The 2021 FIM Endurance World Championship schedule will feature five races spanning five nations, with the season kicking off at Le Mans in France with the 24 Heures Motos in mid-April. 2021 will also see three major races return to the calendar after being postponed in 2020.
Jorge Viegas – President of the FIM
“Once again we will do everything possible to ensure that the FIM Endurance World Championship has a worthy calendar, one that can offer all the protagonists a balanced and exciting competition. Even if the pandemic is not over, the FIM and Eurosport Events are continuing to work tirelessly to deliver an unforgettable show thanks to the ongoing support of the organisers and National Federations in each country.”
Following the last race of the 2019-2020 season in Portugal last September, the 2021 season of the FIM Endurance World Championship will open in France on 17 and 18 April with the 24 Heures Motos at the Bugatti Circuit in Le Mans.
The 8 Hours of Oschersleben is scheduled for Sunday 23 May in Germany. Then the FIM EWC will once again stage the Suzuka 8 Hours, to be held in Japan on Sunday 18 July just before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
The Bol d’Or will take place on the Paul Ricard Circuit at Le Castellet in France on 18 and 19 September. As in 2020, the 12 Hours of Estoril wraps up the 2021 season in Portugal. The race will be held on Saturday 16 October at the circuit near Lisbon.
François Ribeiro – Head of Eurosport Events
“We have not put the pandemic behind us as yet, but ensuring the sport’s continuity remains a priority for 2021. Every single race will take place as scheduled whatever the conditions of spectator attendance at the circuits, and the 2021 calendar will help teams keep their costs in check. All of the championship’s big classic races are back to offer fans an exciting show ahead of the first-ever 24H de Spa Motos in June 2022.”
The Japanese-backed F.C.C. TSR Honda France team have clinched victory at Le Mans, ahead of Webike SRC Kawasaki France Trickstar and Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, with SERT continuing to lead the championship standings with a 40-point lead.
Three different constructors and three different tyre manufacturers stood on the 2020 24 Heures Motos podium. Bridgestone-shod F.C.C. TSR Honda France notched up their second win at Le Mans with riders Josh Hook, Freddy Foray and Mike di Meglio.
At the end of the first eight hours of the 43rd edition of the 24 Heures Motos, F.C.C. TSR Honda France were still holding on to first place and scored the 10 bonus points awarded after the first third of the race. The team spent the whole night at the front of the pack, maintaining the lead over their rivals, to collect a further 10-point bonus at the end of the 16th hour. During the night, Di Meglio even set the race lap record with 1’36.985. The trio of riders did not make any mistakes during this picture-perfect race and eventually crossed the line taking the chequered flag to win the 24-hour race.
Making their first outing on the track using Michelin tyres, Webike SRC Kawasaki France Trickstar defended their second place to the last thanks to Jérémy Guarnoni, Erwan Nigon and David Checa. They finished one lap ahead of Dunlop-shod Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (Etienne Masson, Gregg Black and Xavier Simeon), who held second on hour four, before settling into third overnight.
Unfortunately, two hours from the finish, Black was involved in a collision with a lapped rider and needed to come into the pits for a quick repair and after five minutes, the team – headed by Damien Saulnier – was back on track in third position; a position they held until the flag.
Following a crash early on in the race, YART Yamaha pushed hard to get back into the leading pack. Throughout the night, YART were the quickest team on track, taking advantage of the grip provided by the Bridgestone slicks in the cooler, dry conditions. Chasing down fourth position, Hanika powered through a wet Sunday morning before Canpea took over as the track dried out, closing the gap to BMW in fourth, catching and passing them with just over three hours to go.
YART’s podium chances were reignited with two hours remaining after a crash for the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, who were running second at the time. Despite the best efforts of the Czech rider, he couldn’t match the pace of the repaired Suzuki, who strapped on the dry tyres while Hanika was still on wets. YART Yamaha turned their attention to bringing the bike home in fourth, which they were able to successfully do. YART’s Karel Hanika, Marvin Fritz and Niccolò Canepa finished in fourth place, five laps behind the winners.
BMW Motorrad World Endurance Team, solidly anchored in fifth place, lost their position after Ilya Mykhalchyk crashed at the tail end of the race. The factory BMW team were unable to cross the finish line and therefore not classified. The late-stage drama enabled F.C.C. TSR Honda France to shoot up to second place in the provisional championship standings.
It also benefited VRD Igol Pierret Experiences, who inherited fifth place, ahead of 3ART Best of Bike and Polish team Wójcik Racing Team, which included Australian Broc Parkes alongside Gino Rea and Axel Maurin – who became winners of the EWC Dunlop Independent Trophy.
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team now leads the standings from F.C.C. TSR Honda France, with Yamalube Yamaha EWC Official Team by YART third overall.
As a result of the fickle weather and constantly changing track conditions, the teams were under pressure for the entire 24 hours of this year’s race. Stray showers in the final stages of the race forced the teams into some chancy tyre strategy.
The race also threw the FIM Endurance Championship open. Five of the six factory teams are grouped together at the top of the provisional standings with less than a month to go for the final, which will play out on Saturday 26 September at the 12 Hours of Estoril in Portugal.
