There was certainly a flutter of surprise when Sylvain Guintoli confirmed he was ending his MotoGP career in favour of a turn in the British Superbike Championship, with a successful two seasons of competing back on the world stage under his belt, it is a risk that is paying off.
Dissatisfied with a grand prix career in which flashes of brilliance never quite gave way to consistency, an impressive – if truncated – debut BSB season smoothed a path for Guintoli to rejoin the world scene by signing to ride a factory-backed Suzuki in the 2010 World Superbike Championship, before furthering his career aboard a privateer Ducati in 2011.
Some eyebrows were raised when Yamaha Tech 3 signed Guintoli, a 250cc privateer from 2003-2006, for the 2007 MotoGP World Championship - but the Frenchman went on to make Tech 3 proud and secure a seat for 2008, albeit with a rival team.
Guintoli had first joined fellow Frenchman Herve Poncharal's Tech 3 outfit as a test rider back in 2002, and made a one-off MotoGP race debut at Brno, before returning to full time racing - in the 250cc class - the following season.
2003 saw Guintoli claim his one and only 250GP podium finish, a third place at Assen, on his way to tenth in the championship with Campetella Aprilia. Sylvain stayed with the privateer team the following season, but slipped to 14th in the championship, before making the switch to Equipe de France for 2005 and 2006.
Guintoli was one of the top non-factory riders during those seasons, in which he finished tenth and ninth in the championship standings, but had also maintained his links with the Tech 3 team and, after several tests during 2006, was handed the second Dunlop-backed MotoGP seat for 2007, alongside Makoto Tamada.
Guintoli fractured his collarbone while testing at Paul Ricard in November 2006, but recovered in time to take the final world championship point on his MotoGP debut at Qatar. Sylvain then went from strength to strength, regularly overpowering former MotoGP race winner Tamada, whom he eventually finished 12 points and two places above (16th compared with 18th) in the world championship standings.
Notable highlights of a inspiring season were briefly leading his home (wet) French GP, only his fifth MotoGP race, finishing fourth at the wet/dry Japanese Grand Prix - 0.6secs from third placed Toni Elias - and qualifying fifth for the Valencia season finale.
Nevertheless, with double World Superbike champion James Toseland signing for Tech 3 in 2008 - and Colin Edwards moving from the factory team to occupy the second seat - Tech 3 was reluctantly forced to let Guintoli go. Sylvain duly signed for the satellite d'Antin Ducati team.
The Desmosedici GP8 proved a complex puzzle for all except Casey Stoner but Guintoli never publically complained, finished every race and scored points in all but one race. The highlight of his season was undoubtedly a sixth place finish in the soaking wet German Grand Prix, without traction control!
Guintoli finished the 2008 season one place and 25 points behind team-mate Toni Elias, in 13th position, but it wasn’t enough to save his flagging MotoGP career.
With a step down to 250cc machinery beckoning, Guintoli instead opted for a change of career path by reviving his reputation as a Superbike racer. Still, while a MotoGP racer switching to Superbikes certainly isn’t new, the fact Guintoli decide to race in the British national series with Suzuki was rather more surprising.
It didn’t take him long to get acquainted with his new machinery though, Guintoli taking pole position and winning his first-ever Superbike race. Indeed, Guintoli had arguably already achieved more in one Superbike race than he did in nine seasons of grand prix competition.
Having seemingly found his niche, it was a shame that Guintoli never got the chance to show off his full potential when a broken leg, sustained in an accident during the third round at Donington Park, would leave him on the sidelines for several months.
Nonetheless, Guintoli had still done enough in that short time to get ‘the call’ from the factory Suzuki World Superbike team when searching for a replacement to take over from Max Neukirchner.
Having made his debut with the team during a ‘taster’ outing at the Portimao season finale, Guintoli may have been the least experienced Superbike rider of the seven factory teams, but he didn’t betray as much when he came out of the blocks in Australia fighting. Just missing a podium – but leading a race and setting the fastest lap -, Guintoli joined title-winning team-mate Leon Haslam in reviving Suzuki’s fortunes.
