Davide Brivio, Suzuki MotoGP Team Manager, Interview

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Following the second round of the MotoGP world championship at the Circuit Of The Americas in Austin, Texas, April 11-13, Suzuki’s MotoGP team stayed in the Lone Star state to continue testing and developing their MotoGP contender. Motorcycle.com was at the test, where a select group of journalists interviewed Davide Brivio, Suzuki MotoGP Team Manager prior to testing. The topics varied widely, but Brivio was candid in his responses (at least as candid as someone in his position can be), revealing interesting tidbits many may find insightful. Below is the transcript from the interview.

Davide Brivio

Suzuki MotoGP Team Manager, Davide Brivio (left), and Suzuki MotoGP Project Leader, Satoru Terada, answering questions from the media.

Describe the purpose of this test.

We’re working to develop the machine in order to be ready for 2015, when we will be back racing in MotoGP. So, now the biggest job where we’re working is the electronics, because the big change is the continued evolution of this regulation. The ECU is the same, so the hardware is the same for everybody, but each one can develop their own software. It’s what Honda’s doing, Yamaha’s doing, Ducati is doing, and so, that’s what we decided to do. Then in the latest days, the regulations changed, but we continue to do this job [of developing our own software], knowing that we will end at the end of 2015, because starting in 2016, all teams, all manufacturers, have to use the same software. So, not only the hardware, but also the software will be the same for everybody.

Despite that, we decided to carry on with our electronics, so we’ll enter as a Factory Option team into MotoGP. As a new manufacturer, we will have some help due to the regulations [meaning they can start the season with all of the Open class privileges like 24-liters of fuel, softer tires, 12 engines, and no testing bans]. Basically, we’ll be in the same situation that Ducati is in now. This helps, but we had been preparing everything under the Factory rules of 20-liters of fuel, five engines, development bans and whatever else, but it’s ok. We’ll take the help and continue for one year.

Suzuki MotoGP garage

Suzuki brought two versions of its latest, as-yet-to-be-named MotoGP racer to Austin for test riders Randy DePuniet and Nobuatsu Aoki to evaluate.

From 2016 on, personally, I’m very happy that everything will be equal. Everybody will be in the same condition, so then let’s challenge. Here, mainly we are working on the electronics, because before we were using Mitsubishi hardware in the past. Then only in Sepang, in February, we introduced the new Magnetti Marelli hardware, with the new software, which wasn’t ready yet. But we decided to carry on, to gain experience, to collect information, to do development, so we struggled a little bit in Sepang in February, and now we have an updated release of the software which we will test here [at Circuit of the Americas] and continue this development.

Here it’s very important for us because we are collecting information for next year because we don’t know this circuit, so we need experience to collect data and information. When we come back next year for the race, we will know what we need. And we will do the same job next time [in two weeks, following the next MotoGP race] in Argentina. We will test again, Tuesday, and Wednesday after the race, we will see how is the gap, how much we have to work. This is the main job we are doing in this season. As we do in Austin and Argentina, we will do again after Barcelona, we will do again after Aragon, and we will have three other tests, like Phillip Island in June, Mugello in September and Valencia in October. So, we have quite busy testing schedule. There’s nine sessions through the year.

Suzuki MotoGP frame comparison

About the only visual difference between the two bikes noticeable with the bodywork still attached is the difference in frames. Each are of different stiffness, and the twin-spar design mimics that of the GSX-R line, which will be the main beneficiary of this MotoGP technology.

Have they announced who is going to be the electronics supplier in 2016?

As far as the hardware, it’s Magnetti Marelli, which is the same supplier as now. As far as software, this is a big discussion going on now. All the manufacturers are discussing how to make the software work together. The idea is to replace the current software the Open bikes are using (like Aspar Honda, Forward Racing, etc), so Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki, will contribute and put on the table their experience and strategies, and we will have to end up with one software. Probably, this is what will happen, but currently, everything is under discussion.

 

Can you explain the decision to change the engine configuration? [From the GSV-R (V-Four) to the current inline-Four]

Satoru Terada, MotoGP Project Leader: For Suzuki, we don’t have the V-Four engine for the marketing side. We wanted to make more of a relationship with our racing streetbikes, so we changed the configuration to inline-Four. We have much experience with the inline-Four in the GSX-R1000. So, this is the reason why, it was largely a marketing decision.

Do you have a seamless transmission in the work?

At the moment we do not.

What about the crankshaft? [Does it rotate] forwards or backwards?

At this moment, I don’t say! [laughter]

Randy DePuniet Suzuki MotoGP Action

The team have been struggling so far with bike setup on low-grip tracks. Brivio says electronics can help manage much of this, but it is not a complete answer.

Would you have preferred to stay with Mitsubishi electronics? [Instead of the Dorna mandated Magneti Marelli hardware]

This is a difficult question because we know the Mitsubishi system, but we also know really good points about Marelli system, so both are good, but both are different. It’s difficult to choose. Both are very good systems.

