Trackside Tuesday: The Silly Suzuki Season

05/21/2013 @ 11:06 pm, by Scott Jones19 COMMENTS


As Randy de Puniet heads to Japan to test Suzuki’s 2014 MotoGP bike, the possible availability (some won’t be convinced it’s a reality until a pair of Suzuki motorcycles appear on the grid in Qatar next April) of two new factory seats has spawned a Silly Season unto itself.

If that possibility entailed another satellite prototype team, the furor would be considerable, but that it’s a new factory team means reason and rationality are running for their lives.

So once again we have the chance to observe the unique mindset of the top level motorbike racer. To that mindset, at least in this modern era, the factory ride is the Holy Grail of motorcycle racing. It’s easy to see why this has happened.

After the days of the 500cc two-strokes, when a highly-developed formula meant a privateer team could compete with the deep-pocket teams, the four-stroke era has seen costs skyrocket, and factory-deep pockets dominate the win column. It’s for very good reasons that riders feel you have to be on a factory bike to win races. But the thing is, not all factories are equal.

Consider Marco Melandri. In 2006 he won three races with Fortuna Honda. After a winless 2007 with Gresini Honda, he landed a factory ride at Ducati, and that didn’t turn out to be all he’d hoped. Only Casey Stoner was able to make a factory Ducati seat mean something in the neighborhood of a factory Honda or factory Yamaha ride.

And yet, when Valentino Rossi left Ducati, the availability of a factory seat with the Italian marque had Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso ready and willing to leave the best satellite ride simply because the opportunity contained the word ‘factory.’

In the four-stroke era, a factory Suzuki seat wasn’t exactly the cat’s pajamas, either. But as 2014 approaches, and Suzuki looks to be coming back to add a fourth manufacturer to the prototype competition, Factory Fever is catching.

I have it: I would LOVE to see Suzuki come into 2014 with a bike capable of breaking up the Honda-Yamaha show. I simply think it’s unlikely for a company that limped out of MotoGP with one uncompetitive bike to come back and compete with the Goliath known as HRC and the crafty David known as Yamaha without several seasons of development funded by strong street bike sales. (Cue crickets.)

But no riders have texted me to ask what I think, so I’m ready to jump into this Suzuki Silly Season with both feet and if nothing else, enjoy the possibilities. Suzuki comes back to MotoGP with a wide range of talent in front of which to dangle the “factory” bait, and given the lure of that magic word, the manufacturer has a fine chance of getting some top talent on their team.

Current contracts be damned–a factory will spend what it must to get the riders it wants, right? RIGHT?

Cal Crutchlow must be at the top of the list, and he appears ready to roll the dice in spite of a 2nd place finish at Le Mans and a spot with a team that is as good a satellite effort as one can get in the modern era. Will factory Suzuki be better than Tech 3 Yamaha? Fortune favors the bold, so…

Alvaro Bautista was Suzuki’s most recent rider, and might easily be tempted to head back to that factory given how his Honda results have gone. The factory magic didn’t work for him in Rizla Blue, but…

Stefan Bradl is under pressure to perform now that he has the factory-spec Honda, and given his results through the first four races, he may be looking for new opportunities. And Suzuki could certainly do worse than the talented German rider…

It’s not impossible that Suzuki would like to have a veteran on one bike (assuming they bring two to the grid) to guide its growth. Nicky Hayden’s Ducati contract is up at the end of this year, and given his commitment and work ethic and experience, and more to the point, what he brings with him regardless of his race results, he might find the phone ringing…

If your name were Colin Edwards, and Suzuki wanted to talk about receiving the input of MotoGP’s most senior veteran, how good would that sound compared to the CRT experience? It might sound pretty darned good…

Aleix Espargaro seems on track to be the best CRT rider again, and a lot of folks in the paddock are impressed with what he brings to each race. Perhaps Suzuki also likes what they see…

Randy de Puniet is testing the bike! Surely he’s at least in the running for one of the seats after his years of trying so very hard on second-tier equipment and showing so much raw talent…

Rumors have Pol Espargaro in talks with Yamaha for a Tech 3 seat, but now that the rookie rule is gone, perhaps Pol has a chance to skip the satellite path and go straight to a factory bike…

Scott Redding will be ready for the premier class, and if Suzuki renews its ties to British management, whether it’s Paul Denning or not, Redding is a rising power in Moto2 and someone to consider for a young team looking at the future…

Insert in this space your own WSBK wildcard: Leon Camier? Chaz Davies? Eugene Laverty? Jonathan Rea? Tom Sykes? Marco Melandri! MAX BIAGGI!!!!!!!

Sentimental favorite John Hopkins rated his Suzuki reunion chances at 50% when speaking to BBC commentator Matt Roberts at Le Mans. What Hayden does for Ducati in the US market, Hopper might do for Suzuki…

All of the above are, in my mind, candidates for ONE of the likely two Suzuki bikes that may appear in 2014. But my pick for the other: Ben Spies. Spies and Crutchlow on competitive Suzukis in 2014? THAT would be good…

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

Photo: © 2008 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

  • zipidachimp

    didn’t we decide last week that mr.spies had lost his mojo? suzuki should choose to start fresh with some new faces from moto 2 and not current retreads.

  • Phil

    Get Cal Crutchlow.

  • thefundaddy

    I think Scott Redding should be on the LCR Honda next year, ready for when Pedrosa gets the boot from the factory in two years.

  • Trendmfg

    Scott redding is too large to fit a factory RCV. The VDS team should lease an M1 powerplant and build him a chassis.

    Suzuki should jump on Cal.

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    What if Rossi comes to his senses that he’s past it (another season festooned with mid pack finishes isn’t very good for his ego or his legacy) so he decides to retire after this year?

    I see Spies heading back to WSB after this season. I think he’s had it with MotoGP.

