape though."
After the Flag - Day 3 at the Qatar Test
If Rins, Mir and Suzuki are to become regular race winners and bonafide title contenders then their qualifying must make a drastic improvement compared to 2019. Just one front row start between both Rins and Mir in the entirety of the season does not make pretty reading. However, Brivio is confident progress has been made when it comes to a time attack: “Joan is quite good in the time attack, with his one lap pace, so this good motivation for Alex, for him to try and catch up.”
So, is 2020 Suzuki’s best chance at winning the World Championship in two decades? Only time will tell, but the boys in blue (and silver) certainly have all the motivation they need as they try to celebrate their 60th year in Grand Prix racing in the best way possible.
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