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 told 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 "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.

"It's great working with Loris," said Vermeulen. "I got along great with John and I'm sure it'll be the same with Loris. We're sharing information and ideas. Everything is going really well."

"Loris has very much lived up to our expectations," said Denning of the nine-times 500cc/MotoGP race winner, aiming to make a new start after a tough fifth and final year on a Desmosedici. "He's done a huge amount of laps and is, I think, riding with a margin left. He's not hunting for a lap time but seeking to understand the bike. Nevertheless he's lapped faster on our bike than he did during the race weekend on the Ducati. We've no complaints. He's definitely got a huge amount of motivation and seems to enjoy the way the team is working.

"Loris has got so much experience that, technically, it's interesting the amount he's bringing to the party," Denning continued. "He's quite detailed in his analysis, very much like Chris is, so they're quite a good match. They are already working together and talking a lot. They're both very hard racers, and have had a lot of close races together over the last year or two, but I think they'll help each other quite a lot as team-mates, and then go at it hammer and tongs in the races. They've got very similar ideas on what the bike needs to make it better, so that's also going to help."

Suzuki finished the first of the three Sepang winter tests with Vermeulen fifth and Capirossi a closely-matched sixth. Honda's Nicky Hayden was 1.9secs faster than the GSV-R duo, but set his record-breaking time using a qualifying tyre on last season's machine.

"Nobody is going to score points at this test. Both the guys seem very focussed on real testing and really understanding the bike, I think that's going to be the most important thing come the first race," said Denning. "We're looking forward to the race season and making sure we have the best package possible for then.

"I'd say we've achieved as much, if not more, than we expected in terms of understanding the new bike, making reasonably good performance with it and developing some new strategies and ideas that are going to help next season. I couldn't be happier, a really good test."

Meanwhile, former World Supersport champion Vermeulen, preparing to enter his third MotoGP season in 2008, is working towards only one goal.

"Obviously the ultimate target is to win the world championship next year," declared the 25-year-old. "But that also depends on the other teams. We'll have to see how it goes..."