Le Mans MotoGP: Two Suzukis in the gravel – the correct end to the beginning of the end?

MotoGP

Joan Mir and Alex Rins were super-fast at Le Mans but the doomed Suzuki team went home with nothing but broken bikes

LE MANS, FRANCE - MAY 15: Joan Mir of Spain and Team SUZUKI ECSTAR crashes at the last turn on the track during the race of the MotoGP SHARK Grand Prix de France at Bugatti Circuit on May 15, 2022 in Le Mans, France. (Photo by Steve Wobser/Getty Images)

Ten laps after Rins’ exit, Mir dumps his Suzuki at unlucky Turn 13

Steve Wobser/Getty Images

Le Mans was the factory Suzuki team’s first race since its staff had been told their services would no longer be required after November’s Valencia Grand Prix.

The 2022 French GP promised much for Suzuki but delivered nothing, except two broken GSX-RRs.

There’d been some hope of a dream victory to rile the factory management that had made the decision to quit MotoGP, but perhaps this was the perfect end to the beginning of the end of Suzuki’s half-century of history in MotoGP.

The factory team went about its business as normal throughout the Le Mans weekend and things were indeed looking good for the race: Joan Mir on row two (following Johann Zarco’s demotion to the third row for his Q2 brain fade) and Alex Rins on row three.

Rins rode a heroic first lap, slicing through the pack from seventh to third, starting the second lap right behind Pecco Bagnaia. Perhaps he really could win it!

Alex Rins 2022 French GP MotoGP

Rins was super-fast at the start – here he leads Bagnaia, Mir and Espargaro

Suzuki

But he was so close to Bagnaia that he got caught inside the Ducati’s not-inconsiderable draft, ran wide into the 125mph Turn 1, lost the front, charged through the gravel at barely reduced speed and got hurled to the ground when he re-joined the circuit.

Mir lasted another ten laps, riding superbly to stay with the Ducatis of Pecco Bagnaia, winner Enea Bastianini and Jack Miller, until he fell at the considerably slower Turn 13.

Breaking down the team garage and packing the trucks at the end of a race weekend is always one of the gloomiest jobs in racing, especially if you’ve had a rubbish result and especially when you know you’ll soon be out of a job.

Despite all that, Suzuki team morale hasn’t collapsed.

“I want to say thanks to them all,” said Rins. “It’s not easy when you don’t have a job for next year, it’s easy to lose your faith and motivation, but the team didn’t. Some of the mechanics are more up, others more down, but they all worked well.”

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Unlike many Suzuki MotoGP staff, Rins and Mir will almost certainly have top MotoGP jobs for next year, but at Le Mans they were still dazed and confused by recent events.

Rins took Suzuki’s bombshell the worst, because he’s been with the factory since he graduated to MotoGP in 2017. No wonder he cried when team management told him the news during the Jerez tests.

“It was a very bad feeling, direct to my body, after I had given everything to develop the bike over these years,” said the former Moto2 and Moto3 race winner who’s won three MotoGP races with Suzuki, in 2019 and 2020.

It was the young Spaniard’s misfortune to join Suzuki at the start of its worst year with the GSX-RR. Engineers wanted to improve corner-exit traction for 2017, so they increased crankshaft mass, but they went slightly too far and the bike became difficult to turn.

“When Suzuki told me they were stopping I was destroyed” Alex Rins

When you’ve got a heavy crankshaft spinning beneath you, at perhaps 18,000rpm, the crank will do everything it can to prevent you from shifting it from its current axis to flick the motorcycle into corners.

“That year we ate a lot of, let’s say, shit, because the 2017 engine was so bad,” Rins added. “It was difficult to turn the bike and difficult just to finish races. I gave a lot of information to Suzuki and since then we’ve done some really good races, so for sure when they told me they were stopping I was destroyed, sincerely.”

His Le Mans get-off was indeed spectacular and scared Miller, who saw Rins riding through the gravel at speed, wondering if his bike and Rins’ would collide at Turn Four.

“I didn’t know what was happening, I was scared, I shit my pants,” said Miller later. “Massive thanks to Alex for sacrificing to keep everyone else safe.”

Luckily, Rins was unhurt.

“It was so scary, really,” he said. “I was third, going good, no stress, riding well, when I arrived into the first corner behind Pecco. I braked at the exact same point as the lap before but in his slipstream, then when I touched the brake I lost the front. It was so scary.

“I went into the gravel and that’s difficult to manage because you have to control the bike at 200km/h [125mph], try to see where the other riders are and I had to try to avoid the crash with Miller. So I reduced my speed as much as possible and went out of the gravel onto the tarmac to re-join the race. But I exited the gravel with a bit of angle and I lost control of the bike.”

Rins was just thankful to have survived, whereas Mir’s slow-speed get-off had him thinking of other things.

“My crash was more painful mentally,” said Suzuki’s 2020 MotoGP champion. “The situation with Suzuki and also the fact that we’ve been one of strongest here makes it painful.”

Mir has never had a great time at Le Mans. He crashed twice last weekend and he had never had fewer falls at the French circuit. In 2019 he crashed five times: in FP2, FP3, twice in the morning warm-up session and again on the warm-up lap!

This will be Mir’s fourth and last year with Suzuki but he believes he can still run up front on the GSX-RR.

Alex Rins' damaged Suzukia bike is loaded into a truck at 2022 French GP MotoGP Le Mans

Rins’ battered GSX-RR is loaded into a Suzuki truck at Le Mans

Mat Oxley

“We have the potential,” he says. “The bike works, we show flashes of performance but at the moment I can’t put it all together to make the results we want. Today I was catching the front group – I could’ve fought for the podium.”

When Suzuki quits MotoGP at the end of this year it won’t be the first factory to walk away from motorcycling’s most expensive championship. Indeed Suzuki has already done it twice, at the end of the RG500 project in 1983 and at the end of the GSV-R project in 2011.

Will the Hamamatsu brand ever return? Who knows, but possibly not because the world is changing fast and Suzuki’s lack of interest in the motorcycle market has been apparent for several years.

If so, Suzuki will simply join the many other brands that have walked from MotoGP over the decades: Norton, Gilera, BMW, Matchless, Moto Guzzi, Ducati (at the end of 1972), Cagiva, Honda (end of 1967), Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki (end of 1975, 1982 and 2009) and many others.

That’s how the world works.