MotoGP: Team Suzuki Ecstar not where expected
MotoGP: Team Suzuki Ecstar not where expected

It’s been a difficult season for the all new line-up at Team Suzuki Ecstar so far during the 2017 MotoGP season as they have been plagued by injury since day one.

New line-up for Team Suzuki Ecstar in 2017

Back in 2016, Jorge Lorenzo who was then with Movistar Yamaha decided that he would make the switch to the Ducati Team for 2017. In doing so, one of the Italian Andreas had to make way and eventually it was decided that Andrea Dovizioso would remain and Andrea Iannone would be let go.

It turned out that replacing Lorenzo at Movistar Yamaha would be then Team Suzuki Ecstar rider, Maverick Vinales and so Iannone jumped at the available place.

Aleix Espargaro (then at the Suzuki Team) was not happy that he was not included in the new signing and highlighted that the relationship was rocky.

It was confirmed that Aleix would be going when Team Suzuki Ecstar confirmed they had signed up Moto2 rider, Alex Rins who would complete his rookie year with the factory team. Aleix Espargaro ended up moving to Aprilia Racing Team Gresini.

Difficult start to testing their new machinery

So after the final round in Valencia, the two new pilots took to the same track to complete two days of testing.

Iannone had a fantastic test ending up third overall, but a big smash for him at the same spot as his new teammate who hit the barrier, saw Rins only complete five laps on the final day as he was carted off to hospital as he had broken his leg.

The two finished 11th and 12th in Sepang after Iannone topping the opening days.

Rins finished above his teammate in Phillip Island as he ended up sixth whereas Iannone was 12th where he finished at Qatar after the three days before the season opener, whereas Rins was 14th.

Rins’ life as a rookie in the MotoGP

For Rins he had the challenge in 2017 of adjusting to life on a MotoGP bike. After all, he would not have been used to the Electronics, the carbon brakes, the extra power and handling and the issues that there may be with the Michelin Power Slick tyres.

He and Iannone had the task of helping the GSX-RR to evolve as the manufacturer returned to the MotoGP class several years ago and was still being worked on to create a competitive machinery.

It was very much on it’s way there, as former rider Vinales had brought it to the top step of the podium in Silverstone in 2016 a season that saw nine different winners.

Iannone benefited from wet cancelled Qualifying in Qatar

It was time to put the data and findings into action beginning with the first round of the season in Qatar. Iannone was again quick, finishing Free Practice 3 in third position.

This turned out to be extra vital, as rain hit later on and Free Practice 4 and Qualifying was cancelled because of the extra glare from the wet track under the floodlights, and so he had secured a front row start from third on the grid on his debut; Rins started his MotoGP debut in 15th on row five.

Iannone leads on MotoGP debut before crashing out

The race was almost called off as a rain shower started to hit as they made their way to the grid.

After a lengthy debate with the officials, it went ahead. In an unintentional and hypothetical gesture to his former team, Ducati, Iannone led into the opening turn of the race and the season.

His lead was short-lived however as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) passed him. Soon they came under attack from rookie, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) who went on to lose the race.

Whilst Marquez was distracted trying to chase Marquez, Iannone passed him, but this too was short-lived before again being recovered. Zarco crashed out of the lead leaving Iannone to lead once again.

He battled with the front runners for several laps until he and Marquez got too close, Iannone tagged the back of Marquez and he slid out at turn 15 of the 11th lap.

It was a disappointing end to to a race that could have potentially resulted in a podium, and it was probably the closest he has come throughout the season so far.

Rins the top rookie on MotoGP debut

Rins finished as the highest placed rookie in ninth less than half a second off Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) in eighth. It was a great start to the season yet his luck was to change for the worse.

Argentina race almost spoiled after contact with Lorenzo and penalty

Onto Argentina and after automatically qualifying to take part in qualifying 2 after finishing ninth in FP3, Iannone was 12th on the grid whereas Rins was down in 23rd. At the start of the race, Iannone was touched by Lorenzo which spoiled his momentum, but he did not crash as did the Spaniard.

He then received the news that he was to be penalised by Race Control for a jump-start that meant he had to complete a ride-through penalty within a certain number of laps. When he re-joined he was last and then had to work to recover positions finishing up 16th at the Termos de Rio Hondo.