Ducati is missing from that group, despite some great performances by Team ERC Endurance all weekend long. The German team did their utmost to stay within striking reach of the leading pack at Le Mans. But they ran into a number of problems, running out of fuel, crashing more than once and experiencing technical issues, ultimately withdrawing at the end of the night with an electrical problem.
A BMW team won for the first time this season by dint of running a flawless race in the Superstock class with riders Stefan Kerschbaumer, Lucy Glöckner and Toni Finsterbusch. GERT56 by GS Yuasa’s win ahead of No Limits Motor Team and Moto Ain also throws open the FIM Superstock World Cup. Moto Ain, who finished on the podium despite multiple crashes, still top the provisional standings, but the points gaps are narrower on the eve of the final at Estoril.
Two other teams in this category lost their chance at the overall win. BMRT 3D Maxxess Nevers and Wójcik Racing Team withdrew after several crashes.
The only Aprilia-mounted team, local squad and 24 Heures Motos regular Aprilia Le Mans 2 Roues, were given the Anthony Delhalle EWC Spirit Trophy. After Nelson Major crashed, Eddy Dupuy and Marco Boué pushed on throughout the night as a two-man team to keep Aprilia in the race. The Aprilia #15 crossed the finish line in 27th place with Nelson Major making a comeback to take the pressure off his teammates. Their combative spirit won them the trophy launched in memory of Anthony Delhalle.
Josh Hook – F.C.C. TSR Honda France – P1
“It was an unbelievable race! We headed in this weekend with the new bike, the team had only few months to prepare it and we arrived here and got the job done. The new Honda Fireblade SP is amazing, straight out of the box it’s already competitive and surprised us all, riders and team, because we went faster on that bike than on any other bike directly. We kept on improving the bike and we arrived in Le Mans with a bike that was able to win the race, and we knew that from the start. A massive thank you to the team and our partners that worked so hard to get this new bike up and running. They deserve this victory and I’m happy that Freddy, Mike and myself were able to do it!”
Freddy Foray – F.C.C. TSR Honda France
“When you look back, you realise that the Fireblade made its first steps and won the race today. I just want to say a big thank you to this team for achieving an incredible performance because at the start of the week we didn’t know what to expect from a bike that started from scratch. Sharing this with the team and my teammates is fantastic too. I would like to congratulate Mike for riding really well and also Josh who was injured and made it through to the end. This is the second win we’ve shared here with the team and it’s great. A few weeks ago we didn’t even know if it would be possible to race because of the sanitary situation and today we are in Le Mans and we won the race, it’s just magic!”
Mike Di Meglio – F.C.C. TSR Honda France
“It was a crazy race! Right from the start I thought that the race pace would be much faster, and as we were starting from a new machine I was ready to accept to let my rivals go. I made a good start and I was second behind Gregg Black, who I quickly overtook at the end of the first lap, and then I started to ride with my own pace. I was quite surprised to see that I was able to build up a gap so I calmed things down a bit during the first stint. When a few competitors started to make mistakes with the tricky conditions, we chose to stay focused on our pace. Then during the night, I started to understand how the bike worked and to have fun with it, and I set quite good lap times. The team did a really fantastic job on the new Fireblade SP, we trained as much as we could during the whole Covid period and we won in the end, that’s great.”
Damien Saulnier (Team Manager) – Suzuki Endurance Racing Team – P3
“For sure, we are always aiming for victory but after this very complicated race, with changing weather conditions and many twists and turns, I’m really satisfied with this third place, especially since it’s a great deal for us in the championship. We are still leading the championship but it’s not over yet. There is still one race left and in Endurance you never know what can happen until you cross the finish line! Once again, I would like to thank all the technical staff and the riders for the great work they did. I am very proud of them. I would also like to thank the ACO and Eurosport Events for the organisation of this event in a complex sanitary context. And last but not least, a big thank you to our sponsors for their strong support despite the difficult year that we have all experienced.”
Karel Hanika – YART Yamaha EWC Official Team – P4
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow. We were, of course, aiming to be higher in the standings. I’m very sorry for the crash in my first stint. I felt good on the bike, and when the rain came, I didn’t feel like I was pushing, but when I arrived at the corner, there was more water than I expected and slipped off breaking the handlebar. We lost a lot of time, but from there we did our best, each rider was strong and the team did a great job. We were the fastest on the track, we could do 1:37s, but in the end, we did well to come back to P4 – not the podium we were hoping four but got good points. We are still able to fight for the championship in Estoril, but it’s tough to go to Portugal with no trophy here in Le Mans. I want to thank the team for standing by me, it’s my first crash in an Endurance race, but we all stuck together and did our best to recover. Bridgestone supported us a lot, Yamaha has made a great bike, so I thank everyone in our team, and we can bounce back stronger in Estoril.”
Broc Parkes – Wójcik Racing Team – P7
“We got it! Team 77 after 793 laps finish the legendary 24 Heures Motos race in a great seventh place! We also won the Dunlop Trophy. Unfortunately, after 14 hours of the competition due to the failure, the Polish National Team fell off 🇵🇱 777, but the boys also showed an amazing class. Thank you! See you in four weeks in Estoril at the FIM EWC final.”
