Team Suzuki Looks to British GP

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
Team Telefonica MoviStar Suzuki is looking for podiumfinishes at the British GP at Donington this weekend. Sunday's British GP is one of three home races forthe team. The other two are in Japan, home to the factory racing department - butthe team itself is based in Kent, southeast of London. This (along with a winning history at the track)makes Donington Park a special venue for the factory 500 team.

Everyone in theTelefónica MoviStar Suzuki team - riders, mechanics and support crew alike - are hungry for success, aftera series of races where defending World Champion Kenny Roberts Jr has not yet claimed a top-three rostrumfinish...

At the same time, new rider Sete Gibernau has been gaining strength as he makes intimatefriends with the Suzuki RGV Gamma racing machine. The pair finished in line astern at the last race inHolland: sixth and seventh.

The British GP could well be the place where the team's season takes astep forward.

There are several encouraging aspects that should help both riders - not least of which is thenature of the British GP circuit, with its heavy emphasis on handling and chassis performance. These aremajor strong points of the Suzuki.

But Donington has a dual personality. While most of the 2.5-milelap comprises flowing, medium-speed curves, one running into the next, the lap closes with a pair of slowhairpins, handing the advantage back to machines with better acceleration for what might be the crucialfew yards of the last lap.

Last year, Roberts was a close second to Valentino Rossi, after a thrillingthree-way battle on a wet track. With a championship position to protect, second was better than takingextra risks for the race win. Rain this year would help Kenny's cause, with the difference that now he ishungry for victory.

Team manager Garry Taylor said: "We had highly encouraging test results beforeAssen, and we're working continuously in improving the throttle response and mid-range performance, tohelp the riders to open the throttle to improve acceleration."

This year's season is extraordinarilycompetitive, he said. "Kenny has been significantly faster at every circuit than he was last year, onbasically the same bike. The trouble is, the overall level of technical improvement from our rivals meansthey have all improved even more.

"Strange to say, however, Kevin Schwantz's 10-year-old Suzuki laprecord at Assen did not get broken this year. The machines were lighter then, under old regulations - butwith all the other advances in engines, tires, suspension and other technology, you would not haveexpected a 1991 lap record to survive."

Historically, Donington has been a good track for Suzuki, witha few hiccups - such as 1993, when pole qualifier Schwantz and Suzuki team-mate Alex Barros were bothskittled on the first lap by an over-enthusiastic Mick Doohan. On other occasions, Schwantz racked up fivewins at the circuit. The last was in 1994, his 25th and final GP win. Since that time, Daryl Beattie andKenny Roberts have put Suzuki on the rostrum twice.

"Racing is always unpredictable. Donington is aquirky track, and the weather could easily play an important part. And we have two riders who never giveup.

"We're going to Donington with the firm conviction that we can win," concluded Taylor.

"You really need two different bikes for Donington Park,"said team technical adviser Warren Willing - one to float smoothly through the curves, and another to staystable under the very hard braking for the final two hairpin bends.

"Every track involves some sort ofa compromise to deal with different areas, but it's very pronounced at this track. For stabilityunder braking you need the bike to be set up long and low - but that makes it slow to turn. You need itset up much more delicately to get the light, accurate steering you need for the to-and-fro sections.

He continued, "it's a matter of trying different variations, and deciding which one gives you the greatest benefit inlap times and race times."

Another subtle quirk of the track was the unique nature of the surface. Forcomplex chemical reasons, the grip levels do not suit Michelin tires as well as the rival Dunlops.However, Michelin is the exclusive suppliers to the four-cylinder 500s, with Dunlops currentlyconcentrating on the smaller classes.

"The track surface is also a Dunlop product, and with all the500s using Michelins we've found that it can take time every session and again on race day for the racingline to get coated with a fresh layer of Michelin rubber. This makes the grip unpredictable - especiallysince all the 500 practice session take place after the 250 class, when they have laid down Dunlop rubber,but the race is before the 250, and the track coating will be slightly different for the early laps."

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