Interview with MotoGP Team Suzuki Ecstar Project Director Shinichi Sahara

Blogs-Shinichi Sahara

Team Suzuki Press Office – March 7.

Team Suzuki Ecstar Project Director Shinichi Sahara talks about the new management in place for 2021 and the way Suzuki plans to move forward with Suzuki’s World Championship-winning team.

Sahara-san how has your winter break been?

SS: “Things have been busy preparing everything; the bikes, the parts, getting it all ready. We’ve been working very long hours in Japan and it’s been a tiring but exciting time. It’s always hard work at the beginning of the season, but it’s worth it when you see the results.”

During the winter there was the big news that Davide Brivio was leaving, how do you see that?

SS: “It was a bit of a shock for all of us, and it’s a pity to see him go. But we wish him success in his new career and we’re already focused on what we need to do now.”

Can you explain your new management plan?

SS: “It is more open between all of us; every team management related matter will be discussed between key people in the team. We have created a ‘Team Management Committee’ involving key team members and we will all discuss everything – item by item and session by session. We will exchange information between us. So this is the way we’ve decided to go forward in the running of the team since Davide’s departure. I believe this will more than compensate for his loss.”

What was behind the decision not to bring one Team Manager in?

SS: “Even last year when Davide was the Manager, a lot of decisions were taken jointly. For example, I am the Project Leader and Ken Kawauchi is the Technical Manager, and we would discuss everything with Davide and even with the wider team. Advice and knowledge was shared among us. I know how he balanced between the human side and technical side, so I have no concerns about our new way of managing. Everybody on our team is great at their job, so we will manage fine. I have every confidence in our decision and in many ways it has brought our team closer together.”

Suzuki will stand out this year as title holders, how will this affect your approach?

SS: “It doesn’t really make a difference because our aim is actually the same as always; becoming one step stronger. So winning the championship hasn’t changed that. We don’t even think of ourselves as defending champion; we just focus on challenging for the best results and giving our all every weekend.”

Do you feel pressure to try and repeat the championship in 2021? Especially as there was a big gap of 20 years before Joan Mir’s title.

SS: “I don’t think there is extra pressure, but it’s very important to us to show that we can always be competitive. Winning the title is the ultimate success, but in the end our target doesn’t change; we always want to win races. Every piece of success is celebrated, and we know Joan and Alex can give us great results, but of course we want to build another title campaign with our riders. We’ll give everything, but we won’t worry about pressure.”

What do you think about the freeze on development?

SS: “Our main focus and priority has always been to have a very balanced bike. We’ve never liked to concentrate too much on one area and lose that baseline balance. We’ve always been about small tweaks and improvements and keeping the fundamental performance and base of the bike. There’s always room for improvement and we will keep working, but not being able to develop the engine doesn’t worry us because it’s the same for all the teams, and we had great results last year with our GSX-RR.”

What will be your approach when working on the 2021 GSX-RR?

SS: “It will be the same as always, which is little by little. As I said before, we always search for small improvements which have a big impact. This is our favoured way of working, just to adjust things here and there to build an overall better package.”

How much impact do the test riders have?

SS: “Sylvain plays a crucial role in our team, he helps us a lot with development and direction. He is a very intelligent person and a skilled rider – his lap times are close to those of the full time MotoGP riders – so he always gives us a lot of information. He is very accurate and very intuitive. We also have a Test Rider in Japan, Takuya Tsuda, and he also plays a very important role. We hope this year both riders can have more bike time, because last year it was limited due to Covid-19.”

Does the current situation mean the plan for a Suzuki satellite team put on hold?

SS: “Yes, in some ways it does because Davide was the one to speak to several teams and start the ball rolling. But I was also involved in this process, and speaking with top management, so it simply means a bit more work for me now that he’s gone. I’m continuing to think about it and work on it, so it’s still something we’re planning to do, but I can’t put a date on it yet.”

What allowed Suzuki to take the title in 2020? Was it down to the bike, the rider, or a combination?

SS: “It would be nice to say that our bike is the best bike! But that’s something hard to say. Anyway, we’ve worked hard over the years to make the most stable and balanced bike we can, which has many different strengths. However, rider skill and ability always makes a big difference too. Joan was only in his second year with us last year, but he learned very quickly and proved his maturity, it was a very hard year but he managed it all very well. The same with Alex, he is a great rider and he was able to bring us top results too, despite his injury. But we never settle, both the bike and the riders must always improve.”

Suzuki is the only team with same line-up in 2021 as in 2020, will this be an advantage?

SS: “As I said, both our riders are very strong contenders, and it’s nice to keep the stability of having the same structure and the same team. Both are gaining more and more experience with our GSX-RR, so I think it’s great to continue on with Joan and Alex.”

With these two strong riders, how do you plan to manage the rivalry between them?

SS: “At Suzuki we’ve always had a philosophy where we don’t have a “number one” and “number two” rider, we don’t have a lead rider. Even when we’ve had rookies in the team we treat them in the same way as the more experienced rider. Last year Joan and Alex had a very good rivalry, it was very respectful and at the same time they pushed each other to achieve better results. We want to encourage this spirit and atmosphere again in 2021.”

What do you think about Joan Mir’s decision to keep his number 36 and not run number 1?

SS: “For me I was just happy to see the number one on the bike in Valencia! It’s something very significant and it was fantastic, but his decision to continue with his usual number is obviously fine with me, it’s his choice. But it would also be nice to get another number one plate, even briefly, again this year!”

Last year everybody was quite separate due to the Covid-19 crisis, how did this impact the relationship between the workers in Japan and those at the circuit?

SS: “Sometimes it was hard but one of the nicest things about winning the championship was actually the way in which we all celebrated, despite restrictions. For example, I was in Japan when Joan got the crown, but everybody in Hamamatsu was so happy and overwhelmed and it was nice to share those moments! More and more gifts and congratulations messages were arriving at the office every day. Everyone from every department – including the automobile side and the marine side – was celebrating because it was a very big thing for all of us at Suzuki.”

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