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GP Week : Issue 137
MOTOGP FEATURE >> list of innovations or early adoption is significant, encompassing: • the first use of bonded honeycomb chassis • first-in-class carbon-fibre chassis • pioneering development of carbon brakes • early development of “upside-down” forks The braking work was done hand in hand with British automotive giant AP. While carbon brakes were now in common use in racing cars, the different requirements of motorcycles made this important development work. One experiment that didn’t catch on was the use of a carbon rim-disc. There was braking power aplenty with just one set of callipers, but the knock-off problems were never really solved. Upside-down forks, now universal, were actually first seen in a GP context on the Honda NR500 in 1979: just one of a parcel of innovation in that ultimately disastrously unsuccessful oval-piston four- stroke. They didn’t catch on at first, but now Suzuki was in on the ground floor working with White Power suspension, as another high-level development partner. The chassis were the biggest adventure of all. At that time, bonded honeycomb sandwich chassis more or less went without saying in car racing. At the same time, a young designer was working at bike chassis builders Waddon Engineering, in Croydon just outside London. He was Nigel Leaper, and the chassis he made was a slab-sided honeycomb composite, folded and bonded, and instantly dubbed “the cardboard box”. In the context of the time, it worked well. As importantly for an independent team, already relying on extensive support from the honeycomb manufacturer Ciba-Geigy, it was extremely strong. “Australian Paul Lewis rode for us in the second year, and he had 13 big crashes on that chassis. It survived undamaged,” recalled Taylor. The chassis remained unique, then in the third year Leaper essayed the first carbon-fibre chassis of any significance in the 500 class. Actually it was an aluminium-carbon composite – does that strike any chimes with Ducati? Another great team innovation came from outside but would become integral with Suzuki and the team: they introduced Kevin Schwantz to GP racing. In 1987, the experiments were over. The Suzuki factory had a change of heart. They built a new-style V4 engine, and came back to GPs. The Heron Suzuki team once again continued as before: but now it was a factory team playing to factory rules. The chassis experiments went out of the window: Leaper had made a full carbon- fibre chassis for the new V4, but Suzuki preferred their own design. “ They bought all our experimental chassis ‘to study’ – I think they were destroyed,” said Taylor. Leaper turned his back on bikes to move to F1; one can only speculate on how different Ducati’s position might be today if those early experiments had been able to continue. Suspension and brake suppliers were changed to suit factory OE alignments, and the Suzuki reverted to being another all-Japanese racer. In the hands of Kevin Schwantz, it would win 25 races and take the 1993 World Championship. Which was more than the independent squad had been able to do. Does this tale mean anything to the current Suzuki dilemma? Probably not. But history has been known to repeat itself. 41