We’re not in the habit of trying to drum up sympathy for world championship racers here. But it’s fair to say that they get some dreary gigs to attend for their multi-million Euro contracts. Racing is nothing without the fans, but it’s also nothing without the megabucks sponsors too. And the folk who write the marketing cheques that pay for those £100,000 engines, £50k brake calipers and the like, all want a little bit of the action in return.
So when the MotoGP circus rolls into town, riders might find themselves chatting to suits from a finance firm, or schmoozing with folk from the European HQ of a big global electronics brand, when they’d much rather be doing something else…
But this gig, on the Thursday before Silverstone, was a bit different – and even the most jaded of MotoGP pilots would be pushed to complain too much. Suzuki is launching a new in-house oil and chemicals brand, Ecstar (we had to look it up too, duh). And to showcase it in the UK, the Suzuki GB folks hooked up with another of their ‘partners’ – this time Radical Sportscars. These guys, based in Peterborough, use the Suzuki Hayabusa engine in their totally bonkers race and track cars. And we’re here to watch Maverick Vinales have a spin in one… probably literally.
We’re at the small Stowe circuit - a modified triangle that I’d not been round in years – for the gig. And your man Vinales looks right at home in the little race car, donning his bespoke Alpinestars fireproof overalls, getting a special foam seat insert made up for him. A few thumbs-up pics, and he’s off.
Half an hour later, and he’s back, and ready for a chat. He gives us a bit of a spiel about how his season is going so far, and what he expects for the rest of the season. (Click here to find out his worst smell in the world and whether he has knowingly broken the law)
Which of the remaining tracks is he looking forward to the most?
“For me it is Phillip Island, because there the bike doesn’t count for much, so you can put everything on your riding style. So Australia is one place, we would like to make it really good there.”
How has the Suzuki GSX-RR has improved this year
“The progression has been the engine and the seamless [gearbox], you know, the seamless makes a lot of progression in the bike.”
So the engine improvements have been the most important factor in the bike’s development?
“Yes the chassis is a little more, it’s quite similar till we find a little bit more grip, but the engine is where we improve more.”
How much more power? Is it more peak power, or in the midrange?
“I don’t know, maybe 10bhp, I don’t really know, I don’t ask! But we improve 9-10km/h top speed.”
How has the seamless transmission helped?
“For me, when you are in the leaning in a corner, and you start to change, the bike doesn’t move, and you can control much better. Also, the tyre durability is better.”
Has it been an advantage to not have spent years and years riding around on Bridgestones before changing to Michelin?
“Yes, for me it was good you know, because when I exit from the Bridgestone and went to the Michelin, for me it was normal. I didn’t get used to the Bridgestone, so already from the first day we were quite fast.
Are Michelin getting the job right?
“They are doing a really good job, yes.”
Is there any point in the intermediate tyres?
“I didn’t really try the intermediate, I try it only one time in Mugello, and it works quite good, you know, wet and dry, works quite good. I try in Sachsenring also the front and it was good, no problem. But not necessary I think.
Next year you will get potentially the best bike on the grid, how does that feel?
“It feels great you know! It’s not the same, when you work for something like next year, your motivation is much more higher.”
And you will have the GOAT as a team-mate. Apart from Colin Edwards, he doesn’t have the greatest of histories with the other guy in the garage. How do you think this will work?
“No, honestly, at the moment we have quite a friendly relationship and also for our interests is to continue like this you know. And honestly it can be a good work in the garage.”
Can you predict how much you will have to change your riding style to suit the M1 as at the moment, you’re pretty wild?
“Not a lot, you know, yeah, I think when I ride with Lorenzo or Valentino, the lines are not so different. Maybe my riding style is a little bit different, on the bike, but the lines are really similar! Which is good – I was happy to know this!”
Do you feel any pressure being perceived at the next big thing?
“No, that’s great you know, if people think like this, it is perfect, it means that you can do this. You need to work to be fast. But sure I am ready to try to be the best!”
What needs to change in MotoGP to bring the field closer together?
“I think you know, normally, it is four bikes you know, normally the Hondas and the Yamahas are in one level, and then you go back from there. And if you have the chance to be on that bike, there’s more your position and that’s great.
“Anyway this year things come more closer, and normally some races like for example in Austria there were six in one group until the middle of the race. And I think from the electronics that are a little bit more standard, that makes everything more close.”
Have the Michelins affected this?
“No, because maybe at the first practice sessions or in the pre-season yes, but now everyone has a good level and everyone knows the tyres, it’s normal now.”
We know that your favourite film is Top Gun – can you complete this Top Gun phrases: “Tower, this is Ghost rider requesting a flyby. Negative Ghost Rider…”
“Ha ha – yes! This is in the first movie when they go to the Top Gun and he passed full gas the tower! And the guy spills the coffee!”
Do you have a road bike?
“No – I get enough acceleration on the track! In Spain everyone can ride a scooter when they have their car license for three years, so I have a scooter. None of the [MotoGP] riders have road bikes really.
What car do you drive?
“Well, I have a Suzuki of course, and it’s very nice… But I also have a Nissan GTR, which is really fast. I’ve tried Ferraris and all the others, but the GTR is so special! My car has 680bhp, but the new ones have 730bhp, so I think I need to get a new one!”