Colin Edwards went head-to-head with the manufacturer MotoGP machines for the first time since switching to the new Forward Racing CRT project, during testing at Sepang last week.
After technical glitches on the opening day, Edwards - who made his Suter-BMW debut at a private Jerez test in November - lowered his best lap time by 3.5sec over the following two days to finish 5.115sec behind Honda's reigning double world champion Casey Stoner.
But the new category of privateer CRT bikes were never intended to threaten the front of the premier-class field. A more relevant time comparison is thus the 2.5sec gap to Cardion AB Ducati's Karel Abraham, the slowest of the manufacturer riders.
If that gap can be bridged then fears of a clear two-tier 2012 championship will be soothed - and Edwards insists he has another 1.5sec up his sleeve if a chronic chatter problem can be reduced.
“They've done a really good job with the bike,” he began. “I got behind Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden and a couple of other guys just to see what kind of power we have and surprisingly, the bike is pretty fast. It is not as fast as the factory prototypes, but it's got some speed. Engine and speed are not the problem, the BMW is very healthy in the horsepower department!
“At our first roll-out test in December at Jerez, we had some electronic issues that they solved and now I was really comfortable with how they smoothened out the power band. That part I am happy about. What we are struggling with are the new Bridgestone tyres they brought in for safety reasons. This new rear tyre is a lot better, especially for traction and for safety on the first few laps. But we have changed the rear and we haven't changed the front.
“My past experience with Michelin is that whenever you increase the contact patch on the rear, you have to change the front tyre as well, or you run into a chatter problem. At Jerez, we didn't have a chatter problem. But now, I have the worst chatter I have ever had in my life. I have zero corner speed. Without that problem, I could go 1.5 seconds faster and ride in the 2min 3sec very easily.
“We tried everything to fix it, softer and harder settings, different links and geometries, more than I ever tried with the Yamaha, but nothing made a difference. My feeling is that we need another modification on the chassis. The swing-arm is great, the whole rear end of the bike is good, but the front part feels a bit too stiff.”
“With the 2011 tyres, our bike worked very well, but with the 2012 tyres we have chassis vibrations”, confirmed Alessandro Giussani, MotoGP project leader at Suter Racing Technology. “Colin is happy with the rest of the bike.