The maiden edition of the 8 Hours of Sepang will be staged this weekend as a key component of the “Races of Malaysia” two-and-four-wheel motorsport festival, a double-header pairing the FIA WTCR/Oscaro and the FIM EWC for the first time in Asia.
The 8 Hours of Sepang, marks the second round of the FIM Endurance World Championship and promises to be an action-packed race, with a lot at stake and some very well-known names putting their pride on the line at the Sepang International Circuit.
At the opening round of the series in France there was havoc with engine failures, oil-downs and weather conditions making the latest edition of the Bol d’Or one to remember.
In Malaysia we will see MotoGP, FIM Superbike and ARRC riders and title winners competing in Sepang alongside the 36 full-season 2019-2020 FIM EWC teams.
The clash between the world’s top endurance racing teams and Asian squads determined to win on home territory will form the heart of the action at the first edition of the 8 Hours of Sepang.
The two Asian front-runners are the Malaysian team Yamaha Sepang Racing and the Japanese squad Honda Asia Dream Racing with Showa.
Yamaha Sepang Racing has partnered MotoGP rider Franco Morbidelli and Michael van der Mark – an established World Superbike rider and four-time winner of the Suzuka 8 Hours, with Malaysia’s star rider and MotoGP competitor Hafizh Syahrin.
Honda Asia Dream Racing with Showa, a consistent front-runner at the Suzuka 8 Hours, is fielding Malaysian rider Zaqhwan Zaidi, the team’s number-one racer since 2016 who finished third overall in the Superbike 1000 category of the recently-concluded Asia Road Racing Championship, Indonesian rider Andi Farid Izdihar who competes in the Supersport 600 class in the ARRC, and Thai Moto2 rider Somkiat Chantra.
Seven manufacturers in the race
The full-season FIM EWC teams are ready to face the competition. The reigning champions Webike SRC Kawasaki France will seek to make up for lost time in the wake of a turbulent Bol d’Or. The Kawasaki team had to throw in the towel, together with YART Yamaha and F.C.C. TSR Honda France.
All three factory-backed teams will fight to score the maximum number of points in the second round of the 2019-2020 FIM EWC. 30-points are available for the winner in Malaysia, plus five bonus points for securing pole position.
But they will have to reckon with the ambitions of the Bol d’Or winner Suzuki Endurance Racing Team as well as BMW Motorrad World Endurance Team, the third-place finisher in the season’s first race.
Another factory outfit is also expected to make its presence felt: Team ERC Endurance, now backed by Ducati to lead the Panigale V4R to glory in the endurance world championship.
Six manufacturers have entered official teams in the FIM EWC. A seventh brand will be on the starting grid of the 8 Hours of Sepang, with Team Sugai Racing Japan on an Aprilia.
Top 10 Trial & FIA World Touring Car Cup
Before the action gets underway on the Sepang track, the teams will put on a show in the streets of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, located 45 km from the Sepang International Circuit.
On the evening of Tuesday 10 December, a procession will wind its way through the city centre, made up of the FIM EWC bikes as well as the cars competing in the season finale of the FIA WTCR/OSCARO, the second half of the Races of Malaysia double-header event.
The practice sessions on Wednesday 11 December and qualifying on Thursday 12 December will provide clues to the pecking order in Malaysia. As at the Suzuka 8 Hours, and a Top 10 Trial will redistribute the final positions on the starting grid after qualifying.
At the 8 Hours of Sepang, the fastest rider of each of the top 10 teams in qualifying will return to the track to do one flying lap. The first ten positions on the grid will be reassigned based on the results. The Top 10 Trial will be held after sunset on the Sepang International Circuit.
The three FIA World Touring Car Cup seasonal finale races will be held on Sunday 15 December, with Hafizh Syahrin once again featuring among the contenders. The Malaysian rider has set himself a major sporting challenge by entering both world championships in the course of a single weekend. Following the 8 Hours of Sepang on Saturday, he will be one of four wildcard drivers taking the wheel in the WTCR Race of Malaysia challenge.
Randy de Puniet to Team ERC Endurance for 8 Hours of Sepang
Team ERC Endurance have announced a brand-new line-up for the 8 Hours of Sepang, Randy de Puniet joining Ondřej Ježek and Louis Rossi in the saddle of the Panigale V4R, after the team recently received official backing from Ducati Corse in the FIM EWC.
This adds another MotoGP rider to the star-studded list of international riders competing in the 8 Hours of Sepang. Frenchman Randy de Puniet will be on the starting grid in the saddle of Team ERC Endurance’s new Ducati Panigale V4R.
The German team now has official backing from the Italian manufacturer in the FIM Endurance World Championship, with de Puniet, having solid experience in Endurance racing, including two podiums at the Suzuka 8 Hours, in 2014 and 2017, and several seasons with Team SRC Kawasaki and Honda Endurance Racing.
Czech rider Ondřej Ježek, a former Supersport World Championship racer, has previously competed in the FIM EWC with Bolliger Team Switzerland and Mercury Racing.
Frenchman Louis Rossi, formerly a Moto2 rider, has competed in the FIM Endurance World Championship since 2016.
