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MotoGP Interview - Eskil Suter: EXCLUSIVE

Eskil Suter - founder of Suter Racing Technology - talks Moto2 return, Danny Kent's exit and Tarren Mackenzie's arrival, the company's modern version of the legendary 500GP two-stroke and much more…
Crash.net:
Looking at Suter Engineering online it looks like quite a complex organisation, how big is the company?

Eskil Suter:
We have a number of business units but at the moment the main concentration is on engineering and development for industrial, racing and other clients.

We work in many fields including aircraft engine development, work for defense and general industrial applications.

The company employs 40 people and we are slowly, slowly growing. Every six months or so we usually welcome a new employee as new projects start for Suter Engineering. I don't think that we'll get that much bigger in the future as we are a nice comfortable size and any increase would be problematic because of space.

We are small enough to have great flexibility but have enough employees so that we can bring a good workforce to bear on a project in a short time. Also any new units being set up will exist independently so that they don't interfere with existing business.

Crash.net:
What proportion of the business is motorbike related?

Eskil Suter:
Lets say that about 40% of our time is spent on bike related business but that's not just racing but also includes engine development.

Given my history though I would say that that side of the business is very special to me, motorsport is part of our DNA. Motorsport really helps with our motivation and work atmosphere.

When we see the bikes doing well on the Sunday we all feel it and it provides motivation and passion.

Crash.net:
…and if there are a lot of crashes you know they'll be plenty of spare part orders…

Eskil Suter:
No, no, it's not about the crashes. It's just a general enthusiasm for bikes that young guys have; the noise, the excitement, the speed. For us it's like working with a hobby.

Crash.net:
Are most of your bike sales to the GP racing world?

Eskil Suter:
You know, at the moment we are not selling a lot of bikes because we don't have a lot of teams using the Suter. We also sell some for use as a track day bike but only occasionally.

One bike that we are selling though is our V4 500 MMX 500, which is the first full Suter motorcycle.

In the past we've developed engines or chassis or developed whole bikes for other companies. We developed the Mahindra which was released under their name but this is all ours. It's a Suter bike.

Sure the Moto2 bike is a Suter, but it's got a Honda engine.

Crash.net:
So you developed Mahindra's Moto3 bike, is that what is known as the MMX 3

Eskil Suter:
No, that was a former project of ours using a Honda motor. The Mahindra was completely developed by us for the first three-years, but they are now continuing the development themselves.

Crash.net:
And what possessed you to decide to produce a full-blooded 500cc two-stroke GP bike?

Eskil Suter:
It's a really beautiful bike. Around 2010 we were sitting around wondering which direction to go in and I still had quite a lot of two-stroke technology from my racing career lying around. We had a chassis and all the bits and pieces and really all we had to do was to make an engine.

It was just small talk from the café, we wanted to do something fun which wasn't necessarily connected to the daily business.

I thought it was a shame that a bike like that had never been made commercially available, you could only get them produced by racing factories from Japan and if you can't buy one you've got to make it.

The two-stroke 500s were special and we knew there was a big community of fans for them (including us). We saw that projects like the Ducati Desmosedici had done well, they sold all of them despite the fact that it cost 100,000 Euros, so we felt it wasn't a crazy thing to do.

There is a market for them and we produce them to order. Believe me, they are a hell of a lot of fun to ride.

We actually went for a displacement of 580cc just to get a more friendly torque curve. We needed to fill out that two-stroke torque hole that you get at about 8,000 or 9,000 rpm and now the torque curve is beautifully flat and it's great to ride. It's still wild but it's really useable and you can just pull it straight through from 500rpm.

Crash.net:
You've sold it to me Eskil, how much is the bike?

Eskil Suter:
About 120,000 Euros.

Crash.net:
Ah…

Eskil Suter:
But remember what you get is pretty much a factory machine. 20 years ago a machine like that could cost millions, it's all hand built of titanium, some parts hand cast and manually machined. It's a bespoke factory bike, in fact I believe that it's even faster than those GP two-strokes.

It's got 195hp but the friendly torque curve in combination with the modern chassis and tyres means that if you put an experienced rider on it he could probably match MotoGP times, maybe P10.

When I was riding it at Jerez I was only about 4.9 seconds off Rossi's 500 lap record and I'm 50 years old and 50kg too heavy. I think if you put Marquez on it he'd do a 1:39 but I'm sure that Honda wouldn't allow that.

Crash.net:
How many have you sold?

Eskil Suter:
Around 20 or so but it's ongoing and we're preparing the next batch.

Crash.net:
…and the MMX 2 is the Suter bike that we know from Moto2?

