Suzuka Sunday: How a Suzuka spec stacks up
Want to know how a Suzuka 8 Hour special compares to regular racing mounts in a Superbike series or MotoGP? Jack Miller, Sylvain Guintoli and Michael van der Mark compare their Suzuka bikes with their regular machinery
It’s easy to see how a Suzuka Special fares up to a regular Endurance World Championship bike; you only need to look at the timing screens. How it compares to a regular WorldSBK machine or a MotoGP bike is a very different question. It’s harder to see where a Suzuka bike stands in comparison to other series.
At Suzuka in 2017 there were some ready made comparisons, with Michael van der Mark and Sylvain Guintoli on hand to compare to their Superbikes and Jack Miller able to compare his Suzuka machine to a MotoGP bike.
The constant theme was how good these bikes were, with both Superbike stars raving about theirs and Miller smiling when talking through how much fun he had on track. The Australian has ridden in MotoGP since 2015 and was able to compare his HARC Honda to both an Open Honda MotoGP machine and a 2017 RC213V.
Miller grew up riding dirt track in Australia and the way his bike slides progressively at Suzuka, armed with Bridgestone tyres, certainly put a smile on his face:
“The bike is really good,” said Miller. “I’ve been really happy with the bike and the team. It’s a fun bike to ride with how it slides. The gearbox obviously isn’t as smooth as the seamless shift gearbox in MotoGP and it makes the bike move around a lot more but that makes a bike fun to ride.
“The electronics are very similar on this bike to our MotoGP machine. Obviously we have less power here but it surprised me how much fun it was! The tyres are the same as what we had in 2015 with Bridgestone in MotoGP but you need to ride them differently. The bike is very different to a MotoGP machine and I’ve had to change my style.
“One of the main areas I’ve had to adapt has been in the braking zone. These brakes aren’t as powerful as what we have in MotoGP with the carbon brakes. You have to adjust to that. I think that if I could brake as hard as I do in MotoGP this bike would have been even better. I spent time in testing trying to figure out how to ride the bike and coming into Turn 1 is a good example of the difference. It actually felt more like a Moto3 bike than a MotoGP! You have to brake early, release the brake and carry your speed into Turn 2. The bike is stable though so it gives you confidence. I’ve really enjoyed racing at Suzuka and it’s been a really cool event.”
For Guintoli, who has now ridden in MotoGP, EWC and British Superbikes, this was the third bike and tyre combination of 2017.
“There are a lot of differences to the British Superbike machine and it feels very different to it,” said the Frenchman. “With the Suzuka bike you have full factory electronics and this is basically the only place in the world where you can do anything you want with electronics. In BSB we have none and in MotoGP you have the control ECU so this bike is more advanced than the MotoGP bike. The electronics felt very sorted from the start and it makes the bike very efficient. It feels better than even the MotoGP bike. This is basically as good as it gets!
“The tyres are a big difference because each tyre brand has different characteristics. They have different operating windows and the way they work in different temperatures can vary. Here at Suzuka we have the factory Bridgestone tyres, you can’t buy these in the shop, and they feel very different. For Suzuka they work really well and they are a very consistent tyre.”
Comparing the bike to his domestic mount, it was clear the changes were vast between the two specifications:
“It’s a very different spec of bike here at Suzuka. The Suzuka bike has the factory MotoGP swingarm, different linkages, different suspension to the BSB bike and the engine is different. It’s managed very differently because of the electronics. When you put all of that together it feels like a very different bike.”
Van der Mark had a similar story when evaluating the Yamaha Suzuka machine. The main differences for the Yamaha compared to its WorldSBK specification are the electronics and swingarm but also this bike utilises Kayaba suspension instead of Öhlins. Van der Mark, a podium finisher in WorldSBK and a former WorldSSP World Champion, has spent the 2017 season adapting and his results have been strong on the WorldSBK machine, but at Suzuka a step was made once again. The bike allowed him to build confidence from the outset and to hit the ground running as Yamaha claimed the eventual victory.
“Every year that I’ve come to Suzuka I’ve expected to fight for the win and this year was no different,” said van der Mark. “Yamaha came here to write history and win a third Suzuka 8 Hours in a row. I’ve always been lucky to be on good bikes at this race and that always means that you come to Suzuka with a level of expectation.
“It’s been really interesting to be able to compare the Suzuka bike to our WorldSBK bike back to back. When you race one and then jump on the other to go testing it really shows what each bike does well and where we maybe need to develop the WorldSBK bike. The engines are different between the bikes because the Suzuka machine has to last eight hours, but the electronics are very different too. On the Suzuka bike they are so smooth.
“There are some small differences which make the bike feel easier to ride. It still has the same character as the WorldSBK bike but it’s so much easier to control the power with the electronics on the Suzuka bike. I’d love to have that on my bike!”
How much of what has been learned at Suzuka can filter through to other Championships? It remains to be seen but year on year we see upgrades in Superbike racing that were first tested at the jewel in the crown of the EWC calendar.
In recet years Suzuka has proved its stature once again. It’s proven its status as one of the biggest races in the world. It’s shown again that manufacturers are willing to push the boundaries of technology to win the 8 Hours.
What makes a Suzuka Special?
The Suzuka version of the Honda Fireblade is so different to any other Fireblade around.
“From 20 yards away it looks like any other Honda but as you get closer you see lots of changes. The geometry of the bike, the frame and electronics are all different.”
The design philosophy of the Suzuka machine is to maximise the potential of the Fireblade
Electronics have been the biggest single issue for Honda since the introduction of the new Fireblade.
The MotoGP derived electronics are actually more sophisticated than MotoGP since the introduction of the unified package in Grand Prix.
At Suzuka the rider is constantly surrounded by a team of engineers with electronics tailored to be as close to perfect as they can.
With a different geometry to a WorldSBK spec Fireblade. The modified frame gives this bike a very different character.
The frame has been strengthened with various options tested such as a MotoGP triple clamp and a swingarm.
With Bridgestone tyres this bike has to be very different to a Michelin shod MotoGP bike or Pirelli Superbike.
The gearbox is more agricultural compared to a Grand Prix machine.
Since the introdcution of the Seamless Shift Gearbox the transmission was always going to be the biggest transition for a MotoGP rider.
For Miller the HARC Honda felt very different with Miller saying: “The gearbox obviously isn’t as smooth but the bike wants to slide more.”
One of the single biggest changes to this bike compared to the MotoGP bike for Miller was the brakes.
Without the power of his MotoGP carbon brakes the riding style needed for them changed considerably.
For Miller it was familiar to a Moto3 riding style; braking early and carrying as much corner speed as possible. It took time in testing to adapt to this.
The Suzuka machine has a much closer look and feel to a MotoGP bike then a Superbike.
After testing the bike for the first time Stefan Bradl said that it “felt and looked very similar to the MotoGP Honda’s that I have ridden in the past.”
With the same dashboard and electronics options on the handlebars there is plenty for a MotoGP rider to feel familiar with.