What a test it turned out to be for Team Suzuki Ecstar as their new signings were able to prove that the bike that has evolved for the last two years is now more competitive than ever.
Andrea Iannone made a very positive start to three days of IRTA testing for the MotoGP class at Phillip Island in Australia, but despite having a spill, it was rookie Alex Rins who stole the show for the team as he finished a fantastic sixth overall.
Perfect weather for a Phillip Island test
Unlike the lead up to the 2016 MotoGP at Phillip Island, the weather on the island for the test was perfect for the riders to continue from where they left off at the last IRTA in Sepang, Malaysia. Iannone’s first task was to run with the previous specifications so that they could use the information collected to verify that the Engineers where taking the right approach; and they were able to check the settings against the challenges brought to them with a different circuit.
The first day was spent testing various settings and electronics configurations. Initially the Italian struggled with ‘the feeling’ with the bike however, modifications were made to the GSX-RR and he was able to make his way up to third on the leaderboard finishing the first day with a time of 1:29.926.
Iannone second despite difficult first day
Iannone admitted the morning on the first day was “very difficult” as he mentioned that the “team couldn’t find the proper setting to feel confident” and so he “struggled a lot”. However, in the afternoon he spoke of how they “changed some settings and improved step by step”. By the final stages he was “happy because the machine improved as well as the feeling of the bike and the pace”.
He felt that it was a “very positive outcome” has he felt it meant that they had the “capability to overcome very hard situations and turn them into a positive”. The plan for the second day was to take the “chance to work on pace as well as single lap performance”, and as well as that he planned to “introduce some more improvements”.
He felt that he and his new team were “on a good path”. Explaining how his “crew-chief is as new” as he is with the GSX-RR, he felt it was “very important” for them to “learn and get to know it at its best”.
No time attack for Iannone on day two who struggled to find the perfect combination
Day two for Iannone meant that he was able to work on improving his pace although he did not manage a time-attack to help with the single lap performance that would keep him at the top of the timesheets where he was so highly placed on the first day. Gradually as the day went on, settings were varied and the electronics changed however they were still unable to "find the perfect combination".
Later on in the day both riders took the opportunity to test the new fairings as midway through the 2016 season, the winglets were banned that meant that all teams have to find other solutions to front end lift by working on the aerodynamics.
Iannone finished the second day in 12th as he was only able to improve on his time from day on slight by 0.02 seconds; whereas other riders were able to make more improvements. The Italian completed 72 more laps to add to the 70 completed the day previous, with his fastest time coming in the morning when the conditions were best (on lap 19).
Iannone feels he was not in complete control
Iannone spoke of how he found the second day of testing “hard” as he “could not find a way to improve the lap time”. By the end of day two he was left feeling he was “at a point where [they] still had work to do”. Although he felt his pace was not bad as it was slightly better than yesterday, he still felt that he didn’t have “100% control of the machine”.
Thinking ahead he explained how he needed to “understand how to attack the track to achieve a better lap time and how to best read the GSX-RR”, however he reassured himself by believing “this will come after time after riding and longer and longer”. He said, “We are focused on many aspects; we have many positives and we are working hard on our negatives.”
Iannone finishes IRTA test in 13th overall
On the final day in Phillip Island, the team was given more to do to enable him to make more and important progress so that he could then feedback more to his team. Iannone struggled with the confidence that he needed to do a time attack but instead was able to complete a long test run. As a result, he finished the final day in 12th and the test overall in 13th with a fastest time of 1:29.547; having completed 219 laps over the duration of the three days.
By the end of the test he felt that they “understand more and more the direction [they] need to take for the future”. He confrmed that he was able to “manage a very constructive long run where [they] could put together all the information collected” over the three days, and he felt that the “result was not bad at all”.
Iannone discusses tyre troubles
He felt that he “could not take advantage of the new tyres for a proper time attack”; delving further into the tyre situation he revealed he “ruined the front tyres” when he “used them so much for the long run attempts” that came once in the morning and again in the afternoon.