As the season wore on, however, Guintoli’s outstanding ‘debut’ proved difficult to top, the Frenchman showing consistency, but never being anything more than just off podium contention.
Indeed, Guintoli’s reliability couldn’t be faltered – he finished every single race in 2010 -, but even a late season charge didn’t see him mount the rostrum. Even so, with what remained a fine seventh in the standings, it was a shame to see Guintoli given the chop as a result of Suzuki’s decision to scale down in 2011.
Nonetheless, Guintoli was still present and correct on the 2011 grid as part of the new Effenbert-Liberty Ducati project, the ambitious Czech-backed team entering the series for the first time. Testing was certainly positive, Guintoli – despite his satellite machinery – proving a front runner during the pre-season.
However, Guintoli’s season very nearly ended before it had even begun after a high-speed accident in the very first race left him with a foot injury. Even worse, the full extent of the injury wasn’t realised until a month later, and though Guintoli didn’t miss any events, it hampered his progress during the opening rounds.
Nonetheless, a long-awaited first podium at Miller Motorsports Park would signal a turnaround for Guintoli as he proceeded to finish inside the top ten in all but three of the remaining 18 races.
Peaking with second place finishes at the Nurburgring and Portimao, Guintoli scythed his way back up the standings from a low of 14th to an eventual sixth position and as the highest-placed true satellite rider.
Not surprisingly, Effenbert-Liberty retained its rider for 2012 with the target set to wins, an endeavour Guintoli finally achieved when he burst through to victory during the rain-affected round at Assen, in doing so breaking his and the team’s duck.
However, despite the joy of that success, Guintoli’s failure to replicate the same form over the rounds immediately following met with criticism from the Effenbert bosses. A relationship that quickly soured, Guintoli was sensationally dropped mid-season, Effenbert proceeding to raise more eyebrows when it went on the record to say it was down to his ‘poor results’, this despite being the best placed of its three riders in the standings.
Forced onto the sidelines indefinitely, Guintoli was thrown a lifeline from the rival PATA Ducati team, who expanded its line up to accommodate him for the final five events. It would prove a shrewd move on the part of PATA with Guintoli immediately at home on the bike to claim a second win of the season on his team debut at Silverstone.
Another podium followed at Portimao before Guintoli sealed a poignant third win of the year on home soil at Magny-Cours, in doing so lifting him to seventh in the standings, despite having missed an event between teams.
The best possible way to answer his Effenbert critics, Guintoli was subsequently in demand during the off-season with a deal initially in place to return to Suzuki machinery with FIXI Crescent Racing for 2013. However, the rumours of Max Biaggi’s retirement would prompt Guintoli to chase a possible title-winning seat, thus reneging on his agreement with an incensed FIXI Crescent.
The gamble paid off, however, with Aprilia announcing Guintoli as Biaggi’s replacement alongside Eugene Laverty. A chance for him to prove himself on accomplished machinery, Guintoli is being tipped for an immediate title tilt in 2013.Career Highlights:2013:
Having originally agreed a deal with Suzuki, Guintoli instead picks up Max Biaggi’s available ide at Aprilia2012:
World Superbike Championship, Effenbert-Liberty Ducati/PATA Ducati, 7th (3 wins)2011:
World Superbike Championship, Effenbert-Liberty Ducati, 6th2010:
World Superbike Championship, Suzuki Alstare, 7th2009:
British Superbike Championship (13 races), Crescent Suzuki, 8th (1 win)
World Superbike Championship (2 races), Alstare Suzuki, 33rd2008:
MotoGP World Championship, Pramac Ducati, 13th2007:
MotoGP World Championship, Tech 3 Yamaha, 16th2006:
250cc World Championship, Equipe de France Aprilia, 9th2005:
250cc World Championship, Equipe de France Aprilia, 10th2004:
250cc World Championship, Campetella Aprilia, 14th2003:
250cc World Championship, Campetella Aprilia, 10th2002:
MotoGP World Championship (one race), Tech 3 Yamaha, N/C2001:
250cc World Championship, Equipe de France Aprilia, 14th2000:
250cc World Championship (one race), Equipe de France Honda, N/C