Eskil Suter:
Yes, that's ongoing and now with the four riders including young Tarran Mackenzie we've got using the chassis it should increase as we get results. We've got some really fast riders like Schrotter, Cortese and Aegerter to help develop the bike.

The last bike we make is the MotoGP MMX1 which has a BMW engine. We've got a few of those out there being used by private customers as a track bike.

Crash.net:
Why do you think everybody suddenly decided to leave the Suter Moto2 bike for 2015?

Eskil Suter:
If you've been in the paddock for a while you'll see that it's the normal way to behave, it's the same kind of behaviour that you might see towards Ohlins or White Power. If someone wins using a particular brand then everybody just moves in that direction and everybody thinks it's the brand doing it.

Also I think we made a tactical mistake. When we were being used a lot we always worked at having a technical advantage by trying to solve each problem as it came along by maybe using a different swing arm or linkage. We always tried to solve all problems technically at the time and our riders felt that their problems could be solved from that direction.

Our riders always felt that they could go faster using some new part. With Kalex it was different in that they didn't approach it from that direction, if you were on a Kalex you just had to go out and to go faster you had to look at yourself or find it in the set up of the package you'd got.

Crash.net:
So perhaps you were giving riders unrealistic hopes of technical solutions when the real answer to their problems was elsewhere?

Eskil Suter:
Exactly. Our riders were always looking to a new part for the bike rather than concentrating on the racing line or looking at their set up.

That combined with the kind of herd mentality meant that people felt that you needed a Kalex to win a race but now I think people can understand that it's not the Kalex that wins, it's the rider. The guys who are coming back from Kalex can now see that the grass isn't greener on the other side of the fence.

Crash.net:
Is there an element of cost, are the two bikes about the same price?

Eskil Suter:
From what I know they cost about the same. Riders who use more than one brand say there's nothing magic on the Kalex, Suter, Mistral, Speed Up or KTM. It's all about the rider, crew chief and team.

Crash.net:
If it really is purely about the rider then wouldn't it be a good idea to use a bike which is seen as not so good from the outside, because then when you get good results you get more credit for it like Bradley Smith did on the Mistral or Sam Lowes on the Speed Up?

Eskil Suter:
From the paddock's point of view I think that people are starting to understand that there is no guaranteed magic Moto2 chassis, it's all about the rider.

It's like if you give a rider to Aki Ajo he can make a world champion out of him because he knows how to work with the rider and the situation the same as MarcVDS do and that's how to win a championship rather than endlessly looking at the bike.

Any bike on the Moto2 grid can win.

Crash.net:
So you think an unfancied bike like the Mistral can win?

Eskil Suter:
Yes, sure why not. If you give it to Aki Ajo with the correct rider he'll get the championship within two years, I guarantee it.

Crash.net:
Did you need to do some marketing to persuade strong riders like Dominique Aegerter to come back to Suter?

Eskil Suter:
Actually they came to us. You've got to understand that when Dominique and also Tom Luthi swapped to the Kalex I think their results actually got worse, so there really isn't any persuading needed. Also when using the Kalex you learn that you won't get a technical solution, you have to concentrate on yourself.

Dominique for example was completely lost on the Kalex, like many other guys. You've got to remember that there aren't only Kalexes at the front, there are also Kalexes at the back.

Moto2 has developed in a way that isn't very technical. In the past the mechanics, rider and technical people used to work like a football team together to make a winning package but in Moto2 there isn't that so much - it emphasizes the rider.

In a way, as a technician, for me that isn't the spirit of motorsport. I like a few more ingredients rather than just the rider. If you look in Moto3 you've got a few more variables. Last year we could see the rivalry between KTM and Honda and then Honda worked hard over the winter and now their bike is looking good again. I like that kind of extra dimension and for me that's motorsport.

If you bring all technical factors down to zero, OK they can be good races to watch but for me it doesn't have that extra factor. I can understand that it was done for cost reasons but even so I preferred a more traditional approach or one more like Moto3.

It's not as if it would be that expensive because in Moto3 you can't do development over a season so if your bike isn't good at the beginning you're stuck with it until the next year. Also with a series like Moto3 it is cheap enough so that even small companies can get involved like we did with the Mahindra. It lets small companies fight against big ones where a small company's motivation can allow you to triumph over a big one.

In Moto2 we only compete against fairly small companies like Kalex or Speed Up but I'd really like to compete against Honda or Yamaha.

Crash.net:
How closely do you stay in contact with the teams using the Suter, is there a Suter engineer in the garage for example?

Eskil Suter:
In the past we always had a truck at the race track but at the moment with four riders you don't have to supply so much, so we just supply parts directly to the teams. There are always one or two Suter technicians at the race track to support the teams though and to learn from the problems they have.