Argentina ends with a crash for Rins

It was more disappointment for Team Suzuki Ecstar with regards to Rins as the rookie crashed out on the eight lap of the race.

He had a low slide at turn 13 and was able to hobble to pick up the bike as he was still hindered by his injury from testing (in a way it was good that he had not picked up further injuries) but he was eventually forced to retire with 14 laps remaining.

COTA leads to disaster for Rins

The MotoGP class went on to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for the third round of the season on international waters. Keen to make up for lost points, Iannone started off quite strong once again finishing 10th on the opening day, as Rins was left down in 18th as he continued, injured, to adjust to the MotoGP class.

Free Practice 3 was a disaster for the team again, as within minutes of the session getting underway, Rins crashed in a big way at COTA. Shortly after finishing his out-lap, Rins began to increase his pace. He came off at turn 19 of the track, and although he was able to get up to his feet, he had to support his own arm which was clearly hurt.

He was taken to the medical centre to be checked over bt his injury to his wrist turned out to be so severe that he had to be operated on and would also miss the remainder of the round in America, and the next four rounds that followed on; it was not the start top his debut season that he needed.

Big crash for Iannone who fortunately walked away before claiming best result of season

Later on in the session, Iannone went down and was hurt. Doubled over in pain, the Marshalls tended to him while some looked to dig his bike out of the gravel. After taking a few moments to gather himself as he leaned on a tyre wall, he was soon able to walk back to the pits but finished last on the timesheets in 23rd.

The Italian found his pace again in FP4 when he was 10th and then due to combined times was able to continue straight onto Qualifying 2 where he claimed 10th on the grid. His pace was strong during the race and he was able to progress through the ranks passing Jonas Folger (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) and Lorenzo, on his old machinery. He finished seventh in COTA, what was to be his best race result of the season so far.

Iannone joined by test rider, Tsuda for one round

Iannone was joined by Team Suzuki Ecstar test rider, Takuya Tsuda who was brought in initially to replace injured Rins at what would have been one of the rookie’s home rounds in Jerez, Spain; the first of the European rounds on the 2017 calendar. It was to prove to be yet another difficult round for the Team as Iannone again crashed out, and Tsuda found himself lower down the ranks throughout the weekend.

Iannone’s best result came during Qualifying 1 when he topped the timesheets and secured himself a place in Qualifying 2. He went on to secure a respectable fifth on the grid in Spain as Tsuda was to start from 23rd.

Another DNF for Iannone

Iannone came off at the fast turn 11 of the Circuit de Jerez and although he was able to walk away from the crash once again appearing unhurt fortunately, his bike was unrecoverable and he was forced to retire with 18 laps remaining.

Tsuda finished 17th Jerez, but as harsh as it is to say he only claimed that position as he finished the race; over 1:28 minutes later than race winner Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), and 19 seconds off 16th place, rookie Sam Lowes (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini).

As important and successful it is to complete the race, he may not have been placed there had the seven riders not crashed out ahead of him.

Guintoli brought in as replacement rider for Team Suzuki Ecstar

As a result, Sylvain Guintoli was brought in to replace Rins, and test rider, Tsuda for the fifth round in Le Mans, France, and the two rounds that followed on.

Iannone was competitive again in the build-up finishing fifth in FP2, in wet but drying conditions but on combined times was 11th from his FP1 time.

He dropped further to 17th at the end of FP3 and so found himself once again in Qualifying 1 where this time he was unable to progress onwards. Instead he qualified in 17th, and BSB rider, Guintoli completed the grid in 23rd.

Positive results in Le Mans

Immediately Iannone worked to compensate positions on track after starting from the sixth row. A bad start did not help things as he lost further places, but he began to move up the standings starting with Lowes, and fellow Brit, Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing). The mixed conditions were playing to an advantage for him.

Fallen riders and his own progressions meant that he finished in 10th at Le Mans. Like Tsuda, on his debut, Guintoli finished in last position, but eight riders not finishing in Le Mans meant that on his debut he finished in the points in 15th; he in turn got his name on the championship table.

Home round for Iannone in Mugello

The following round was Iannone’s home round in Italy at the Autodromo del Mugello.