Team ERC Endurance’s Ducati will have its first outing on the track in Malaysia on Wednesday 11 December.
One of the most eagerly anticipated Suzuka 8 Hour races in recent history got underway at 1230 (AEST) under hazy skies and on a hot and dry track. These conditions were in stark contrast to the torrential downpours that forced organisers to cancel the Top Ten final qualifying shootout on Saturday afternoon.
Yamaha Factory Racing Team started from pole in their quest for a fifth successive victory on the hallowed Suzuka ground, that is actually owned by Honda.
Japanese hot-shot Katsuyuki Nakasuga (2m05.922) was the quickest of the Yamaha Factory Racing Team trio, but team-mates Alex Lowes (2m06.629s) and Michael Van der Mark (2m07.306s), had also displayed good enough speed for the team to claim pole position, their combined time only 0.014s ahead of the second placed Kawasaki triumvirate.
The very much in-form trio of Kawasaki World Superbike riders had been led by Jonathan Rea, the fastest qualifier for the team on 2m06.495s, alongside Leon Haslam (2m06.706s), and Turk Toprak Razgatlioglu (2m06.698s).
Red Bull Honda had qualified third but Takumi Takahashi (2m06.200s) had actually been the second fastest qualifier overall behind Nakasuga. Takahashi’s team-mates Ryuichi Kiyonari (2m07.955s), and Stefan Bradl (2m07.106s), loaned their weight to the team effort that saw them qualify third.
MuSashi RT Harc-Pro had qualified fourth but were forced to start from pit-lane, after a 90-second penalty, due to a tyre rule infringement.
Yoshimura qualified fifth, led by Yukio Kagayama, then it was the Yamaha Austria Racing Team led by Broc Parkes and defending World Endurance Champions F.C.C. TSR Honda France led by Josh Hook. The top nine qualifiers all on Bridgestone rubber.
They are away!
Taree youngster Josh Hook quickly worked his way through to the front of the pack as Sylvain Guintoli and Bradley Ray gave chase, while Leon Haslam made short work of Ray to move up to third place.
Katsuyuki Nakasuga, the fastest man here during practice and qualifying, then pushed Ray further back to fifth. Takumi Takahashi was in sixth place for Red Bull Honda in these early laps of the race ahead of Niccolo Canepa, Ryosuke Iwato and Yuki Takahashi.
Sylvain Guintoli swept through to the lead on lap three but Hooky came right back at the 37-year-old French MotoGP tester.
Yonny Hernandez then threw the Honda Endurance Racing Team Fireblade down the road but eventually managed to re-mount.
Ten minutes into the race it was Guintoli from Hook, but the Aussie youngster was starting to come under sustained attack from Nakasuga, Haslam and Takahashi, the latter of which had just put in a new fastest lap of the race.
Josh Waters had started the race for MotoMap Suzuki but 13-minutes into the race the Mildura based three-time Aussie Superbike Champion went down. He eventually made it back to the pits and continued the race.
Guintoli managed to pull away from Hook and 16-minutes into the race the Suzuki man had a two-second buffer. Hook was holding down second place but had a number of high-profile riders all over his tail. Haslam briefly moved past Nakasuga to move up to third place, but the star Yamaha rider quickly reasserted his place in the pecking order. In reality though, nothing separated Hook from Haslam, Nakasuga and Takumi Takahashi as the race approached the 20-minute mark.
Niccolo Canepa had started the race for YART Yamaha and was running in sixth place ahead of Bradley Ray and Ryosuke Iwato. Yuki Takahashi had started the race for the KYB Moriwaki Honda he shares with Troy Herfoss and Tomoyoshi Koyama.
Hook and his trio of fellow travellers then started closing on Guintoli only for the first safety car incident to unfold at the 26-minute mark. As per all World Endurance rounds there are actually two safety cars that join at different parts at the circuit, and importantly SRC Kawasaki France, the leaders in the World Endurance Championship, were behind the second of the safety cars, in 13th place.
Just as it seemed as though the safety car might have done Hook and F.C.C. TSR Honda a favour, Hook got mixed up in traffic at the re-start. He then did a brilliant job to quickly force his way back up to third place behind Nakasuga, while Guintoli again was off like a rocket. The Frenchman seemingly able to switch to full speed like a light switch, catching the others on the hop.
The re-start signalled disaster for the 333 VRD Igol Pierret Expériences squad when Xavier Simeon went down at Spoon Curve.
Leon Haslam pushed Hook back to fourth place as the race approached the 45-minute mark but it was again that same group of five riders running in relatively close formation at the front of the field. Guintoli from Haslam, Nakasuga, Hook and Takahashi.
Hooky was mixing it up well and racing with with some very well proven talent and was showing the way for Honda, as some of the other well supported Honda teams and riders tripped themselves up, the 26-year-old was looking fast and solid. The strength of his performance, in front of all Honda’s top management from across the corporate and racing spectrum, should raise his stakes somewhat in the Honda hierarchy of current racers.