As a result he spoke of how his “position in he classification is not the one [he’d] like”, but he still felt they did a good job overall. As well as confirming they had completed work on the electronics he said that they have “many areas where [they] can make big or small improvements” and that they are "working to try and fix everything”.
He explained that “these kinds of tests require time and patience”. He described the scenario as “like being a test rider more than a race rider” and that it is “hard to be in the position of tapping the bike’s full potential”.
Rins main focus was his riding style
For Rins the objectives for the Phillip Island test were different; the focus for the rookie was improving his riding style so he could adapt to the GSX-RR. Already happy with the baseline settings created in the Malaysian test, the Spaniard was able to improve his individual lines and later on he was able to analyse the data collected to learn of the efficiency of his technique. Rins ended the first session in 19th having only managed to clock a time of 1:31.432; on his final lap out of the 66 he completed.
Rins confirmed that the “program of the first day was mainly focused on doing as many laps as possible to get confident with the GSX-RR on a new circuit” and also to “find good lines for a MotoGP machine and try to be consistent”. He was aware that in Phillip Island, a coastal track, that the “wind plays an important role that can affect the riding style”.
Talking from a “technical point of view”, Rins explained how they “tried the new 2017 suspensions with some different settings”, in the meantime they were “collecting data to work on”. Their plan for the second day was to “introduce some more new things” however his main focus again ahead of the second session was on his riding style.
Working alongside his crew chief, by the end of day one he was able to see that there are “many parts of the track where [they] can be more effective”, in particular sector three, and he felt that this would “come with experience and confidence”.
Rins shoots up to ninth on day two
The work Rins’ completed on day one certainly paid off as he was able to jump from 19th up to ninth on the timesheets as he managed to improve his own time by 1.630 seconds. Adding another 8 laps to the 66 from the previous day under his leathers, his fastest time was set on lap 68 leaving him just 0.128 seconds behind nine times world champion Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha), but still as the second highest placed rookie as Jonas Folger continued his domination of the newbies finishing in seventh.
Rins spent time working on the new chassis for the GSX-RR and in turn introducing new setup configurations. The time on track meant he was able to gain in knowledge and confidence. The new confidence meant he was able to provide his team with better feedback which has also heped to improve the relationships in camp.
Rins feels happy to be heading in the right direction
Rins confirmed that they “tried different things” mentioning “some new specs of the chassis and also the new fairings”; as a result he was left feeling “comfortable”. He felt that they had “took a big step” since the first day and that “step-by-step and lap-by-lap” he found he could “take better lines” and in turn he “can be more consistent”. He still felt that they “could improve a lot in the third sector” however was still happy as they were “more consistent” than on day one and that they “gained a lot of corner speed”. He ended day feeling “happy” that they were “working in the right direction”.
Rins finishes the IRTA test in sixth overall
The final day confirmed Rins’ true potential in the MotoGP class as he finished up as sixth quickest on the final day and overall as he set a time of 1:29.103 on lap 60 out of 66; he completed 212 laps in total. Finishing as the second fastest rookie, two places behind Folger on the timesheets, it was the perfect end to a test which enabled him to reap the reward of his efforts.
The lap times set by Rins on the final day were consistent due to the time spent on adapting his riding style. He was also able to gather more of an understanding of the GSX-RR as a whole and was able to begin exploring other options of settings.
Major improvements for the Spanish rookie
The day did not go without fault however as he came off on the Island, but he was straight back to his feet and able to re-join in no time. Overall, he improved his own time fastest tme by 2.329 seconds on day one.
Rins was left feeling “very satisfied” with the three days of testing, and putting the best lap time aside, he felt that the “most important thing” was that their “progress during the session has been consistent and significant”. He confirmed that they are “able to better understand the machine and also develop a finer sensitivity with the settings and the changes.”
He felt that he and his team were “working very intensively” which he felt has paid them back in the end. However, he confirmed they “still have many areas to improve” referring to the GSX-RR and his riding style, though he felt their “ideas are getting clearer after each session”. Referring to his “little crash” he felt it didn’t affect his performance. He said, “I’m satisfied with these days and confident that we will be able to further improve.”