|Voltcom Crescent Suzuki is making the final preparations for its assault on the 2014 eni FIM Superbike World Championship, and with the team’s equipment on its way to Spain for the first shakedown test of the pre-season, we took a moment to sit down with Team Manager Paul Denning to get an insight into what can be expected from this year’s new look Voltcom Crescent Suzuki squad.|
Paul, there is a lot of buzz around the team this year with your new racer line up. How do you feel about the two signings?
Extremely positive, but at the same time a sense of expectation is upon the team to deliver a structure and a motorcycle that is good enough for both Eugene and Alex to display their undoubted talents and their race winning pedigree.
Alex was a fairly easy decision to make, as soon as his availability became clear towards the end of the 2013 season. Particularly towards the end of the British Superbike Championship he displayed incredible race craft, determination and maturity for his age to perform as he did and for me the decision was very, very easy. We felt that bringing him to the team would only bring us positive benefits and that his development career wise as a rider and our step by step development as a team would be a good match, and we would be able to do positive things together. Alex has already vindicated our decision in the first Jerez tests, he and the GSX-R already appear to have a good relationship and we are excited about the future – we have an option on Alex for 2015 as well and I can’t see us not taking it up!
We’d been speaking to Eugene for a good couple of months but to be honest it required more than just a lot of tenacity and effort to secure his commitment, it also required a decent dose of luck and maybe some other teams and manufacturers being a little less consistent and focussed in their efforts. It was a huge positive when I got a call saying “great let’s do this, no further discussion required, I’m happy to ride a Suzuki in the 2014 championship” but it was rather late in the process and it meant that we weren’t able to go ahead with Leon, which was unexpected on both sides. But, we are here to do our best as a team, for Suzuki, for every sponsor and for every individual who has put so much effort in over the years, so when you have the opportunity to sign a rider who’s just narrowly missed out on winning the championship, has won nine races and finished on the podium 19 times in the season there is simply no choice but to make it happen. It’s a privilege to have two such fantastic riders on the team, we are already enjoying working together and despite the weight of expectation and pressure, it’s a positive pressure and we’re looking forward to it.
Alongside the racer introductions there are other new additions to the team structure, how are the team moulding together and what benefits are you hoping your new staff bring to the overall development?
Part of Eugene’s requirement to ride for the team was to bring his own crew chief Phil Marron who is a part of the Laverty family, being married to Eugene’s sister, and has worked professionally with Eugene over the years with great success. Phil has experience of the Suzuki, having worked with the TAS British Superbike team a few years back, he’s a very easy going, organised and professional guy and has fitted in seamlessly. The biggest change in terms of the team’s structure for 2014 is having Davide Gentile on board, who has extensive experience with ECU strategy development with the Yamaha factory team and more recently with Ducati Corse. The ECU strategists are motorcycle racing’s equivalent of Formula 1’s Aerodynamicists at the moment - they are the guys who hold the key to releasing the performance of the bike and helping the rider to use all of the massive performance that the engines are developing these days. Davide (or Italian Dave as we prefer to call him) has moved to London and has settled in well with the team, he has a very practical and down to earth attitude, but his academic, intellectual and practical knowledge has already brought huge benefits. Working alongside Tim Seed, our other electronics expert, and Lez Pearson and Phil Marron as crew chiefs, Davide’s already brought a lot to the party and it’s going to make a big difference to our performance as the season progresses.
What are your expectations of the team’s performance for the coming season and on how the new rules will affect this?
I personally don’t believe the regulations in the open Superbike class will have any effect on the standings relevant to each other, of the different teams. It’s possible the performance of one or two of the competitive bikes may not be able to improve compared to last year or may even slightly reduce based on engine durability requirements and the new air-box regulations but the differences are not huge, so I think the relative performance will still be more about overall bike development and how the best riders gel with their machines and are able to use all of their ability to fight with each other. So I think the effect on results will be about the performance aspects rather than the regulations.
How do you see the Evo class affecting the racing and the championship as a whole?