We don't have the Suter technician in the garage itself because the team has to be able to work in their own way. We try to stay in the background to get data from how the teams are working and to help them resolve issues and also to spread good ways of working from one team to the other. We want all our riders to be successful.

Crash.net:
If I compare the bike from 2014 with the 2017 one, are they broadly similar?

Eskil Suter:
It's a completely different bike, different swingarm concept, different rear linkage system different everything.

We needed to make a lot of changes because we haven't been involved for two years so we needed to take account of how the new tyres work with different damping set-up and so on.

Crash.net:
How do you develop the bike, do you employ a test rider?

Eskil Suter:
Yes we use test riders, you have to, but it's not a rider just for that, we use our current riders like Cortese and Schrotter. You need to do a lot of testing because on these bikes you can really adjust everything from bad to bad and the correct setting is normally somewhere in the middle.

Crash.net:
You're a fast rider, do you ever test things yourself?

Eskil Suter:
It's a company rule that I get a go on any new bike we produce!

But as regards the Moto2 bike I'm just too far off the pace to be able to give good data. Generally the bike is already very close so to be able to get the last few tenths you need to be a competitive rider.

I ride more for the fun. The Moto2 bike is very nice to ride because it's simple and smooth. When it comes to fun though the 500 is so much better. Nowadays I go to the track with the 500 quite often, I just like riding it.

Crash.net:
Have you ever tried the Kalex?

Eskil Suter:
No I haven't. It would take focus away from our way of working. I feel quite sure that at slower speeds all Moto2 bikes have a similar feeling and you could set the Kalex up so that it's more like a Suter but then it probably wouldn't be so fast anymore. You've got to do things your way. A bike is a complete concept and mixing them can't help.

Crash.net:
Riders have often told me that the Kalex is perhaps a little more forgiving of a bad set up...

Eskil Suter:
This is really not true anymore and it's more like a paddock rumour. Maybe that was the case with some of our first bikes, but now not anymore but the problem with paddock rumours is they carry on regardless of the truth.

There were riders who couldn't find a set up on the Suter and then blamed the bike but when they go to the Kalex and can't find set up there the blame on the Suter still stays.

There are just some riders who understand that they've just got to get on with riding and not f**k around with the technical aspects all the time, rather than concentrating on what they're doing. If you mess around too much technically you get lost in all the options.

They feel that maybe they're going slow because they've got the wrong linkage rather than not going hard enough on the throttle.

Crash.net:
But Danny Kent went in the opposite direction from Kalex to Suter and has now left Suter, do you know why that was?

Eskil Suter:
He actually told me that he had no problems with the bike. He said that he believes the bike is great and has a lot of potential but somehow he lost the motivation with the crew and there were also some minor mistakes.

But it's got to be said that his move is really difficult to understand and he really shouldn't have made that move because normally you also have to go through bad times with your team. For me, in motorsport you take a decision for the whole season and a season isn't that long.

If you've taken the wrong decision for you then you have to make the best of it and live with it for the year and then try and find a better solution for the next one.

I remember when I was racing I took the decision to go with a particular suspension supplier and that decision turned out to be wrong because at the time that suspension really wasn't performing and on top of that I was one of the only riders on it. But I gave my word to them so we stuck with it and tried to develop it and make it better through that difficult year. I gave them my word for the year though and learned from that experience about how to make better judgments for the following years.

With the young guys nowadays though it's more difficult because they are dealing with such a short career and everything has to happen today. Nowadays if you get to the age of 22 you're already missing the bus and if you're 24 you should get a pension!

Crash.net:
So you think it was more of a team thing than a bike problem?

Eskil Suter:
He told me clearly that he was happy with the bike but just couldn't get the motivation together in his situation. In the test at Jerez he was bloody fast you know, he was in the top two or three riders and I had really big hopes for him and saw him as our best rider. I thought that if Danny could have put things together properly that he might get a podium.

Crash.net:
People do say that he's one of the more naturally talented of the riders.

Eskil Suter:
Yeah, yeah, it's difficult to say what is talent and what isn't, but you also need to have the character and mental strength to maybe go in the garage and fire a mechanic if you're not happy with them or change your crew chief. These are the kind of things a rider has to do if things are really going wrong.

Crash.net:
With regard to Moto2 I often notice Moto3 champions having difficulty there, do you think that Moto2 is at a good level to be an intermediate series?

Eskil Suter:
Again, in bike racing it's always the rider. You have some who adapt very quickly to a bigger bike and some that never get there. It will always be like that regardless of the bike.

In the past we had a Swiss rider Stefan Dorflinger who was really fast on the 80 but the 125 was already too big for him and don't even think about putting him on a 500. There was also Alex Barros who was not so good on the 80 but became one of the top 500 riders. I never liked the small bikes either and just wanted to ride 500s.

