Paul Denning interview

Suzuki MotoGP team manager and Crescent boss Paul Denning on traction control, Alvaro Bautista and why Donington needs to pull its socks up

We’re close to the front, but in a way that’s more frustrating
“Mugello was a great weekend for us but kind of disappointing. If we’d been three seconds off the winner anywhere else we’d have been on the podium, but as it was Loris got fifth. For Catalunya we got an engine update and we found something on set-up to take us from 11th in qualifying to fifth in the race. When Loris came in he said that if he’d had that engine at Mugello we could have got third or better.”

The British Superbike championship did its job last year

“In 2008 the series’ top riders were so impressive, both domestically and abroad as wildcard riders, that Shane Byrne, Tom Sykes, Cal Crutchlow and friends were seen as world-class riders and they got the jobs. In a way that’s the purpose of the championship – you can’t stop progress. It’s bound to dip back a bit when riders of that quality move on but, at the same time, we’ve got to hope guys will come through of equal potential. As for the lack of Ducatis, I don’t really care. The depth of field is clearly down on last year but the quality at the front is every bit as good, if not better. The team say Sylvain (Guintoli) is without doubt the best rider they’ve ever worked with. The single incident at Donington (in which Guintoli was taken out by Josh Brookes and suffered a broken leg) took a lot of flavour out of the championship but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that he’ll race again before the end of the season.”

Ben Spies needs to move to MotoGP soon
“Ben did a very steady job for us last year but there was never any chance of him riding for us in 2009, and I can’t go into the reasons for that. He’s had a stunning season this year. You can’t fail to have been impressed by the way he’s gone to new racetracks, pushed as hard as he has and got the results he has. For want of a bit of luck he should be leading the championship on a bike that’s arguably not as strong as the Ducati. I’m sure he’s on a lot of shopping lists for a lot of teams in a lot of series. The difficulty for Ben and any of the other superbike guys is that you have to make the jump pretty early. Historically it’s tough to make that leap. Toseland, Hodgson, Edwards and Bayliss are all absolutely phenomenal riders but never quite managed to make the grade in MotoGP. We haven’t had any serious chats with Ben about the future but he knows that if he wants to talk to Suzuki we’re here and we’re open-minded.”

You look for exceptional riders
“Ben’s been exceptional in World Superbikes and in 250GPs the exceptional riders are Alvaro Bautista and Marco Simoncelli. You’re looking for riders showing a little more class than they’re competitors, that money-can’t-buy aggression and determination to win. It’s about the individual, not the series they’re in. I’ve been talking to Simoncelli and Bautista. It’s my job to report back to Suzuki in terms of which riders are available, whether they’re interested in Suzuki and what the costs might be. I’ve no doubt both riders will be in MotoGP next year.”

No traction control please

“Yes the bikes have traction but it’s still all about the throttle. At the test after the race at Catalunya I was up at turns three and four and the guys are still steering on the throttle, spinning the rear tyre like you wouldn’t believe. Traction control has simply made the bikes become more manageable. It’s a difficult subject. As a purist I’d like to see the bikes without traction control but, from a technical point of view, as power outputs continue to rise so the need for a safety net for Grand Prix riders and road riders becomes ever greater. The manufacturers feel a responsibility to be looking at these things. In the future I think we’ll see something in-between where we won’t turn our back on these developments altogether but where there’ll be regulations in place to curtail future development.”

Kawasaki handled things badly
“Kawasaki couldn’t have handled their withdrawal from MotoGP any worse than they did. They’ve alienated a lot of fans and a lot of dealers. While the short-term effects of pulling out won’t be too serious, long-term I think it’ll cost them. Having one black bike out there with no obvious link to Kawasaki almost makes it worse. They’re not exactly fully competitive in any of their other race programmes either and MotoGP this year would have been a really positive thing for them this year with Hopkins an Melandri on the bikes.”

Power mode selector? I’ve never pressed the button
“I think the mode selectors on bikes like the GSX-R1000 are pretty effective but, bizarrely, perhaps not for the kind of guys riding GSX-R1000s. The K9 is so well balanced and so easy to ride, it makes its power so ridiculously effortlessly. The engine’s so smooth and easy to ride that a power switch is almost superfluous, even in the wet. Certainly I’ve never pressed the button.”

The big European races really do it for me

“The traditional European events like Mugello, Jerez, Barcelona are so special. While Donington gets a big crowd it’s a very different crowd to the one at Mugello or Barcelona. Abroad it’s a generic audience, a sports audience. They’re there to cheer on Spain as much as they’re there to cheer on motorbike riders. Donington’s a more specialist group of people, they’re making a pilgrimage. In Spain the sport’s just so popular, it’s up there with their equivalent of the Premiership – the atmosphere is just huge. When (Italian) Simoncelli fell chasing (Spaniard) Bautista there was a huge cheer when he fell off, the biggest whistle when he got back on and the biggest cheer again when he retired – they’re into it as a sport.”

Donington looks like nobody gives a shit

“Donington’s had its chance and with absolute and due respect to the guys there, it still looks like nobody gives a shit. Donington’s a ‘better’ facility than Snetterton or Oulton but when you turn up at those tracks under Jonathan Palmer’s control you can tell someone cares, the place is neat and tidy and there’s a feeling they want to put on the best event they possibly can. Donington Park’s an embarrassment for British Superbikes and it’s not so much about getting the changes to the track done, it’s about being driven to do the job properly, and I think Silverstone are keen to do that.

For more from Paul Denning, including his thoughts on the Yamaha M1, Jorge Lorenzo, Moto2 and the bikes Suzuki need to build, get the new issue of Visordown, on sale July 24

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