Rins, Suzuki victory 'natural evolution'

'It's not just one race, by coincidence. Since Misano-Aragon last year we've been always close to the podium. So it looks like a natural evolution' – Davide Brivio, Suzuki MotoGP team manager.
Rins, Suzuki victory 'natural evolution'

Alex Rins and Suzuki have been consistent podium contenders since the tail end of last season, but some careful selection of new parts over the winter put the final pieces of the victory 'puzzle' into place.

Only 16th overall during an injury-interrupted rookie 2016 season with Suzuki, Rins took his first pair of MotoGP podiums during the opening half of last year.

But he and the GSX-RR shifted up a gear from Misano onwards, ending the year with strong 4-4-6-3-5-2-2 results, carrying him to fifth in the world championship.

"I think Alex deserved that [win], because it's not just one race we've been there by coincidence, it's maybe since Misano-Aragon last year that we've been always close to the podium," said team manager Davide Brivio, following Sunday's COTA victory, the first for Suzuki since Maverick Vinales in 2016.

"Sometimes we got on the podium, sometimes just under, but we were always there every race unless something happened. So it [the victory] looks like a natural evolution of what we are doing.

"To be honest, between us, we started the season wanting to win a race. But [only said it] in the secret of our team meetings, you know!

"So of course I'm happy that it comes and it's a good award for all our engineers in Japan because we improved the bike in the winter. We didn’t make any revolution but many small things, many small adjustments here and there."

The initial step in that process is the work done by test rider Sylvain Guintoli and his crew chief Tom O'Kane.

"It helps because they make the first selection and then, this year it was mainly Alex to confirm," Brivio said. "Joan [Mir] tested as well, he gave his opinion. But quite often Guintoli's comments are quite close to the 'MotoGP' comments."

But the evidence must be clear for any new part to make it onto the GSX-RR.

"We pay a lot of attention on selecting the parts. We develop different parts and different things and the job is to select properly the parts, to really choose what gives you an advantage, what gives you the improvement," Brivio said.

"Maybe a new chassis comes, automatically it's not better. You have to evaluate deeply. A new engine comes, is it better or not? New swingarm, better or not? New suspension, better or not?

"This is the big difficulty and then in the winter you try to make the puzzle. Maybe for the chassis, the new chassis. Engine, I don’t know, maybe old engine. Suspension, I don’t know, keep old suspension. New swingarm…

"You create the puzzle, trying to put together what really improves and it looks like for the moment we didn't make so many mistakes this winter!"

That methodology of refinement has resulted in a machine which now does virtually everything well, with the obvious exception of top speed.

"As Alex says, we ended up with a bike that maybe is not perfect, we suffer on the straight in Qatar, but overall has a good balance, good change of direction. So we can compensate," Brivio said.

"And even here, if you think in Austin there is a quite a long straight, but we were competitive. Okay at the end we remain with Yamaha [of Rossi close behind], but we can fight maybe better."

One of the most impressive features of the Suzuki is that, despite relying on high corner speed, it remains gentle on the tyres.

"We use more the edge of the tyre, because we need to make corner speed and this is what maybe the other manufacturers use less, they pick up the bike quickly," Brivio explained.

"But despite that it looks like our bike is quite gentle on the tyre. It's quite good."

Whilst a welcome attribute in the race, gentle tyre wear might also explain the qualifying difficulties for Rins and Mir in 2019 - even the COTA victory coming from seventh on the grid.

However, "the biggest weakness is the engine but we cannot develop!" Brivio confirmed, referring to the ban on in-season engine modifications by Honda, Ducati, Yamaha and Suzuki.

After losing out to Rins by less than half-a-second, Valentino Rossi had said: "Alex rides very well. In two or three places he did a very good line to avoid the bumps, and he was very strong in braking."

Brivio responded: "Valentino says we are very good on braking, but I think we can improve the braking further. And we can also improve the acceleration in terms of maybe a better electronic setting, things like that.

"That's always something to improve. At the moment Alex and Suzuki looks like a very good combination. But sometimes of course he complains about something in the garage!"

Having achieved their goal of a 2019 race win at only their third attempt, what's next?

"We have another 16 chances to try again!" said Brivio. "Of course we are very much aware how difficult it is to win a race, in such a competitive championship.

"We have a competitive machine, strong package, and we are here to try. Of course everybody is here to try. And then our target remains the same, we have to try to stay in the top five-six positions.

"Try to fight for the podium, then take the opportunities that come - you might finish fourth, might finish second, might finish first."

And what about the championship? Andrea Dovizioso feels the consistent speed shown by Rins, plus Suzuki's winter progress, means they will be one of four fighting for the title.

"I think we have to think race-by-race and see what happens, then if we work and don’t make so many mistakes maybe at the end of the year we might have some good position," said Brivio.

"The championship is a long way and we know there are very strong riders that are fighting for the championship in the last two or three years and once we go to Europe they will be very strong. But we are there, why not? We will try to do our best…"

Rins - who rode from tenth to lead on his way to fourth place in Qatar, then fought through from 16th to fifth in Argentina - is now third in the world championship, just five points behind Dovizioso.

Rossi (Yamaha) and reigning champion Marc Marquez (Honda), who fell from the lead of Sunday's race, complete a top four covered by just nine points heading into the start of the European season at Jerez.