By Peter McLaren
The 2007 MotoGP season was still underway when Suzuki gave a prototype version of the 2008 GSV-R its race debut, at the hands of test rider Nobuatsu Aoki in last month's Malaysian Grand Prix - and by the time the team returned to Sepang for testing last week the '08 was already around half a second quicker than this year's model.
"We started the test on the '07 and then took the settings from that over to the '08 and it worked really well," Chris Vermeulen
at Sepang. "Loris [Capirossi] said the same. We have a new chassis that makes the bike easier to turn at various lean angles - something both John [Hopkins] and I had asked for. We will get the full version of the new engine later. Aoki has been testing it and is not quite happy with it yet. We're really lucky to have someone of Nobu's experience; it really speeds up the whole development process."
"The engine is similar to the '07 at the moment and there is a new engine coming in January, but the engine performance in this hybrid model is already better than in the '07 bike," team manager Paul Denning confirmed to Crash.net
. "Acceleration, top speed and aerodynamics are all improved on the '08. Turning and general handling is also a little bit better and it generally seems a little more versatile.
"Chris made a 15-lap run, with the track at over 55 degrees, and kept every lap in the 2min 2secs [Suzuki's best race lap was a 2mins 3secs]. Based on our race result here [seventh and eighth with Vermeulen and Hopkins] the new bike is probably half a second a lap quicker."
Suzuki used the same 'early start' tactic to great effect with the 2007 bike - which Vermeulen took to a first ever grand prix victory, in the rain at Le Mans, while Hopkins claimed his first four podiums and fourth in the final world championship standings.
"It's really important to get the new bike out as early as possible," confirmed Vermeulen. "We did the same last year and it turned out to be Suzuki's best ever year of four-stroke MotoGP racing."
Denning added that the '08's early start was a refection of Suzuki's commitment to its grand prix project.
"Suzuki's factory development department has essentially got it together now," said the Briton. "They're working in a very progressive way and it's great not to have to wait until the end of January for the new bike and then discover that you need to take another direction with it - then it's too late.
"We've done two days at Valencia, another three days here at Sepang, and now we'll go and do another two days at Phillip Island. By the end of Phillip Island we should really have some very clear direction, which Suzuki can then use to develop more parts in time for the January test here."
With Hopkins 'turning green', Vermeulen has been joined by former Ducati hero Loris Capirossi
for 2008. The pair had several on-track clashes last season, including a qualifying tangle at Shanghai, but neither are the type to take such incidents personally.