An historical day at the circuit saw an Italian win in every class, but unfortunately it was not the Suzuki rider. He qualified in sixth on the grid after another difficult build-up to the race; again Guintoli was down in 24th; the jump from the British Superbikes was proving to be difficult for the Frenchman.

Again Iannone finished 10th, this time in front of his home fans. Fortunately for him however, only one non-factory rider placed above him as Alvaro Bautista (Pull & Bear Aspar Team) finished the race in fifth.

He collected another six points for the championship in doing so when he finished behind factory Ducati riders, Lorenzo and Michele Pirro who was making a wildcard appearance at his home track.

Guintoli also picked up a positive result in Mugello as he finished ahead of Loris Baz (Reale Avintia Racing), Lowes and Smith to finish 17th in Mugello. Although out the points he had progressed in the short space of time.

Riders face new layout in Catalunya

This turned out to be a magic number essentially for Guintoli as he finished in that position at the next round in Catalunya.

He finished right behind his temporary teammate, Iannone who was 16th. There was a lot of confusion at the Spanish track as the layout had been changed following the death of Moto2 rider, Luis Salom during Free Practice.

The riders resorted to the Formula 1 layout for the remainder of the 2016 meeting, but then when they returned in 2017, it had been modified, although it wasn’t for the better.

A new chicane that contained a patch of different tarmac that was bumpy, was introduced and corners where bypassed, but it proved confusing and difficult so again after another Safety Commission meeting they resorted back to the F1 layout.

Iannone finished seventh during FP3 which meant he went directly to Qualifying 2 where he claimed 12th on the grid.

Guintoli was missing from the Qualifying session however as he was feeling unwell, took painkillers and reacted differently to them than he had in the past; he had to resort to the warm-up session to make up for vital lost time.

Countless front end crashes for Iannone proving frustrating

It was becoming clear by this point in the season that Iannone was experiencing with the GSX-RR when trying to make it turn. Countless front end crashes meant he was increasingly becoming frustrated.

After being ninth in the warm-up race, he had the potential to progress but he ended up 16th just outside the points, and three seconds off Rabat in 15th. It was a good run for Guintoli who was not needed after the Spanish round.

Wet Assen sees Rins’ return and Iannone finish in the points

Assen was wet once again, as it was the previous year when the MotoGP class visited.

Rins was back to make his return from injury although his wrist was still going to need some time to heal fully. Making up for his result in Spain, he again started off strong finishing sixth at the end of FP1. Rins was understandably down in 18th, he had lost a lot of time with the injury and it must have been starting all over again in the MotoGP.

Iannone’s lap times saw him drop down to 17th after the second session of the opening day, but this spurred him on to improve on the second day as he finished 10th during FP3; but it was not enough to get him through to Qualifying 2. He qualified 16th on the grid, just ahead of returning rookie, Rins in 17th.

The warm-up was looking promising as Iannone was third and Rins fifth however because of the rain a lot of riders refrained from going out.

Tyre choices critical for race

Rain threatened before the race and it made many riders doubt their tyre choices. Conditions were not suitable for Michelin Power Wets yet they were unsure whether it was actually going to throw It down with rain, but it held off. Still choices of Michelin Power Slicks were vital during the race.

Iannone clearly made a good choice as he was able to remain competitive and rescued positions from 17th on the grid. He finished ninth in Assen after refusing to pit when the white flag came out to signal that the riders could enter to pits for their spare bikes with a wet set-up.

He was one of many riders who continued on despite the shower as not enough laps remained, and the rainfall was not heavy enough to justify it. He continued chasing the places and finished ninth in Assen.

Rins opted to make the change but then had a run-in with Petrucci on track

It was a different story for Rins as he had opted to change bikes to accommodate the wet conditions. He was well off the race pace as a result having lost so much time. At the front, there was a dramatic end to the race unfolding as Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) and Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) were battling it out for the victory.

They began passing through the back-markers as a result of the time lost from the pit stops. They passed Lorenzo, then Hector Barbera (Pull & Bear Aspar Team), and Rossi passed Rins with ease but when Petrucci went to pass on the inside of a left hand-turn, he came into contact with Rins who was shocked by the Italian’s presence. This contact also meant that Petrucci lost time and the victory as he finished 0.063 seconds behind Rossi who broke a 385 day drought of victories.

