3 February 2014
de Puniet 'crossing fingers' for Suzuki MotoGP wild-card
"I have a Suzuki MotoGP test plan and the wild-card would be a bonus... I will also do the Suzuka 8 Hours" - Randy de Puniet.
After 15 seasons as a grand prix rider, the last eight of which were spent in the premier MotoGP class, Randy de Puniet faces a big change for 2014.
The Frenchman is stepping back from competition to concentrate on MotoGP testing with Suzuki, a role he combined with racing a CRT Aprilia for Aspar last season.
“For me nothing has changed so far. I rode at the Valencia test last year and now I will be riding at Sepang 1 and 2. But after that it will be different,” said the 32-year-old, speaking to Crash.net at the Malaysian circuit on Monday.
“We have a bigger series of tests planned for this year. I will not be as busy as when I was a permanent rider, but still quite busy and it will be interesting because we will test at many different tracks - in Europe and overseas.
“This was my choice. Even if I will not race, the most important thing for me is to be happy and enjoy riding the bike. So this was the best thing for me even if I don't race.”
Suzuki, which withdrew due to the financial crisis at the end of 2011, is ramping up development ahead of its 2015 MotoGP return. As part of that process, there are rumours that the team could race as a wild-card at some events this year.
“I have heard [the rumours]. I'm crossing my fingers,” confessed de Puniet, who has claimed a premier-class podium on Kawasaki and Honda machinery.
“I hope so. It will depend on many things, including the performance of the bike. At the moment it is not clear. What I know is that I have a Suzuki MotoGP test plan and the wild-card would be a bonus.”
A race that is confirmed for de Puniet is the Suzuka 8 Hours. Part of the FIM World Endurance Championship, the event is considered the most prestigious single race of the year for the Japanese manufacturers.
“I know that I will do the Suzuka 8 Hours,” said de Puniet. “It's a race I really wanted to do. I don't know the team or who my team-mates will be yet, but it will be with Suzuki and I'll try and win it.”
Although not a Superbike rider, de Puniet competed at the legendary circuit from 1999-2003 as a 125 and 250GP rider. “I really wanted to do that race because I love Suzuka.”
This week's opening 2014 MotoGP test at Sepang will again allow Suzuki to gauge its progress alongside the leading manufacturers.
The big technical change for this season is compulsory use of a Magneti Marelli supplied control ECU system, although the Factory class will continue to programme their own software.
de Puniet is eager to work on adapting the new ECU system to Suzuki's inline four-cylinder motorcycle, so far know only by the code name XRH-1.
“I think the plan for this week is to work with Magneti Marelli [on the ECU system] because it is the electronics they will race with next year and it is stupid to continue with something different.”
In terms of where the most performance can be found on track, de Puniet picked out edge grip as the main issue.
“We worked hard last year and improved the bike a lot from the beginning. We must keep that going now. The main problem last year was the edge grip on tracks where grip was generally not so good,” he said.
“I think they have worked a lot this winter to bring some solutions - although I think here, with these temperatures, edge grip will not be so big of a problem!
“The pace has already been good but using different electronics. Of course I want to be fast, but the key is to keep making progress. Because if we keep finding solutions the lap time will be there.
“Okay there will be a lot of work this year, but I want to 'play' as well. I want to be fast and keep pushing myself, to be in the 'race' rhythm, also so we can understand everything.”
At present the Suzuki does not have a seamless shift gearbox - versions of which are used by Honda, Yamaha and Ducati. “I think it is the plan to make one, but I don't know when.”
A close second to team-mate Aleix Espargaro in the inaugural year of the CRT MotoGP class, de Puniet slipped to fourth in the final season of the privateer 'claiming rule' category.
Asked to compare the Suzuki to Aprilia's RSV4-based ART, de Puniet responded: “This is a factory MotoGP bike, CRT was a mix between Superbike and I don't know what. This is different in every way. The whole concept of the bike - the engine, gearbox, electronics.
“For me CRT was not a MotoGP bike, even if my team-mate last year did some very good races and lap times. If you compare that bike to the factory bikes it was a big difference.”
With that in mind, what about the replacement Open class?
“This is a good thing,” de Puniet declared. “Honestly I think they made a good choice to bring this style of bike because some are already close to a factory bike, and have four litres more fuel and the softer tyre to reduce the gap.
“I think it is a good solution to keep a strong championship.”
de Puniet and Suzuki will be on track at Sepang, home of the Malaysian MotoGP, from Tuesday to Thursday.
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