Just over an hour into the race Nakasuga made his move past Guintoli. The leaders then started to encounter lots of lapped traffic, it was the Japanese hotshot that sliced and diced them like a Teppenyaki chef to stretch away from his pursuers. It also started to seem that a couple of that leading quintet had backed off a little, presumably for fuel preservation purposes, playing the long game…
Or was it the ones with the real speed up their sleeve had just pulled the pin to end their session in a fast fashion and hand over the best possible position to their next team-mate in-line….
First Pit Stop!
The first two of the leading five to pit were Josh Hook and Sylvain Guintoli. Taking the controls of the F.C.C. TSR Honda from Hook at the 67-minute mark was Mike Di Meglio, while Kazuki Watanabe clambered aboard the Yoshimura Suzuki. Interviewed after getting off the bike, Hook explained that he had some front end chattering issues late in his stint, and that he had to save a few front-end loses.
Race leader Katsuyuki Nakasuga came in on the next lap and handed over the Yamaha Factory Racing Team YZF-R1M to Alex Lowes. Inheriting the race lead when Nakasuga pitted was Takumi Takahashi on the Red Bull Honda, ahead of Leon Haslam.
Haslam was the next of that early leading group to come in but amazingly the Red Bull Honda was able to stay out for yet another lap. Haslam handed over to Jonathan Rea while Takahashi eventually handed over to Stefan Bradl.
As they settled back into the swing of things after the pit stops, and the new order started to shake out, it was Stefan Bradl leading by two-seconds over Alex Lowes.
F.C.C. TSR Honda France’s Mike Di Meglio was five-seconds behind the race leader, but ahead of Jonathan Rea and Kazuki Watanabe.
Once Alex Lowes got up to speed though he quickly reeled in Stefan Bradl, and was right on the tail of the Red Bull Honda in no time, before then backing off his pace, seemingly content to follow and conserve both fuel and tyres, but knowing that he can turn the speed on at any given moment to sprint to the front.
Jonathan Rea then slotted the Kawasaki Racing Team past Di Meglio on the F.C.C. TSR Honda to move up to third place. The World Superbike Champion quickly pulled away from the 31-year-old Frenchman.
YART had fared well from the pit-stop with Niccolo Canepa handing over to Marvin Fritz and the team ranked a strong sixth as the race approached the 90-minute mark.
Bradl and Lowes hit a lot of lapped traffic around 15-minutes later, Lowes threaded the needle better and took the lead from Lowes.
At the 1hr50-min mark Team SRC Kawasaki, the World Endurance Championship leaders, made their second pit stop and David Checa took the controls with the team down in 19th place.
It was more than 20-minutes later when race leader Alex Lowes handed over the reins of the Yamaha Factory Racing Team YZF-R1M to his Pata Yamaha World Superbike team-mate Michael Van der Mark.
Freddy Foray took the controls of the F.C.C. TSR Honda from Mike Di Meglio with the team still ranked in fourth place.
Red Bull Honda came in a couple of laps later and Bradl did not hand over to Ryuichi Kiyonari, the third member of the team, and the slowest qualifier amongst the team, but instead Takumi Takahashi went out for his second stint.
Troy Herfoss took the controls of the KYB Moriwaki Honda with the team in ninth place while Broc Parkes was also now out for his first stint with the YART Yamaha in sixth place. Herfoss managed to improve the standing of the KYB Moriwaki squad up to eighth place during his session.
With the situation shaking out after that second round of pit stops, and almost 2.5-hours into the race, Red Bull Honda were looking very strong. Leon Haslam had momentarily got ahead of Takumi Takahashi but the Honda man then put in a new fastest lap of the race to propel the Fireblade back into the race lead.
Traffic was causing all sorts of delays for the hard chargers up front. Some passes were harder or softer, depending on the situation at hand, but it also meant that the race pace slowed and varied, with even some of the leading riders forced back into the 2m10s from time to time.
Three Hours Down
At the three-hour mark, Takumi Takahashi still headed the field on the Red Bull Honda. His buffer, with 37-per cent of the race now behind that Fireblade SP2, was more than eight-seconds ahead of the Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10RR beneath Leon Haslam.
Michael Van der Mark was holding down third place on the Yamaha Factory Racing Team YZF-R1M and was now right behind Haslam.
Freddy Foray had not managed to equal the impressive early pace of Hook and the F.C.C. TSR Honda was now over a minute behind the race leader, and starting to be stalked by Yukio Kagayama on the Yoshimura Suzuki.
Broc Parkes was sixth on the YART Yamaha before coming in just after the three-hour mark and handing over to Niccolo Canepa.
Ten-minutes later Haslam handed the Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10RR back over to Jonathan Rea. Michael Van der Mark pitted the Yamaha Factory Racing Team YZF-R1M on the same lap and handed over to Katsuyuki Nakagsuga.
A lap later Josh Hook was back out on the F.C.C. TSR Honda and had his head down to try and keep Yoshimura Suzuki at bay.
Nigon throws the SRC Kawasaki down the road!
While Hook was in the pits, Erwan Nigon crashed the World Endurance Championship leading Team SRC Kawasaki ZX-10RR in a mistake that likely would have massive consequences for the outfit.
SRC Kawasaki’s demise put the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team of Gregg Black, Etienne Masson and Vincent Phillipe in the box seat for FIM World Endurance Championship honours.
