Suzuki had its most successful MotoGP season yet in 2007. The new XRG-0 variant of its pneumatic-valve, 75-degree, V-four-engined GSV-R became an established front-runner in the 800cc formula's debut year, and it combined performance with reliability-Suzuki was the only manufacturer that didn't suffer a single mechanical breakdown in a race all season. At Le Mans in May, Chris Vermeulen scored the Japanese marque's first victory in five years of four-stroke Grand Prix racing and, like teammate John Hopkins, became a four-time visitor to the MotoGP podium in 2007. The Suzuki duo wound up sixth and fourth, respectively, in the final points table, and the Rizla Suzuki GP squad failed by just one point to tie with Repsol Honda as runners-up in the Teams championship. The chance to ride both riders' Bridgestone-shod Suzukis at Valencia the day after the final GP of the season underlined the big step forward that Suzuki had taken with the new GSV-R800-a bike that was competitive straight out of the box.
Like many of the current MotoGP bikes on the grid the Suzuki allows the clutch to be an afterthought once you've started the race. While Hopkins still prefers to use the clutch out of habit, Vermeulen doesn't use it at all after punching the launch-control button on the Suzuki's left handlebar just before starting. The Suzuki's gearbox was easily the best of any of the five bikes I rode at Valencia, with a light yet totally positive engagement. There were no issues shifting up or down through the transmission without the clutch, and everything worked faultlessly no matter what situation I encountered. That includes the back-torque-limiting systems, with the Mitsubishi ECU's variable-idle-speed setup ensuring that the GSV-R remained stable and planted under the most aggressive braking situations (in spite of ongoing tests with a Magneti Marelli package like that used by its Ducati, Yamaha and Kawasaki rivals, Suzuki still employs a Mitsubishi ECU governing the GSV-R's engine management systems). As with the other MotoGP bikes that permit you to forget about the clutch, the additional freedom allowed by this system pays major dividends when your control inputs are being forced to deal with the additional harsh G-loads imposed by the carbon brakes.
Pneumatic-valve actuation and a wider 75-degree V-angle have helped the latest version of the GSV-R significantly close the speed gap on the competition. The different V-angle and firing order have allowed Suzuki engineers to position one exhaust out the tailpiece, instead of the dual upswept megaphones of the previous generation.
The GSV-R800 feels incredibly similar to its 990cc predecessor I rode a year ago, both in chassis architecture and, surprisingly, in terms of engine performance, too. Despite the decreased engine displacement there's the same muscular pull from as low as 8000 rpm out of slower turns. The V-four engine picks up revs very fast, however, and you need to be on your toes with regard to rpm, as it seems that in the blink of an eye the bright-orange shift lights atop the 2D dash begin flashing brightly at 16,800 rpm. There's quite a way to go before the rev limiter cuts in at 18,000 rpm-slightly lower than I expected given the 75-degree V-four's pneumatic valve operation. However, in the MotoGP world of pushing engines to the limit it's quite possible that in actual race trim the rev limit is higher.
It's easy to find yourself making friends with the Suzuki's rev limiter, because not only does it rev very quickly, its fluid and linear power delivery masks any sense of where you are in the powerband. Up top the GSV-R's powerplant is as smooth as an electric motor, much more so in 800cc form than any of its rivals. That said, the ride-by-wire throttle response was pretty abrupt on Vermeulen's bike, so I had to exercise care where and how I opened it. By contrast Hopkins' bike felt more controlled from a closed throttle, although both bikes exhibited identically monstrous acceleration anywhere from 10,000 rpm upward.
With the airbox taking up...
With the airbox taking up the majority of the space atop the frame, what appears to be the fuel tank is just a cover, with the bulk of the actual fuel tank located beneath the rider's seat. One of the high-pressure fuel-line fittings is just visible in the bodywork opening.
It's pretty obvious that Suzuki's engineering team has focused on power delivery rather than outright numbers. Peak power is only really important in delivering top-end speed down the straights anyway; around the rest of the track what really matters is torque and power delivery, and in that area the Suzuki excels. Sure, the Suzukis may have been the slowest of the five manufacturers down the ultralong Shanghai front straight at the beginning of the season, with Hopkins on level pegging with Rossi's Yamaha at 202 mph, trailing the Hondas and Kawasakis by as much as 4 mph and a massive 7 mph down on the flying Stoner's Ducati. Yet look at the end-of-season points table and it's easy to see the top-speed deficit wasn't that big a problem. Of course you can bet that Suzuki's engineers haven't exactly been ignoring peak power during development of the '08 machine.