Suzuki Europe MX2 Team Co-ordinator Jens Johansson reflects on the 2010 season and the development of the RM-Z250 from World Championship competition to future production models.
2011 was a year of attrition for the Suzuki Europe MX2 team with Grand Prix rider Valentin Teillet luckless with injury but still able to show the competitiveness of the factory-backed RM-Z250 in five of the six rounds he completed with strong top-10 results.
There were other bright spots such as Italian teenager Simone Zecchina being given his GP debut on the best equipment possible and using the experience to go on and clinch the European 125cc Two-Stroke series riding an RM125. Young Swiss rider Jeremy Seewer was also given support and took the potent RM-Z250 motorcycle to an eighth-placed finish in his class during the first moto of the Motocross of Nations.
Here Technical Co-ordinator Jens Johansson provides some perspective on the racing campaign that finished a fortnight ago in France.
This was the fourth year for the MX2 project. What is your evaluation of 2011?
"I think to say it is a 'lost year' is maybe a bit harsh but due to rider injuries we lost a lot of decent track time. We had to wait from October to January and then got going for five or six weeks, stopped for two weeks with a back injury, started again and then had a broken toe; overall we have been really limited with what we can do. Valentin basically had to get used to riding again in January which meant that there was not much testing being done. We managed to do some very small adjustments before the first Grand Prix; things to do with engine mappings and settings. We learned a lot but it was not really a step forward. Since then we have made some developments in that direction but we have not been able to test.
"We were also in the situation where as the practice bike was not identical, we'd get to Grands Prix in Germany and Latvia and we find out that he needs power in a certain area whereas before he had been riding on slick tracks and didn't need the bike so aggressive. Add to that things like the congested GP calendar when the bikes have been on the road for three weeks in a row and basically we have not been able to do as much as we would have liked to this season."
People might assume the bike is sorted pre-season and perhaps don't realise the amount of work that actually has to go on through a six-month campaign...
"We are in a lucky situation because not all teams have the possibilities we have. We can change things during the year and we have options. To do things like switch major engine components is a privilege and it is why we could react to Valentin's requests."
Did the positive approach to development come off the back of a very successful 2010? If so, then how might that change after a tough season this year?
"In the end you always need something to show for the work but the relationship with the engineering department in Japan is really good and the rapport is as good as it can be. I believe Suzuki trust in what we do and its support is excellent. Sending the best information we can as soon as we can helps us all to move forward. We have stuff coming now that we are ready to test for next year or even the year after."
Do you think the RM-Z250 is still a priority in terms of racing development?
"I can't answer that fully and of course MX1 is the main class but there is a lot of engine work that can be done on the MX2 bike. Personally I see MX2 as more of a challenge but that doesn't mean it is necessarily more important."
Do you think the engineering department see MX2 as much as a challenge as you?
"I hope so!"
The set-up for the team this year without a title sponsor and using just one rider means it has not been easy. Will you be able to keep the same team structure and approach for next year and even over the winter?
"We could see that in 2010 we ended the year with a good technical package, a really competitive bike, and now one year later I think it is still the case. With the introduction of fuel injection by us and other manufacturers I think this has moved the goal posts forward in terms of 'rideability' - there is no 'bogging' - while new noise limits have made things more difficult from a technical side. I am not saying that it is easy to gain power because of fuel injection on this bike but I think the technical challenge with FI and noise regulations means you have to work quite a lot on these things to have a powerful, rideable and quiet engine and I believe we managed to do that last year already. It is pretty complicated and we did a good job last year to still be in a position engine-wise with the bike we have now. There are limitations; one of those has been with the rider this season, as I have explained. There have also been restrictions with budget and staff. We can do a good job with one rider but we have been under-staffed and it has been a fight against time. I don't think we will make any huge steps in the next year but we have stuff coming and we can still improve."
Do you think you have contributed to the upcoming MX2 production machine?
"Absolutely. We are in this for racing first of all but it is obvious that when we send good feedback the bike progresses and everyone can see that in World MX2 the RM-Z250 has grown to be every competitive. I think it is now a fantastic base for a good production bike."
The orientation of the MX2 project seems to be shifting more towards youth and with the link with the two-stroke riders Jeremy and Simone, will it be harder for the four-stroke GP effort to retain that 'factory-backed' status because of this?
"I don't think so. To attract young guys you need something at the top level so they can see both long-term and short-term and say something like 'that will be my bike in two years.' For promising teenagers it is hard to look all the way to MX1 with the many race-winners and big heavy bikes so you need a competitive package in MX2 Grands Prix to act a bit like the carrot on the string. We want to give the opportunity to young Suzuki riders and give them a realistic vision that they might be able to ride for us. We want to keep them on Suzukis and give them something to aim for. The European series is a separate budget and won't cost us much in terms of manpower; MX2 remains our main goal."