Loris Capirossi will start his second MotoGP season with Suzuki having finished in the top three at two of the three 2009 pre-season tests.
While last year's GSV-R, which Capirossi took to one podium and eleventh in the championship, lost ground relative to its leading rivals, the 2009 machine is a '100% improvement' and has been competitive at Sepang, Qatar and Jerez - where the Italian claimed third position during Sunday's 'qualifying' shootout at the Spanish circuit.
"I think this has been a very positive day, especially this morning because we found a good setting that made the bike very comfortable for me to ride fast. I worked hard with the whole team and tested many things and I now have a really good feeling - I can say that it is a 100% improvement from last year! In every test we have been competitive and this is very important for us,” smiled Loris.
“Today's third-place was in a 45-minute session, but the good thing is that this was like a qualifying session that we will have in the season and everybody had the same tyre so we have got to be pleased with that. The position today is good but we have to continue to work as hard as we have done this year.”
Capirossi's worst 2009 test ranking, at Qatar, was still sixth position, but he is anxious for Suzuki to keep building on its momentum.
“The Factory has done a really great job in the winter, but we have to continue because our potential is good, but not at the top and we need to be at the top!” said Loris, whose Jerez time was 1.111sec behind former Ducati team-mate Casey Stoner. “I want to say a big thanks to the whole crew for the work in testing and especially to Suzuki for the bike they have given us.”
While Capirossi was the leading Suzuki rider at Sepang and Jerez, team-mate Chris Vermeulen has been a close match for the 125 and 250cc world champion. The Australian was sixth at Sepang, led the GSV-R challenge with fourth at Qatar, and was fifth at Jerez on Sunday.
“I guess the time between Loris and me proves that the whole Rizla Suzuki team has lifted things and that Suzuki has done a great job in the off-season,” said Chris, who was less than 0.1sec from Capirossi. “It's the closest we've both been to the front in a qualifying session for a long while and hopefully it's a sign of what will be coming this year - if that's the case it's going to be a good year for us!"
Suzuki's relatively poor 2008 results were often influenced by lowly grid positions, and Jerez seemed to confirm that the loss of qualifying tyres will work in the team's favour.
"Everyone at Rizla Suzuki had hoped that the lack of qualifying tyres would help our race potential and looking at today's result that theory seems to be true,” said team manager Paul Denning.
“We can be satisfied that we are continuing to show good potential and that both Loris and Chris are evenly matched. The confidence of both riders is increasing all the time and our target has always been to keep improving and we will try to keep doing that. We are all now looking forward to racing and trying to replicate the pre-season performances where it really matters!"
On paper, Suzuki arguably heads into the new season ahead of Honda and behind only the leading Ducati and Yamaha riders.