Four Reasons Why Toni Elias Is Winning Superbike Races

Last season, the Yoshimura Suzukis were fast but always came up a little short. What has changed?

Yoshimura Suzuki swept both MotoAmerica Superbike races at Barber Motorsports Park, continuing the remarkable reversal from last season in which Yamaha-mounted Cameron Beaubier and Josh Hayes completely shut out Roger Hayden and Jake Lewis.

During the Barber post-race press conference, I asked Hayden—first in race one and second in race two—if he could pinpoint any differences in the current GSX-R1000 that had turned this season around for Yoshimura Suzuki.

“No,” he responded, noting that if any number of a half-dozen close finishes last year had gone his way, race one at Barber being one of them, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

After the press conference, I approached Hayden’s new teammate, Toni Elias. “I think you are the difference,” I said. “No,” he replied, shaking his head.

Elias wasn’t being humble. After he won pole position in Utah, his first in the MotoAmerica series, we picked up the conversation I initiated at Barber and he explained how the factory Suzuki continue to evolve.

1. Improved Power Delivery

“When I arrived, I was very surprised about the power of this bike. It had a lot of power, a lot of speed, but I felt the power delivery was a little bit uncontrollable. I didn’t have control of the rear grip. We worked in the first test to fix that.

“Some problems for traction come from power delivery, and power delivery was, in my opinion, too aggressive. We worked with the technicians to calm it down. They did a great job—calm, calm, calm.

“Finally, we arrived at a point in which we thought: ‘Okay, it’s better, smoother, but I don’t have enough power.’ Then we had to come back a little bit and find a compromise.

“This bike is from 2009, and maybe we need to know the rules for the future with electronics to work in different areas. Some areas have power that is more controllable. In other areas, the power is more aggressive.

“Right now, I can’t have everything that I need in every area of the track. We are always in the middle—a compromise. At this track, for example, if you come out of the last corner and don’t have enough power, you lose maybe three miles per hour.”

Toni Elias, MotoAmerica, Yoshimura, Suzuki, Superbike

During his 17-year Grand Prix career, Toni Elias won races in 125, 250, and MotoGP, plus the inaugural Moto2 world title. With two rounds remaining in the 2016 MotoAmerica series, Elias has five wins and is third in points.

Photo by Brian J. Nelson

2. Easier Directional Changes

“We improved this area a little bit, but the problem is still there. When you feel both tires on the ground, the bike becomes easier to ride. Sometimes you only feel the front wheel, and it becomes very difficult to change direction. When this happens, it’s really, really tough.

“We worked to find better turn-in, we worked to find more traction, but this problem is always there. Sometimes less, sometimes more, but it is always a problem. Suzuki is already thinking to improve in this area. The new GSX-R is narrower, so we will see.”

“This championship is growing. TV has helped a lot. I hope Honda, Kawasaki, and KTM come back but in an official way. If we have eight or 10, wow, we will have great battles.

“Ducati has the potential to be here in the future. They have a good bike in World Superbike, and enough budget with Audi to prepare something for the United States.

“I think the future will be good for America. Maybe it’s not going to be like the past, but I’m sure it can grow a lot. Our sport is a good sport. It’s not boring.”

Toni Elias

3. More Mechanical Grip

“My technician, Daisuke ‘Dice-K’ Hashimoto, has a lot of experience, and we understand each other well. When I ask for some things, he understands me quickly and we find a good solution.

“I didn’t have confidence to be more aggressive with the bike because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I said, ‘I’m not going to open the throttle more because I don’t know if the same highsides that I had at [Circuit of The Americas] are going to happen again.’

“We thought of another solution that has given me more confidence. When I know the traction control is there, the bike is sliding, but I know I am safe. Then, I can push. This doesn’t make me fast; it just makes me feel safer.

“We always work to find more traction but not in the electronic side, always with geometry and suspension. If you find the traction you need, the traction control is working less but always there. That is safety for me.”

Toni Elias, MotoAmerica, Yoshimura, Suzuki, Superbike

Race motorcycles, see the world: “I don’t know if I will be here next year, so I stop everywhere—like a tourist.” The 33-year-old Elias has spoken with Yoshimura Suzuki about 2017, but “we have to wait for the new rules.”

Photo by Brian J. Nelson

4. Consistent Base Setup

“COTA was the only track that I knew. My problem was when we arrived at Road Atlanta, New Jersey Motorsports Park—more American tracks—with blind corners, up and down. I started to have problems that I didn’t have at COTA.

“That wasn’t just because I didn’t know the tracks. The bike and I were not ready to be at those tracks. We started thinking in a new way. It has not been easy, but every day was a little bit better.

“We found a package at the last race in Alabama, and I now feel very comfortable at those kind of tracks. I felt the same when I arrived here in Utah. This is a good track for me, but also the bike is working good.

“Now, I feel calm, like I am ready for every condition—dry, wet, fast, up and down, blind corners. I think we can be competitive everywhere. My goal is to have the best setup for every race.

“The only track I am worried about is New Jersey because the last time we were there it was really cold, and I suffer in cold conditions. I hope this new setup is going to help me in that condition, too.”