Chris Vermeulen believes the new Suzuki GSV-R MotoGP machine is 'consistently faster' than the underperforming 2008 version, leaving him encouraged for the season ahead.

Suzuki was the biggest surprise of the recent Sepang test, when Loris Capirossi posted a top three lap time over all three days - plus a race simulation around 18sec faster than he had managed on his way to seventh in October's Malaysian Grand Prix.

Vermeulen backed up the experienced Italian's performance with fourth, fifth and sixth places over the three days and a final lap time 0.623sec behind pace setter Casey Stoner (Ducati) and 0.404sec from Capirossi.

"During the time off Suzuki has been working hard, they brought new chassis, aerodynamics, electronics, engine - a lot of stuff," Vermeulen told Crash.net. "Not everything has been an improvement but the bike is a lot better, we're going consistently faster and we've definitely moved forward at this track.

"A lot of our information came from the Phillip Island test [in November], which is a track we've really struggled at. So to have things work here as well is a good sign for us for the whole season."

Like Capirossi, Vermeulen also completed a long run on the final day, albeit 15 laps compared with 19 for Capirossi.

The former World Supersport champion set an average lap time of 2min 2.644sec during that run, which compares with an average of 2min 3.865sec during 20 laps at the grand prix (excluding the first lap due to the standing start) which Vermeulen finished in ninth place.

Capirossi's average lap during his long run was a 2min 2.605sec, indicating that the two Suzuki riders are closer than it might appear from the test ranking.

Team manager Paul Denning recently told Crash.net that Suzuki's V4 engine had made just as much progress as the rest of the bike, but conceded that "a little more top power and top speed" is the main area of additional improvement.

"Chassis wise and electronic wise we've definitely made a step, but we still need to work on the engine," said Chris, the only Suzuki rider to win a race on the GSV-R, courtesy of his wet weather victory at the 2007 French Grand Prix.

"We have a little bit more power and the way the engine applies the power is now smoother," he said of the new powerplant. "Opening the throttle and getting the power down has traditionally a tough area for us, but the biggest area of potential improvement for us is still top speed, where we are a little bit slow."

As part of their efforts to increase top speed, Vermeulen and Capirossi took part in wind tunnel tests late last year.

"Loris and I went to Japan in the middle of November and tested in the wind tunnel, our body positions and also different parts for the bike and that's what they've developed now with the cowlings," he explained. "It's definitely helping us, a few kilometers an hour, which is good. The changes are just aimed at top speed rather than handling and they didn't want to take away any of the downforce or the forces we have."

2009 will be Vermeulen's fourth year at Suzuki and his second alongside Capirossi. While some MotoGP teams have a pit garage visibly (or invisibly) divided, the two Suzuki riders struck up a strong working relationship from the start of last year.

"Loris is only half my height and half my weight, so we have to get two people of such a different size on the same bike," smiled Vermeulen. "We work quite well together. For me it's great. This is his 20th season in grand prix, he's done something like 280 grand prix starts, so he's very experienced and he's a really nice guy, easy to get along with.

"We can work closely together to get as much information to the engineers to develop the bike, but come the first race of the year we will be trying to beat each other more than anything! That's normal."

Vermeulen has taken seven podiums, three poles and a best championship ranking of sixth (2007) so far in MotoGP. The Australian was eighth in the 2008 championship, two places ahead of Capirossi.