Fortunately for Rins he did not crash out of the race. Instead he was able to continue on and finished 17th in Assen. It meant that he still failed to pick up any points since the opening round in Qatar… it would all come down to Sachsenring.

Big crash in build-up to Sachsenring race

The German GP was the last round before the mid-season break. But again, it would result in poor results for Team Suzuki Ecstar who at this stage last year were looking competitive.

Iannone had a disaster of a first day as he had a big crash during the Free Practice. He came of at turn 11 of the Sachsenring when the front of his GSX-RR tucked at the fast turn; he and the bike rolled down the hill and his bike tumbled so much it landed upside down and buried in the gravel resulting in a Marshal kicking it over in order to recover it.

Fortunately for Iannone, his leathers did the job preventing injuries after such a fast and heavy crash. He appeared angry as he made his way down the hill known as the waterfall because of the way the rain flows down in the wet; the lack of front end feel was clearly getting to him at this stage in the season.

Results reflect misfortune suffered in Germany

He ended the opening session and the day down in last place which was unusual for the Italian rider. Rins was 19th at the end of FP1 and then dropped three more places in the second session.

Both progressed up to the timesheets and eventually qualified in 16th for Iannone and 18th for Rins. Conditions had become torrential as heavy rain fell to spoil things for some, especially Rins who lacked experience never mind wet riding time.

Iannone crashes out as Rins finishes last

Iannone was competitive come the race as he had managed to progress up to 13th passing Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) on track around the sixth lap. When challenging Lorenzo for another position, he crashed out of the race with just six laps to go. A move was adamant on the Spaniard who took his seat but before he could make his move he crashed out at turn 12.

The front folded again when he ran wide at the turn and again his bike bounced through the gravel with six laps remaining. Again he appeared unhurt but it was yet another round, round three where he failed to finish meaning he only collected championship points in four rounds when he had the potential to do more.

Rins also struggled in Sachsenring finishing up the race in last on the rankings in 21st. He was out at the back behind British rider, Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Racing) and Loris Baz (Reale Avintia Racing) who were both struggling with their Ducatis as of late.

Team Suzuki Ecstar not where expected

At the mid-season point nine rounds in, both Iannone and Rins are both further down the rankings than anyone would have envisaged after testing before the season got underway.

As they break for summer, Iannone is 16th after picking up 28 points at COTA, Le Mans, Mugello and Assen. Rins is 22nd in the championship on seven points, however he is equal with Ducati wildcard rider, Pirro.

The introduction to the season for both riders has proved difficult as the results have indicated. Rins’ injuries have not helped his situation and not led to the debut MotoGP season he probably wished for.

Knowing he had a lot to learn, he will have wanted to crack on with learning it and gaining much more experience without the extra pain and recovery time needed.

Hopefully that break will do the Spaniard the world of good and he will return fit, rested, recuperated ready and motivated and hoping to attack the second half of the season with the spirit we have seen before in the Moto2.

In something that could not have been helped because the injuries of his teammate sustained, Iannone has essentially been carrying that team throughout the season on his own. A team and a bike will only continue to evolve and progress at a positive rate if there is more input going into it; from riders who are there week in and week out.

Uphill struggle of a season so far with Suzuki for Iannone

The change of riders, and lack of competitive riding from another rider so far for Suzuki, means that he is a one man team when it comes to continuing to develop the GSX-RR.

He will be trying to take steps forward, but won’t have data to compare with when it comes to trialling a new set-up or feature. Less data will be collected and he only has his own opinion to go off.

Up to now Iannone has had a difficult challenge to face and overcome during the first half of the season. Hopefully for he, Rins and the team, they will be blessed with a better fortune and will be able to soon evolve and make the developments that saw the manufacturer thrive in the MotoGP before.

On a positive note, despite the disappointing results, the riders actually finished the first half of the season on a high. Iannone claimed he finally had a better feel for the bike but when chasing those ahead of him unfortunately found the limit as he pushed too hard.

Rins on the other hand struggled with tyre management, but that it something that will come with track time, hopefully.