SERT were running in ninth place, and if they were to remain in that position at the chequered flag the FIM WEC crown would be theirs. Should they falter, and F.C.C. TSR finish well, then Hook and his Honda team-mates would be crowned World Endurance Champions for the second year running….
To confuse things a little further though Nigon had eventually got the SRC Kawasaki up and running again and rejoined the race in 16th place. It won’t be over until it is over!
Bradl back on the leading Red Bull Honda
Just after the 3hr-20mins mark Stefan Bradl was back out on the leading Red Bull Honda. The German had a lot to live up to after what been an absolutely brilliant stint by Takumi Takahashi.
Jonathan Rea and Katsuyuki Nakasuga were on track together in a battle over second and third place. The pair dropping in 2m-07s laps and fighting each other tooth and nail like it was a sprint race, and doing it while negotiating plenty of lapped traffic. Their respective pit garages would be either biting their nails or not able to watch the monitors… The duo were six-seconds behind Bradl as he got back up to speed after just getting back on the bike, but were more than a full minute ahead of fourth placed Hook.
Rea and Nakasuga continued to lap quicker than Bradl, it was not long before they were all over the back of the Red Bull Honda.
Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki Racing Team into the lead
Jonathan Rea made short work of Stefan Bradl and also got the better of Naksuga. Both riders got ahead of Bradl but it was Rea that managed to make a break after some decisive moves through traffic, combined with a metronomic series of fast laps, that saw the Kawasaki start to pull away at the front of the field. It was a deeply impressive performance by Rea, pin-point accurate, fast, and smooth.
2.5 hours to go and things tight at the top
Fortunes ebbed and flowed over the next stints but after more rider swaps, and with 2.5 hours to go, things were still remarkably tight at the top. Jonathan Rea was back in the saddle again after a stint from Haslam, while Stefan Bradl had just climbed back aboard the Red Bull Honda after another brilliant stint from Takumi Takahashi.
Michael Van der Mark was in the hot seat aboard the Yamaha Factory Racing Team YZF-R1M. As the new riders bedded back in to their bikes, tyres and got back up to speed, it was Jonathan Rea leading from Van der Mark by 1.5-seconds, with the Dutchman holding a similar gap over third placed Stefan Bradl.
Freddy Foray was still the highest ranked of the FIM World Endurance regulars with the F.C.C. TSR Honda in fourth place, a lap behind the race leaders, but with an 11-second buffer over the Yoshimura Suzuki of Yukio Kagayama.
Broc Parkes was on the YART Yamaha and a further 40-seconds behind but with 30-seconds over Javier Fores on the MuSashi RT Hard-Pro Honda. The #634 Honda had been made to start from pit-lane, 90-seconds after the rest of the field due to a tyre infringement earlier in the weekend, but had done a remarkable job to be holding down seventh place.
Six Hours Down!
Jonathan Rea was leading from Michael Van der Mark by three-seconds, with Stefan Bradl now a further six-seconds down in third place.
Freddy Foray was a lap down in fourth place but was still 13-seconds ahead of Yukio Kagayama on the Yoshimura Suzuki. Broc Parkes was still out on the YART Yamaha but further behind in sixth place.
Now time for the sixth pit stop
With just under two hours remaining, some of the leading teams started to pit for their sixth stop. The first of the leaders to pit was Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki, the Northern Irishman again handing the controls of the ZX-10RR to Leon Haslam.
The third member of the Kawasaki Racing Team, Toprak Razgatlioglu, preferred a much different set-up and seating position to his team-mates. Rather than compromise the settings of the machines, the team chose to concentrate on the more similar requirements of Rea and Haslam, thus Razgatlioglu was left to watch on as his Kawasaki team-mates did a sterling job on the ZX-10RR.
The next of the leaders in to the pits was the Yamaha Factory Racing Team YZF-R1M with Michael Van Der Mark handing over to Katsuyuki Nakasuga. There was a problem with the fuel cap on the Yamaha that caused a small delay for them during the pit stop.
F.C.C. TSR Honda were in shortly after with Josh Hook back in the saddle for his final stint on the Fireblade.
Stefan Bradl was the last of the top ten to pit, staying out for a lot more laps than most of his competitors.
Ninety minutes to go!
Stefan Bradl came in to hand the race leading Fireblade to Takumi Takahashi with 90-minutes remaining in the race. Was there any remote chance that they could stretch a 90-minute final stint out of that Red Bull Honda….? Or would they need a splash and dash…?
With the whole field now having made their sixth pit-stop, the race order shook itself out again and when all competitors were back up to race speed, Leon Haslam had a significant 11-second lead over Takahashi, while Katsuyuki Nakasuga was a further nine-seconds behind in third place.
Nakasuga was dipping into the 2m07s, when traffic allowed, and looked determined to use his stint to claw back as much ground as possible on the Red Bull Honda and KRT ZX-10RR in front of him.
Josh Hook was in fourth place, a lap down on the leaders, but with a 16-second buffer over Yoshimura Suzuki’s Sylvain Guintoli.