Was it difficult to transfer your software from Mitsubishi to Marelli?

No. We were able to do this ourselves. Of course, we needed time, but we did do it.

The personnel on the test team, how many are the same from the GSV-R project?

Five. The total on the test team is 16 people.

How does the budget for this season of testing compare to a race season.

Less than half.

Suzuki MotoGP side profile

It’s difficult to notice in photos, but the Suzuki MotoGP machine is very compact and narrow in person. This is especially surprising considering the use of an inline-Four engine. MotoGP icon, and 1993 World Champ, Kevin Schwantz, said, when comparing the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 Superbike he was testing to this, “It felt like going from a 500cc to a 250cc bike!”

What is the biggest challenge with the new engine?

The biggest challenge, of course, is the engine design configuration because we have experience with street bikes, but pure racing bikes, this [inline-Four] is a first time for us.

Is it horsepower or longevity or…?

At the moment, maybe fuel consumption, but now, the rules are changed. So, now we can use more fuel [in the Factory Open class].

Will there be any wildcard race appearances this season?

We are thinking about it, but have not confirmed yet.

Why the decision to come back now? After the GSV project was over, and the economy collapsed, why the decision to start GP racing again?

Brivio: Because MotoGP is very important for the brand, for the manufacturer to promote the brand. To develop technology, and to be able then to use this technology into production. Suzuki stopped MotoGP activity in 2011, and there was the 800cc bike with the V engine. At that point stopping was a good opportunity to refresh the project so basically everything restarted from a white paper. We redesigned a new engine configuration, we designed a new bike, and the original plan was to be back in 2014, so this year. Then we decide to delay one more year to have a chance to develop the electronics and other things better.

Kevin Schwantz 34

There’s something special about seeing Kevin Schwantz next to a Suzuki grand prix motorcycle with his signature number 34 on the nose.

Basically, the manufacturer was missing MotoGP, the promotion, and the exposure that MotoGP gives to such a big manufacturer. Also, the technology that is involved, the competition allows the engineers to be stimulated, to be motivated on the competitive technologies, so that’s the idea. Which is a very brave decision from the company, and in this difficult moment from a business perspective but it’s an effort, a big effort, the company wants to do because Suzuki recognize the importance of MotoGP.

Do you know how soon after 2011 this decision was made?

No, I wasn’t there yet.

How did they get you to come to do this?

They called me, and I had stopped with the other manufacturer [Yamaha] at the end of 2010, and then I was working with Valentino [Rossi] on his personal business. To be honest, I was missing this involvement. I like much more this side of the job. When they [Suzuki] called and said “Ok, let’s have a talk about MotoGP,” probably I, at the end of the first call, I already decided that I would be back. Honestly, for me, in my personal situation, it was the perfect opportunity, and to be honest, the only one opportunity I would have considered. I was missing this job, but this job is nice when you’re working with a manufacturer, with a big company, with a factory team, that’s an ideal scenario.

Kevin Schwantz COTA test

Schwantz did 11 laps on the grand prix machine in between testing his primary bike, a Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 superbike in preparation for the Suzuka 8-Hours later this year. His best lap time, a 2:12.75, was only six seconds slower than DePuniet’s. Not bad considering he’d never ridden the bike before…and the fact he turns 50 later this year!

Also, this is another challenge, because we can say everything starts from zero. The bike started from a white paper two years ago when they started the design, but also this is basically the first time Suzuki has organized a full-factory team. In the past it was supported by some external organization, like Crescent Suzuki, but this is a full factory team. Also, from a logistic and organizational point of view, it was starting from white paper. So, it’s very exciting. It’s a very hard job, big challenge, but very exciting.

Why the decision to take everything in-house?

For Suzuki I think it was the best decision. You can keep all your know-how in-house, you can decide basically everything by yourself, and also our competitors have this type of situation. I think to be competitive and to be able to take the right decisions, we have to be independent and decide ourselves.

Through your testing so far, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the motorcycle?

We are still in the development process of the electronics, and we found it difficult to adjust the bike to make it work in low grip conditions.

Kevin Schwantz start/finish

Eleven laps isn’t much time to acclimate to a MotoGP motorcycle, but Schwantz was up to the task. He noted, “with this bike you have power and braking so you brake and accelerate and the bike does all the rest. I think Suzuki should race now – the sooner the better! You can test a lot but in the race you really understand.”

With the electronics or the chassis?

In some tracks like Misano or Aragon, there are some conditions where the grip is not so high. Then we struggle. The bike slides, we are not able to make grip to make the tire work properly. And also the engine is still too aggressive, so we’re working to make it smooth. You can do this with electronics, but probably the electronics itself is not enough. Maybe we have to work on something mechanical. So, these are two areas where we probably have to work on.

So much of the issue is electronic and not mechanical?

Yes, yes. This moment, we feel like this is the way.

Thank you for your time.

You’re welcome.

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