Crash.net:
And the level of the Moto2 bike?

Eskil Suter:
For me it should have a little more technical possibilities so that you can work on the engine mapping and braking so that it feeds better into MotoGP. On the other hand it does seem to work out quite well in that anyone who was fast on the Moto2 bike is usually also doing a good job in MotoGP, just look at Zarco or Folger.

I think that Moto2 is the world's hardest motorcycle class because if you're 1.5 seconds behind pole then you're in 27th position, you're a f**king loser! As far as I'm concerned if you're losing 1.5 seconds you haven't done anything wrong, a couple of tiny mistakes. Even a second will take you to 20th.

In Moto2 your position can look terrible but you've actually done a great job. You need to get everything perfect all around the track on every lap or you're lost.

Perhaps if the bikes had a bit more power and electronics then at least there would be a bigger gap between the bikes.

Crash.net:
I remember when Moto2 first started you would sometimes see six bikes go into a corner at once, but recently it has become a little more processional…

Eskil Suter:
That's because all the bikes are the same and the teams have optimized all the settings. You can't get an advantage. The bikes are now fully dialed in.

Crash.net:
But it sounds as if you would welcome having different manufacturers being involved with the engine as well?

Eskil Suter:
Well that's just my opinion. Other people think differently, but I'm old school and for me racing should have technical competition too. It tests the riders technical feedback and team work. That's what makes racing, racing.

You may as well have just a single brand bike for everyone, for me it's more like a Cup series. I'm sure that you would get the same racing if you just had 30 Kalexes and in the morning told each team to choose one like in a Rookie's Cup. The problem is that it has to be like this for economical reasons, it's a cheap way to go racing but if you just gave everyone an R6 you'd probably get similar racing.

I think it should be like it was in the past where you have different engines, manufacturers and you just have regulations to limit things like capacity and rpm and so forth but the manufacturers have to be involved.

If you just have no-name brands involved the racing isn't very interesting for the bike industry. If you had for example a Kawasaki-engined bike on the grid you might attract support from a Kawasaki dealership or importer.

You notice that we don't have any Moto2 bikes in national championships because national championships are often supported by the big dealers and importers. Today in Moto2 you need to have sponsors that have nothing to do with motorbikes because the manufacturers don't have any involvement.

When you see that there are no national Moto2 championships you have to feel that maybe there's something wrong. For me Moto2 would immediately spread into national championships if we allowed any brand of engine to be used within the rules. But remember, this is just my opinion; I don't want to get too involved in politics.

Crash.net:
I have heard that Triumph will be supplying the Moto2 engines in the future, do you know if that's true?

Eskil Suter:
That was once the rumour but maybe that's now not the case but I don't have any more information than you. Before the rumour seemed quite concrete but now it doesn't seem so concrete anymore. For me it doesn't matter because I don't like the standard engine anyway.

Crash.net:
Lastly, how did Tarran Mackenzie get chosen for the other Kiefer Suter ride? Were you involved in the choice?

Eskil Suter:
Sure, I talked with Stefan Kiefer also Niall Mackenzie who I know from before. The important thing for us was also which riders were available, we went through all the national championship to see if we could find a rider talented enough to go to Moto2 and Tarran was on the list.

We were also talking with Nicki Tuuli [WSS], a couple of Spanish guys; Augusto Fernandez, Alex Medina and we also talked with a couple of American riders including JD Beech. We were really looking around but in the end of the day it also depends on what their contractual situation is.

We didn't just want to find a rider who would pay money, we wanted to find and develop talent. Even though he's talented we don't expect instant results in his first year because Moto2 is so tough. It'll be a huge, huge step up from BSS into Moto2 because as I said I think it is probably the hardest class there is.

I'm really looking forward to meeting him and having a chat with him and maybe I can give him some input towards becoming successful in Moto2.

I think Jack Miller absolutely did the correct thing in moving straight to MotoGP. If you have the possibility of not going into the Moto2 shark tank then take it. It's not just a matter of talent, a few wrong decisions, a few slips, an accident and you're right at the back.

Crash.net:
…and apparently Danny Kent was offered a Pramac Ducati MotoGP ride in his championship year.

Eskil Suter:
Yes, though I can understand the decision to go to Moto2 because it is such a good school for motorcycle riders to understand that racing is not just fun but also really hard work.

You can see that with Zarco, maybe at the time he didn't have the biggest talent but he was always working really hard and you can see the result now. Without what he learned there I don't think that he could have been so successful in MotoGP. Winning the championship twice shows how hard he was working

Crash.net:
Thanks for that Eskil interesting and informative as ever.

Eskil Suter:
Thanks a lot.

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by Christian Tiburtius


Tagged as: moto2 , suter , 500

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