Team Suzuki Ecstar Project Leader Shinichi Sahara answers some questions about a historic season that saw Suzuki win MotoGP in Suzuki’s 100th Anniversary along with the Team Championship.
How does it feel to have won the MotoGP title this year?
Shinichi Sahara: “I feel it’s miraculous; the fact that everything has come together this way, that everything has come to us. Suzuki has won the MotoGP World Championship and the Endurance World Championship, and it’s all happened in this special year which is so historic for us. I didn’t expect such a fantastic outcome in some ways, but on the other hand we did plan to grow the team, the test team, build the staff and riders, and keep moving forward. The team work has been outstanding, with every single member of staff doing their job excellently, and everybody working together too. We’ve pushed each other but we’ve supported each other, and I believe that has played a huge part in our success. We’ve worked very hard for a long time to achieve such results and this is another milestone to add in this new era.”
You were unable to attend the race in Valencia, you were in Japan at the time; how was the feeling in the factory when Joan took the title? How did everyone react?
S.S: “A week before we won the championship, we achieved a 1-2 finish with Joan and Alex at the first Valencia race. At that time, the mood in the factory was like a big celebration. Then, one week later, we achieved the ultimate goal of winning the title and it was unreal! My telephone didn’t stop ringing for days, everybody was so happy. And the race department office is full of flowers, gifts and cards!”
As a Project Leader, what was the most challenging thing on the way to arriving at this point?
S.S: “It’s strange, because achieving these results proves to me that I didn’t miss anything, no matter how small. Because without everything being absolutely perfect and working smoothly between all the staff, this couldn’t have happened. It sounds strange to say, but I believe that is the case. From a technical point of view, the base package of the GSX-RR was good, but we needed to improve year by year, race by race, and item by item. Many tiny improvements on the bike worked to make the whole package more competitive, so it was a detailed and tricky process but it’s something that brought us the Riders’ Championship and Teams’ Championship.”
Many think that Suzuki’s secret to success is the mix between Japanese culture and European culture, with a large portion of the team being Italian and Spanish, and a large portion Japanese. What do you think about this?
S.S: “Yes! Ken Kawauchi, Davide Brivio, and I have a good relationship and we move in the same direction. Ken controls the racing team and collects all the data and notes all requests from them. He then shares that information with me and I make the plan of how to deliver answers and competitive parts, working alongside the engineers in the factory. This combination works really well and we have great communication among everybody.”
Thinking about the future, what do you think Suzuki can achieve in the next years? Especially with two young and competitive riders and a very strong bike. What do you expect?
S.S: “There is a development freeze now, so the package of the bike is quite set. Joan and Alex pushed each other and supported each other, they were perfect team-mates in this ultra-competitive season and it’s true that we have two very talented and impressive riders, and a good bike, but there is always room for improvement. We will continue to take steps to try and get stronger and better in the next years to see what we can achieve.”
In that case, what areas would you improve on?
S.S: “There’s always a margin for improvement in terms of the bike. In the factory we’re constantly thinking of things to work on and areas to improve. In terms of the bike we’ll be looking at aerodynamics and chassis, and even some engine improvements within the guidelines of the development freeze. In terms of the riders, I believe every rider can always improve, no matter how bright their future and how good their results. For example, we still need to work to improve our grid positions and our qualifying performances. But we’re happy with everything they’ve done so far - I must say I’m extremely impressed with the way both riders have worked this season and the results they have achieved.”
Alex Rins started the season in good shape, but the injury early in the year held him back. Did he perform how you expected?
S.S: “The injury that Alex suffered was a pity, but he recovered as well as possible from this bad situation. I’m satisfied with the way he picked himself up and continued to push for great results despite his injury. When he’s at 100% he is very consistent and very fast, and we know he’s capable of fighting for titles. Without the setback, I believe he would have been fighting for the title with Joan until the last moments of the season. Alex has quite a different riding style to Joan, but they are very close in terms of performance.”
Joan won the championship despite being the ‘outsider’ or ‘underdog’. He’s only 23 and nobody expected him to be the champion this year. How do you see his result?
S.S: “Looking back to past interviews we’ve done together, I told you I believed Joan could be a top rider very quickly and very early in his career. Although even I didn’t expect he would be able to do it this year, I was thinking more for 2021! He just got stronger and stronger, he adapted very quickly. However, we never had any doubt about his potential, his speed, or his race craft.”
From an engineering point of view, Suzuki has won in two top disciplines this year, but two very different disciplines. MotoGP is more about out and out speed, and Endurance is more to do with reliability. How do you think this happened?
S.S: “There is so much knowledge and technology that goes into Suzuki’s motorcycles, and that means that the fundamental performance is strong. From there we build on the rest of the package, but our first step is always the base of the bike. This transfers to the production bike, the superbike, and the GSX-RR.”
Some say it’s time to have a satellite team, especially from an engineering and development point of view, what do you think?
S.S: “It’s hard to know, because so far I’ve only ever worked with two bikes on the grid. But of course it’s something we’re looking into for the future, but there are many different steps which need to be taken in order to get there. All the other manufacturers in the paddock have satellite teams, so I think our time will come.
“To be honest, we get a lot of useful feedback from our well-experienced test team. The contributions from our test riders, Sylvain Guintoli, Takuya Tsuda and Naomichi Uramoto, are excellent and vital. But extra information from a satellite team will become more important for us to keep up or improve our competitiveness in the future.”
And finally, do you have a final message for the team and fans?
S.S: “I don’t want to exclusively thank and congratulate the team and the staff, because although they have been incredible, this win and this success is not only for the riders and the team at the tracks, but this also belongs to the entire Suzuki family and every fan.
Thank you all!”