|For the 1978 season Suzuki had one serious threat; the Yamaha - Kenny Roberts combination. Yamaha were determined to win the 500cc world championship. Roberts had allready proven himself in the United States and was hungry for Europe.
Suzuki could only fight the American wonderboy by selecting the drivers carefully and let them make the best of the new bike; the XR22.
Team Texaco Heron Suzuki dropped Steve Parrish as rider, the kept Barry Sheene and Pat Hennen. The Italian Suzuki distibuter also ran a "factory" team ; the Nava Olio Fiat team, ran by Roberto Gallina (ex GP racer). The team used a factory XR14 and their driver was ex Yamaha nr1 Steve Baker. After their 1977 Dutch TT win the Dutch Suzuki distributer came also with a "factory" outfit, their driver was of course the 1977 Dutch TT winner : Wil Hartog also on a XR14 the team was managed by Hartog's manager; Ton Riemersma and the Dutch distributer Nimag.
|Sheene & Ferrari|
|Suzuki's new bike was named XR22, better known as RGA500. The bike was a step further than the succesfull XR14. Suzuki made major engine changes, the engine was still a "square four" type of engine and the bore and stroke where still 54 x 54|
|this is where the resemblance stops. To make the engine more compact and to change the centre point of gravity the front cylinders where put lower. This "stepped" cylinder lay-out made the engine shorter, lowerd the centre point of gravity and improved engine cooling.This design also allowed Suzuki to redesign the gearbox. The XR22 had a cassette type gearbox, this meant that by removing siz bolts it was possible to remove the gear cluster. This made it possible to change gear ratios in some twenty minutes, and when you would lay the bike on its left side its was possible to do it in fifteen minutes. The lower centre point of gravity reduced the wheely effect and improved cornering.
The chassis went also through some changes, the front brakes got 5mm larger in diameter and the rear disc gor 10mm shorter in diameter. This changes where possible because the tyres got better and where better able to cope with the higher brake forces, and since the rear brakes where "over braked" it was decided to reduce the diameter of the rear brakes.
The fairing was also redesigned , the fairing was fitted with a pair of 'wings' and the nose was lowerd to improve the airflow around the fairing. The new fairing gave the bike more downforce and more straight end stability.
|Hartog Nimag Suzuki|
|Hartog Heron Suzuki|
|The 1978 season started in Venezuela at the San Carlos circuit. After practice it were two Heron Suzuki's were sandwiched between the Yamaha's (Cecotto, Roberts, Sheene, Hennen, Baker and Katayama). It looked like it would be a tough race for the Suzuki guys and every one was looking forward to the battle of the giants; Sheene vs Roberts. Cecotto gave his fans a treat by leading the first round, Sheene was 6th after lap one, saying that he let the others pass him at the first hairpin "I knew it was better to save my power for the end of the race". Roberts had to quit in lap two after his engine seized, later Cecotto retired with a front tyre that got too soft, Katayama lead the race for eight rounds but gave in on the forces of gravity and crashed out.|
|Now Sheene was leading the race that ended in four Suzuki's taking the first four spots; Sheene , Hennen, Baker and Parrish. Yamaha's works racers didn't finnish the race. The next race, the Spannish GP was a victory for Hennen with Roberts second and Sheene 5th. This was bad news for Sheene who lost the championship lead to his team mate Hennen., this started a rivalry between Sheene and Hennen. Sheene wasn't that|
|Sheene & Baker|
|keen on Hennen being his team mate before the season started and now that Hennen was leading the championship matters got worse. After Hennen finishing 2nd and Sheene 3rd in France Sheene was very upset with Hennen for copying Sheene's tyre choice, but what Sheene didn't know was that Hennen used a completly different setup for his bike. Allthough Suzuki instructed everyone to work as a team and to present a team effort the reality was far from that. For the next race Sheene instructed his mechanics not to park anywhere near Hennen's. Sheene said his bad performance was caused by a bug he'd caught in Venezuela. For the Italian round Sheene managed to get a XR22 for Team Gallina racer Steve Baker, this also didn't help Sheene with Roberts winning the race, Hennen 2nd, Baker 4th and Sheene 5th.|
|Team Gallina : Steve Baker & Virginio Ferrari|
|When Sheene went to race an international race at the Chimay track in Belgium Hennen was racing on the Isle of Mann competing in the TT. Some people said it was foolish to race the dangerous track since Hennen was doing so good in the GP's and couldn't take any risk. But Hennen was racing for the money he could make there. The money he made racing GP's wasn't enough for him to pay his expences and his mechanics so races like this were interesting for him to even his financial balance. After some laps in the Senior TT Hennen was leading Tom Herron and broke the lap record when his riding started to get untidy, Hennen's TT ended at Bishop's Court, he crashed out on top speed in 6th gear. Hennen never raced again after this crash. With Hennen out Suzuki neede someone to replace Hennen and to assist Sheene in his quest for his 3rd world championship., the man to do this was Dutch ace Wil Hartog. Hartog won the Dutch TT in 1977 and his privatly entered XR14 and his first race on the factory XR22 was the 1978 Dutch TT. Hartog had some problems with his brakes at the Dutch round, the Heron mechanics adviced him to use the brake pads they used. At the first round Hartog missed a turn since his bike didn't brake as good as his own XR14, but he finished 5th. For the next round Hartog's mechanic used the brake pads that they used on the XR14 and this worked better. Hartog had his famous 'lightning' start and led the field. Hartog and Sheene pulled out when rain started to fall but Roberts reeled in Sheene what gave Hartog the chance to take a bigger lead. Later on in the race Hartog slowed down to see if he could help Sheene, that was were Suzuki hired Hartog for, but the team orders on the pit board was ; GO!!. On the last lap Roberts passed Sheene and Hartog made the gap between him and the rest even bigger. Hartog was very happy after taking his 2nd Grand Prix victory but Sheene left him puzzled after the race. Sheene was furious with Hartog for going for a win instead of helping Sheene, Hartog had only done what Suzuki's team manager ordered him to do.|
|Engine without gearbox|
|Engine with gearbox|
|Engine with 'lighweight' ingnition cover|