I hope it will fill the grid with some competitive bikes and competitive riders, there are already a couple of quite interesting entries. At certain tracks there is no reason why an Evo class bike shouldn’t be able to run with a full, open class, World Superbike spec machine, but the problem with the Evo class is that the current regulations really only means that one or two manufacturer machines are really suitable and that is all you will see in the class for 2014. Hopefully as the discussions regarding 2015 regulations go forward we’ll see sensible modifications of the current Evo class regulations into something that retains the ethos of cost saving and simplification but allows all the bikes to be competitive and enter the championship.
Who do you see as your main competitors this season?
We are a team that is growing; we grew in competitiveness in 2013 compared to the team’s first year in World Superbike. We didn’t win a race last year and we have a fairly realistic and humble approach to 2014 in that we know what the potential of the riders is, we know what the potential of the GSX-R can be, but in order to maximise a result from that potential we are going to have to do everything right and continue working in an ultra-committed way. It’s clear that the main competitors are going to be the competitive guys from last year plus one or two others, I expect the Ducati to improve and with the rider line up they have they should be more of a factor over the course of the championship. It’s a tough enough job getting fully prepared and fully ready to start the World Championship so early in the year in Australia, given that the freight leaves early February, so there is enough to concentrate on getting ourselves ready without worrying about the competition! When we line up on the grid at Phillip Island, it will be fairly clear at that point.
What are your expectations for the upcoming tests?
The four days in Almeria and in Portimao are really going to be shakedown tests; I don’t think the temperatures at either track are likely to be particularly conducive to ultra-fast running. We are also in a position where the Suzuki has to improve, has to be developed and has had some significant changes compared to 2013; on the electronics side, mechanical side, new suspension, new brake components, there’s a lot to get through so our hope is to have four solid days defining yes or no on certain components and certain strategies and then being able to go to the Phillip Island two day official test, go quick and start working on a detailed setting for each rider.
What do you think of Suzuki’s MotoGP™ project and will Crescent have any involvement in the venture?
It was a partial surprise to see Suzuki delay their return to MotoGP from 2014 to 2015 but with the uncertainty in the regulations and various changes occurring late 2013, it was a fairly sensible and understandable delay. Certain key people within the test team like Tom O’Kane and Russell Jordan were guys that have worked with us before on the Grand Prix project and they have very positive feedback about the commitment of the factory and the level of the bike, and anyone that has been lucky enough to have seen the bike at the NEC show or in action at any of the European tests last year can verify that it is a beautifully designed, ultra-compact and exciting direction that the Suzuki engineers have taken.
On a personal basis I don’t have any particular desire to get directly involved, at least right now. Grand Prix racing is the ultimate but it is also politically and logistically the toughest championship to be involved in. In World Superbike the mixture of Suzuki’s factory support but our own flexibility - to operate and develop the team in the best way that we see fit - is a refreshing change and is a bigger challenge but more enjoyable in many ways. Certainly not having the security blanket of Suzuki’s financial underwrite behind the team causes a few more sleepless nights but at the same time the satisfaction of delivering a result is a great deal better. I think Suzuki has a big opportunity to come back in to MotoGP in 2015 and do very well. There may be some interesting stuff that we are involved with in 2014 and we are looking forward to helping the factory one way or the other with development over the course of the year. In the main, I wish for nothing but success for the project and for everybody involved.
What are your long term objectives for the Crescent team?
Motorcycle racing is a difficult business in that it tends to be quite short term, a lot of agreements are only on a year-by-year basis but we have been lucky, aside from our very long term relationship with Suzuki, to secure a number of additional partners for 2014, details of which we’ll be releasing formally very soon. Crescent also benefits from a great team of committed, talented people. We’ve been doing this consistently since 1996, so I would suggest therefore the long term objectives are to continue to create stability for the team, try to put together a slightly longer term plan that makes sense for Crescent and for all the partners involved and ultimately, and most importantly, to win. We started in British Superbike racing in ’96, progressed very quickly to winning British Supersport and ultimately the British Superbike Championship and we haven’t signed Eugene Laverty and Alex Lowes in order to finish ninth or something in the 2014 WSBK championship. We’re committed to making 2014 a big year for everybody involved and the better the result, the better for the long term prospects of the team itself.
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki takes to the track at Almeria in Spain on the 16th January in the first of two pre-season tests before heading to Phillip Island in Australia for the official Championship tests on 17th and 18th February and the opening round of the 2014 eni FIM Superbike World Championship on the 23rd February.