Bridgestone field engineer for Rizla Suzuki
Masao Azuma is the Bridgestone Field Engineer assigned to the Rizla Suzuki MotoGP team.
A former 125cc rider, Azuma competed in eight seasons of the 125cc championship from 1996 to 2003 with a best position of third place
in the 1999 Championship. His career tallied an impressive 10 victories and 20 podiums.
It is a great pleasure for me to be working so closely with the Suzuki MotoGP team as their designated Bridgestone engineer. We have worked very hard together in preparation for the 2007 season. There have been some key changes to the tyre regulations for this season which limit all riders to just 14 fronts and 17 rear tyres per GP weekend. That means that our tyre work with John and Chris is more critical and more individual than ever before. When developing the tyres we have to carefully analyse the data from previous races at each circuit and then take into account that the new 800cc Suzuki GSV-R has different technical characteristics to its 990cc predecessor. With higher cornering speeds from the 800cc bikes, edge grip as well as traction are very important, that means the amount of grip that the rider can extract from the tyre, entering, during and exiting the corners. This determines how well John and Chris can brake into the corner and how quickly they can accelerate out of it and is the key to quick lap times.
Alongside Bridgestone's race tyre development for 2007, we have also worked a lot on enhancing the performance of our qualifying tyres. The main difference between a race tyre and a qualifying tyre is its grip level and overall durability. Race tyres are designed to perform at optimum level for a race distance of around 120km, whereas a qualifying tyre is intended to last for one quick lap only approx 5km.
Qualifying tyres are much softer than race tyres in order to give the rider some extra grip to create more speed over the one lap that he will have to qualify. Qualifying and race tyres do not appear visually different but the times over one lap can differ by over one second purely because the softer-spec qualifier has higher grip, and its optimum performance is designed to be used for one lap only.
Race tyres have many varying factors. The three elements that we take into consideration when producing MotoGP tyres are construction, shape and compound. The construction and shape are the things that require longer lead times and these are essentially the foundations of the tyre. The compound is something that is very specific to the circuit, to the bike, to the rider and changes race-by-race. John and Chris have different riding styles, so we need to adapt compounds to suit their individual styles. Compounds range in hardness and can be softer, for example like the ones we used in Jerez, or harder like in Qatar, depending on how abrasive the track is.
All of these things have to be taken into consideration when developing our next generation of tyres. Rubber, either natural or synthetically manufactured, is the core ingredient of all Bridgestone tyres. Tyres are computer designed using Bridgestone's vast experience of each track combined with data from test sessions. The tyres undergo rigorous simulation and safety tests, resulting in changes to the compounds and constructions. Once the race specification is decided, a two-week lead time is usual to turn the tyres around. This season, thousands of MotoGP tyres will be manufactured in our factory in Tokyo, Japan, one fifth of which will be for the Suzuki team.
Based on the results of winter testing, John and Chris could cause a few surprises this year with some competitive performances. Their results from Qatar were very pleasing with fourth and seventh respectively, a track that has been tough in the past, so I hope that the Suzuki-Bridgestone package will be able to compete near the front at most GPs this season.