We’ll soon know more about Suzuki’s 2014 MotoGP bike, as that Japanese company plans three public and two private European tests beginning in June. About the current machine, factory test rider and GP veteran Nobuatsu Aoki is quoted as saying, “They made a lot of design changes.”
Differences we can see in these recent photos are that the former two exhaust megaphones have become one, and that the starter-access door, previously seen on the right side of the fairing, is gone. Since our Japanese source still says, “Same sound as Yamaha YZR-M1,” we know the single megaphone does not mean the prototype has reverted to an even-fire 180-degree crankshaft. Absence of the starter door suggests Suzuki has caught up with slipper-clutch technology, allowing the bike to be fired in the same manner as the Honda and Yamaha by driving the rear wheel.
Far-forward seating is also continued. Aoki says the current bike has an all-new engine and chassis, but we can see that the former remains a transverse inline-Four with its cylinders inclined forward. This is in keeping with Suzuki’s long-successful GSX-R series of production engines, rather than being a departure from them, as were its previous MotoGP V-Fours.
The swingarm’s shape may have been refined, as well. Swingarms have evolved from a basic pair of beams joined at the front by a box. Bracing to prevent twist used to be added above the beams, but the need to put fuel under the front of the seat (where it is pushed as the engine’s intake airbox takes most of the volume above the engine) has lately forced suspension linkage downward, making it sensible to place the bracing under the swingarm beams. The next step has been to give up the swingarm-plus-bracing idea in favor of an all-in-one structure. Seen from the side, this is a triangle—entirely sheeted-in save for a slot through which the chain passes—with its apex at the rear axle.
Viewed from above, Suzuki’s current prototype arm looks like a U-shaped tuning fork, the side beams curving around the front of the tire. Since swingarm lateral flexure functions as suspension when the bike is at high cornering lean angle, it is good design to use this curving shape, which allows the whole structure to flex rather than concentrating stress where the side beams emerge from a traditional front box. Also, seen from above, the side beams are quite thin, of the order of 30mm.
For further testing, an arrangement has been made with Team Aspar to rent its rider, Randy de Puniet. Suzuki has said its 2014 team will have two riders, and we can suppose one will be Japanese, taken from the ranks of its national series. De Puniet’s current teammate, fellow CRT front-runner Aleix Espargaro, has also been mentioned as a possibility.
Because Dorna now claims its MotoGP grid is “full” (half the slots being taken by uninspiring CRT teams), Suzuki will supposedly have to make an arrangement with an existing team to get places on the grid. All such arrangements will be in flux once the Honda production racers and Yamaha lease engines arrive to supposedly “transform” the sport in 2014 and eliminate place-holding CRTs. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is admired in certain circles for “keeping ’em guessing” with frequent and often contradictory changes of plan, but the current view is that Honda has taken his measure and will not easily tolerate more of what MotoGP boss Shuhei Nakamoto has called “crazy rules.” This is not a solution. It is merely the current political “détente” in this sport. Honda’s goals remain what they have always been: to dominate all classes, even if that makes racing a bore, reducing its value to all.
We have seen Suzuki’s U.S. auto business declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and we know U.S. motorcycle sales fell during the recent depression by some 70 percent. Harley-Davidson announced that U.S. sales of 601cc-and-up machines had fallen in the first quarter of 2013 by an additional 16 percent in comparison with first quarter 2012, so the bad news isn’t over yet. In the words of the song, “What will be the outcome/If the income don’t come in?” Can Suzuki afford MotoGP? We can only speculate. Being in MotoGP is now central to sales in Indonesia, where lads and lasses on 125s dream of greater things, so Suzuki marketeers may say there’s no choice.
The last question is engine architecture. If Honda can win races with a V-Four, should Suzuki give up what it has learned from its own V-Four to go a different way? It makes best sense if there is to be some crossover between MotoGP and production, as in the close perceived relationship between Yamaha’s YZF-R1 production model and its M1 MotoGP racer. GSX-R sportbikes have been the lifeblood of Suzuki sales, so it makes brand sense to bring them and any MotoGP Suzuki close together in concept. Could this mean “super GSX-R repli-racers?” A for-sale production racer? Time will supply answers.