  • Ken C.

    I would love to see Spies and Crutchlow on the Suzuki squad. Unfortunately, I think Spies’ days in MotoGP are numbered unless he can produce some results this year. I sincerely hope he steps up. The Americans need a successful rep in MotoGP, no offense to Nicky Hayden who’s doing his best with crap machinery. Spies’ chances on the same, if not inferior equipment, aren’t good. Hopkins would be an interesting choice. He has a great relationship with Suzuki and the experience to boot, but he’s prone to injury and is arguably past his prime.

    The possibilities are endless. It’s early for silly season, isn’t it?

  • MP

    What about an Espagro one/tw0? Aelix and Pol on the same GP factory team? That would be a marketable package.

  • alex

    Suzuki needs to look high and low for a true professional and then let it be known that only backbreaking work is going to keep them in the seat.

    It’s time for teams to demand 20 million per year in effort and professionalism from their riders – not tribal tattoos and temper tantrums.

  • John D

    I see no possibility of a Spies reunion with Suzuki. Whether his fault, his results have not lived up to the hype. So, unless he will take a giant pay cut, I see better talent available elsewhere on the grid (Crutchlow) and in Moto 2 (several). I would really love to see a Suzuki satellite team in additon to a factory team. 16 prototypes, a couple of Honda production racers and an equal number of leased M1 engined bikes and CRT is gone…

  • Sluggo

    While reading your article, I kept thinking… what about Ben Spies? You saved my pick for last. Ben has had a rough time over the last two seasons, but still has speed & has won 3 titles for Suzuki.

    Based on hard riding & a never give up attitude, if anyone in MotoGP or Moto2 deserves a factory ride, it’s Cal Crutchlow. But, his factory ride should be a Yamaha. Unless he wins a race or two, I think Rossi will retire at the end of the 2013 season… Cal should inherit his ride.

    My pick for Ben’s teammate, Scott Redding… young, fast & smart.

    Wonder if Suzuki & Yamaha will pay me a consultant fee?

  • sideswipeasaurus

    First things first. Remove the idea of a factory M1 available next year or any of the other 3 top rides. Rossi will likely retire a factory Yamaha rider when he’s good and ready. Yamaha marketing and Dorna will see to that as long as the stands are filled will large swaths of day glo yellow and he turns in respectable factory #2 rider results.

    Pol hasn’t proven that he’s anyone’s answer to Marquez. He’s still got his hand full contending with the other Moto2 rivals. He may get slotted into Tech3 at someone else’s expense but his results don’t warrant a straight factory ride, unless maybe Suzuki can poach him.

    Crutchlow has the problem that there’s likely no where else to go but down so he might as well try and find a well paying factory ride at Ducati or Suzuki if available.

    Depuniet has his Suzuki ties and maybe that will carry him onto their bike but he STILL crashes too much. If they only field one bike I wouldn’t want to pin Suzuki development or future glory on him.

    Aleix-I could see him being an attractive option for Suzuki. Likewise for Redding but I figure him more for Ducati.

    Spies is the one I’d watch. As he was leaving Yamaha, considering WSBK, and then finally taking a one year deal with Ducati there was some hints about him and Suzuki. I think his one year deal with Ducati was a place holder and that he had plans further out than that. My bet is seeing him on a factory Suzuki.

  • Marc F

    Rossi retires from Yamaha, Crutchlow bums up to Factory M1.
    Spies moves over to Suzuki for seat #1, and as the seasoned development rider. They’ll remember him best from SBK, it’s a bridge he hasn’t burned and you know he still wants to prove himself in GP.
    If I were Suzuki, I’d bet seat #2 on the long game – one of the Espargaros. Not seeing anyone else available with podium potential, so may as well pick someone that can be there in 3 years. It’ll take the bike that long to get good anyway, and the old guys won’t wait for that.

  • Jonathan

    What? The four-stroke era has seen costs skyrocket? Really? And there was me believing all that guff we were spun years ago when the diesels were foisted upon us. Not.

    Interesting situation with Suzook – and I will be very happy to see ’em back, especially as they bailed from MotoGP just when it had begun to look like the bike was beginning to improve.

    They’re not going to have deep pockets, but as the article suggests, it would seem that riders with potential will queue for *any* factory ride (even the red poisoned chalice). Interesting point about Crutchlow possibly being minded of a Rossi retirement and an available factory Yamaha seat – but it’s a bit early in the season to even make a guess about that.

    One American rider in the team would certainly make sense and unless Spies can prove his fitness then Nicky would be my preference. I wouldn’t mind seeing Bautista back with them either, but tbh as long as it’s a competitive machine I don’t really care who’s riding it.

    So long as it’s not Stoner. :)

  • TexusTim

    I’m with you Crutchlow and Spies..this satisfy’s two markets and both would do well. I think both will be available at a decent price next year..still in the big bucks but not like honda or yamaha, taking it to the other factory teams..pricless.

  • Alasdair

    I say pull Redding up from Moto2 and give the other seat to either RDP or Crutchlow. I’m also going to predict that the GP bike is launched simultaneously with the next gen GSXR

  • crashtd

    What about Casey Stoner!! Uggh, that felt good to get out my system. Seriously though, wouldn’t it be great if Suzuki realized it needed bring in some more American riders. I don’t think Elena Myers quite has the talent, but Blake Young???!

  • Melvin

    What he said.

  • “I don’t think Elena Myers quite has the talent”

    Maybe a few more years. She’s definitely heading in the right direction.

  • SquidleyMcSquidson

    I think that putting Elena Myers on a gp bike is not realistic. Bring her to moto2 first and see what happens. The only AMA racer who deserves a shot at the world stage right now is Cameron Beaubier. Someone get that guy onto a moto2 bike!