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GP Week : Issue 212
23 GPWEEK.com // 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: every rider wants a factory contract. For one thing, the pay is good. For another, the bikes are good. usually. In the recent past, however, the latter condition hasn’t been true of Suzuki. Steeped in racing tradition, Suzuki entered international racing before Yamaha and just one year after Honda, in 1960. The Japanese company won its first rider world title just two years later, the first for a two-stroke. The Suzukis went from strength to strength, and 14 years later the definitive square- four Suzuki RG500 put a seven- year stranglehold on the premier- class Constructors’ championship as well as taking Barry Sheene, Marco Lucchinelli and Franco Uncini to the crown. In 1993 Kevin Schwantz was champion on the later V4; and Kenny Roberts Junior in 2000. By then, however, the heat had already been turned down. Roberts spent the next five years complaining bitterly of stalled development, the last four of them on a below-par four-stroke MotoGP bike that continued its downbeat performance after he had left. Right up until Suzuki withdrew at the end of 2011. Resources had always been slender, especially compared with big spenders Honda. Now the company cited economic reasons for its temporary departure. Temporary it was, for Suzuki will return next year, after more than a year of testing their new machine, the GSX-RR . The previous four-stroke was a V4 bearing little resemblance to anything else they built: only a lardy tourer had that engine configuration, the highly successful high-end sports bikes were in-line fours. So too is the new bike, which makes better sense, at least for marketing purposes. In fact, it is more like a Yamaha M1 than anything, with a copycat cross-plane crank giving it faux V4 firing intervals, and a vertically stacked gearbox making it very compact. No harm in that. “Copy but improve” has long been a successful racing maxim. But the improvement, at this stage, is not obvious. The bike has been testing with its potential rivals, and while the handling seems up to the mark, the power and performance of the so-far prototypes is not. Lap times fall significantly short as a result. These are, of course, still prototypes. They will get better. But the scale of improvement required is not going to be achieved easily or quickly. Where does this leave the two very talented Spanish riders, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales, who have signed up to take the Suzuki dollar? Funnily enough, probably not that badly off, if they can be a little patient. The return of Suzuki comes at a rather different times. Next year, they will surely struggle against the highly developed factory bikes from Honda, Yamaha and even Ducati. In 2016, however, the new dumb-down rules will quite change the landscape. Factory prototypes will be gone. All will be obliged to run ‘Open’ bikes, using one-for-all hardware and software, along with one-for-all tyres. This will play into Suzuki’s hands. A not-quite-good-enough bike of 2015 will be transformed in 2016. Given a productive first full season of development, there is every chance Suzuki could be aiming for the podium again. Let’s hope so. There’s a fine tradition to be upheld. RIGHT Former champ Schwantz, now 50, rode laps on Suzuki's new bike after this year's US GP. SUZUKI AND ThE BURDEN OF hISTORY OPINION OPINION MotoGP MICHAEL SCOTT