Takahashi gradually reeled in Leon Haslam. The Kawasaki man was carrying a wrist injury, that was forcing him to ride with a slightly less natural style, which was then bringing on some niggling shoulder discomfort. Without it would he have the speed to match the charging Takahashi? Probably not, but his shoulder pain certainly wouldn’t be helping. It took Takahashi almost half an hour to pull back that 11-seconds, but now Red Bull Honda were back in front with just over sixty minutes to go.
One hour to run!
Once past Leon Haslam, Takumi Takahashi quickly started pulling away from the Kawasaki mounted Briton. Katsuyuki Nakasuga was also closing in on Haslam, the gap was down to seven-seconds before Haslam then pulled into the pits for a tyre change, a full tank of fuel and a new rider in the shape of reining World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea.
During his earlier session the Northern Irishman had exhibited stunning speed, superior to that of Haslam, and it was now going to be interesting if Rea could start reeling Takahashi back in.
Just as that battle was shaping up though the Red Bull Honda headed into the pits with just over 45-minutes remaining. Takahashi got a new set of tyres and a tank of fuel but remained on the motorcycle.
Nakasuga had entered the pits at the same time and handed over to Alex Lowes. Now with Rea on the Kawasaki, Takahashi on the Honda and Lowes on the Yamaha, we had three of the fastest qualifying riders all on track, and all with a sniff of victory.
Jonathan Rea was straight down to business and clocking in 2m06s laps as he chased Takahashi, the gap with 43-minutes remaining was three-seconds. Lowes was a further 20-seconds back on the Factory Yamaha. All it would take though was a bad run of traffic, or a safety car, and it would be back to nothing between them…
The #10 Kawasaki piloted by Jonathan Rea took the lead with 36-minutes remaining just as Takahashi got well and truly baulked and held up by a lapped rider. It cost the Red Bull Honda man a couple of seconds and allowed Rea to immediately sprint away from the Fireblade.
In an instant it was nearly all over for Rea as a back-marker came down after clipping what looked like an errant muffler on the circuit, his sliding bike missed taking Rea out by inches. That would have been a very cruel blow but with 30-minutes remaining it served as a stark reminder that very little separates triumph from tragedy, and that anything could happen before this race was over.
Just as wrote that line, the rain flag came out as minor patches of precipitation started to be detected around the circuit. This being Japan, that could quickly turn into a torrential downpour, or could even rain at one part of the circuit, and be dry at another part of the track…
Defending World Endurance Champions F.C.C. TSR Honda were still ranked fourth overall, with 24-seconds over Yoshimura Suzuki. Their poor start to the season though meant that disasters would have to befall Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, or Team SRC Kawasaki France would need to make another major mistake for the F.C.C. TSR Honda squad to lift the title again.
20 minutes to go! KRT have it in the bag….
Jonathan Rea had been an absolute dynamo and the seemingly tired Takahashi did not look to have enough fight left in him. The Yamaha of Nakasuga steadily reeled the Red Bull Honda in and pushed Takahashi back to third place. Meanwhile Jonathan Rea now had a 20-second lead over his pursuers and looked a shoe-in to take Kawasaki’s second ever Suzuka 8 Hour win.
Once Nakasuga was past a tiring Takahashi he pulled away from his countryman with ease.
With ten minutes remaining Rea led by 21-seconds, and Yamaha Factory Racing had more than 20-seconds over Red Bull Honda.
F.C.C. TSR Honda were still fourth and the leading team amongst the FIM Endurance World Championship regulars. The rain was holding off, but darkness had fell.
As they negotiated the now dark circuit the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team GSX-R1000R started billowing smoke, a lot of smoke. Just as SERT looked as though they would claim the World Endurance Championship, their chances had gone up in smoke.
Etienne Masson remained circulating on the track way too long before eventually pulling off onto the grass. Disaster at the final juncture, and despite an early crash in the race Team SRC Kawasaki France were now looking certain to claim the World Endurance crown and F.C.C. TSR Honda would be promoted to second.
Jonathan Rea goes down!
With 90-seconds left in the race Jonathan Rea went down, presumably on the oil spilled from the SERT bike. The red flag then came out, which meant the results would go back a lap, but can you win the Suzuka 8 Hour if you finish it on the ground…?
Would Yamaha take an unlikely victory at the final hurdle?
There was confusion in all the team garages with Kawasaki Racing Team unsure if they had won. Jonathan Rea looked as though he believed he was the winner, but most of his team did not look quite so sure. Likewise, a lot of the personnel in the Yamaha Factory Racing Team had confused looks on their faces…
Yamaha announced as the winners!
There were some delays to the podium presentations as some consternation still reined up and down pit-lane. Yamaha though did not wait too long before they brought a pre-arranged wreath celebrating their fifth victory in succession.
All the commentary, both circuit and television, believed that Yamaha had won the 2019 Suzuka 8 Hour.
But, a lengthy time later….
KRT announced the winners!
After a confused, and somewhat farcical delay to the results, in this 42nd edition of the Suzuka 8 Hour, Kawasaki were once again announced as victorious as Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam piloted the KRT ZX-10RR to victory. The third member of the team, Toprak Razgatlioglu, did not ride at the event but was still part of the winning team. Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam were back at the hotel and after ordering dinner they received a phone call telling them that they had been named as the race winners…
Both Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam already had previous Suzuka 8 Hour victories under their belt, but both men scored their previous wins with Honda, and 2019 marks their first Suzuka victory on a Kawasaki.
This Suzuka 8 Hour win is also the first for Kawasaki since their previously one and only victory 26-years earlier, when Aaron Slight and Scott Russell piloted a ZX-7RR to victory in 1993.
“I cannot believe what is happening really. From being dejected and feeling that everything was out of our hands, I had already gone back to the hotel, said goodbye to all the guys, with lots of tears. I was in the restaurant already, ordering dinner, when my mechanic Uri called me and said, ‘Hey, are you sitting down?’ I thought he was going to ask me to go to another restaurant – but he then told me we had won the 8 Hours. I think common sense prevailed in that one. I have no words because I am really emotional and happy. The strategy was to work on fuel consumption and race consistency and make no mistakes. I feel we executed that quite well although I got quite tired and cramped at the end. But we prepared the best way possible with the limited time we had. I am so proud to be part of the project and what an effort from KRT, KHI, KMJ who prepared for this race in two tests. During the race it is like hell, the hardest race you can ever imagine, but getting a result like this almost makes me want to come back for more. The emotional roller coaster is unreal.”
“From everyone being in tears to getting the news sitting in a restaurant that we actually did win it, I have no words to describe how I feel. The Suzuka 8 Hours is always one of the hardest races of the year. The effort we put in to win, from us, the team and Kawasaki means it has been a big roller coaster of emotion. When the oil went down and the situation happened at the end; words cannot describe the lows we had. But when the good news came through, the highs were just as high. In the second half of each stint I really struggled physically but the bike was working well. I am so happy and I want to thank Kawasaki for this opportunity; also the whole team, Toprak and Johnny, and we pushed as hard as we could. It is a shame that we did not get to stand on the top of the podium but the result is in and we have won the Suzuka 8 Hours.”
“Today I am very tired after watching the race for eight hours! But I am very happy for Johnny and Leon because that was an incredible job today. We are all happy and thank you to everyone. For me this was my first time here – and our team won.”
Guim Roda, KRT Team manager
“This race has been outstanding and I think for the public, the fans and everyone it has been the most incredible Suzuka 8 Hours. Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki – the riders and the factories – have been amazing everybody and they all saw a great race. The best point is that we finally got the victory after Johnny made an incredible last riding stint. The strategy we planned was very good so at the end we got the victory.”
After some of the riders being interviewed as the winners, and Yamaha team management celebrating what they thought had been victory, the trio of Michael Van der Mark, Alex Lowes and Katsuyuki Nakasuga ended up being named as second place finishers.
Red Bull Honda third
A spent Takumi Takahashi climbed the podium for Red Bull Honda alongside Stefan Bradl. The pair shared all riding duties after the third rider in the team, Ryuichi Kiyonari, failed to show competitive pace during practice and qualifying.
F.C.C. TSR Honda were a brilliant fourth but it was not enough for them to successfully defend their World Endurance crown. Josh Hook the standout performer once again for the squad.
Yoshimura Suzuki placed fifth and MuSashi RT Harc-Pro Honda took sixth ahead of YART.
Troy Herfoss scored a top ten finish with KYB Moriwaki Honda placing ninth, just behind S-Pulse Dream Suzuki.
Aaron Morris finished 21st with R2CL Suzuki while Josh Waters finished 26th with MotoMap Suzuki.
SRC Kawasaki France World Endurance Champions
SRC Kawasaki France had done enough to lift the World Endurance Championship crown, winning the title over defending champions F.C.C. TSR Honda. Yamaha took the constructors title in the FIM World Endurance Championship.
“It is unbelievable to win the championship and for me it has been the first time that I have done the full season – and we won it. We deserve it because after the Bol d’Or it was a really difficult moment for the team and me – for my head. Of course we are a bit lucky at the end but we deserve it because we made the job in Le Mans and I have two unbelievable team-mates. The team itself and the bike were – all season – really good. This weekend was a bit more difficult but Suzuka is always a strange race. We are really happy.”
“What a race and what a championship also. We had all weather conditions, 24-hour races are hard and early in the 2018/2019 season we had a victory at Le Mans which is always a good sign for the rest of the championship. We pushed a lot all through this year and in the end we won the championship. First time for me and I want to say thanks to the team because they worked a lot all winter to adjust the bike to make good race settings. Many thanks to my partners, my family and my incredible team-mates. We are friends also so it is a really good feeling to win it with them.”
“I do not know what to say. In my first year with Kawasaki and Gilles’s team I am world champion again. It is like a dream. When you change a team it is not easy, when you change a brand it is not easy, but my team and my team-mates did a really good job. The atmosphere in the team is incredible. We are friends and for me this is the main point. When we talk and share everything for sure you push more. I believed that we could win the championship all year. The Bol d’Or was frustrating because we had a problem two hours from the end but we continued to believe. When you dream, and believe, the dream can come true – and we are world champions. Now I want to win the next Bol d’Or for Kawasaki, my team-mates and my team. We are world champions today but we have to think of the future and that future now is the Bol D’Or.”