Kawasaki shooting for third Suzuka 8 Hours victory
While the 5.821km Suzuka circuit itself was opened in the September of 1962, the Suzuka 8 Hour first came about in 1978 and it quickly became the most important race for production based bikes in the world.
American duo Wes Cooley and Mike Baldwin won that inaugural duel on July 30, 1978, on a Yoshimura backed GS1000 Suzuki.
Australia planted its flag at Suzuka in 1979 when a Team Honda Australia squad consisting of Tony Hatton and Mick Cole rode a CB900 to victory.
New Zealand took their first top step on the rostrum the following year when Kiwi Graeme Crosby partnered with American Wes Cooley to win the race on a Yoshimura GS1000 Suzuki.
Honda are by far the most successful manufacturers in the history of the race with 27 wins. While Yamaha have been the most successful brand at Suzuka in recent years their overall tally still only numbers eight victories while Suzuki have five wins.
Until 2019, Kawasaki had only ever won the prestigious event once and that was some 26 years before when Aaron Slight and Scott Russell piloted a ZXR750R to victory. In 2019 Kawasaki were on the top step again after 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.
The 2020 edition of the race was cancelled due to the pandemic but Kawasaki are out to back up their success in 2021 with a three-man team featuring both KRT WorldSBK riders and a former WSS600 championship winner. Running under the banner of “Kawasaki Racing Team Suzuka 8H”, the official factory entry will seek success in the 2021 FIM Endurance World Championship “Coca-Cola” Suzuka 8 Hours event.
Fielding the new 2021 Ninja ZX-10RR, the Kawasaki entry for this year’s Suzuka event will be guided by Provec, the company that manages Kawasaki’s World SBK team, KRT. The three-man squad is entirely populated with previous Suzuka winners in the form of Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes plus rising star Lucas Mahias who, having previously won the WSS600 Championship, has moved to the WorldSBK stage riding for Puccetti Kawasaki.
“I am so excited that I will be part of KRT and Kawasaki factory taking part in the 2021 Suzuka 8 Hour race. I’ve been on the podium four times now at Suzuka, and my fondest memory was winning the race for Kawasaki in 2019. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do the race in 2020 due to the global pandemic going on, but we’ll be back in 2021 and I promise I will be making my best efforts to do the best for Kawasaki and all our fans.”
“I’m delighted that I’ll be part of the KRT Kawasaki factory racing team for the 2021 Suzuka 8 Hours. Already I’ve been on the winning team three times at Suzuka. It’s a fantastic event and a really great circuit – one of my favourites. Now I’ll have the chance to push for a Kawasaki win on the latest Ninja ZX-10RR. I’m really looking forward to being part of this famous race again. We have a great team, and the Ninja is an amazing machine.”
“I’m happy that I will be part of the KRT Kawasaki factory team taking part in the 2021 Suzuka 8 Hour race. Racing in Japan is always very special, and Suzuka 8 Hours is a world-famous race. It is so good to return to Suzuka after the 2020 pandemic. For all the Kawasaki fans, I promise that we will make the best preparations and I will do my best to be part of the winning team at Suzuka.”
Guim Roda of Provec and KRT
“The Suzuka 8 Hours is a global event, and it profiles not just the endurance of riders across these many hours but also the durability of the motorcycle. I’m sure Johnny, Alex and Lucas are the perfect weapons for this exciting challenge. Our job at Provec on behalf of KRT and the Kawasaki factory is to manage not just rider performance but also to work alongside the factory race staff to produce a Ninja ZX-10RR that is both fast and durable plus easy to maintain during pit stops and scheduled rider changes. I know this year’s 8 hour race is a big effort and commitment from many people to try come back to normality after a hard 2020 Covid year and not such an easy recovery back to “normal” in 2021. So will fully support this event to make sure the show goes on and we’ll work together with KHI to make the best result, for all fans and for all the world!”.
As a result of stronger restrictions on entry in Japan, international teams and riders will not be able to travel to Suzuka. In agreement with FIM and Eurosport Events, the promoter of FIM Endurance World Championship, the Suzuka 8 Hours organiser Mobilityland has decided to cancel the 2020 edition.
Rescheduled to 1 November due to the global health crisis, the 43rd edition of the Suzuka 8Hours will not take place in 2020. It is the first-ever cancellation since the creation of the race in 1978.
KRT Team manager – Guim Roda
“We had an indication that the cancellation was going to happen and the news has become official today. KHI had big expectations running in the 2020 Suzuka 8 hours, to give the fans an extraordinary show again. With the responsibility to defend the win we achieved last year we planned an incredible project with Rea and Lowes, and with the support of Xavi Fores to attack the 8 Hours as strongly as possible. Everything was already planned, but unfortunately the outside realities and safety requirements around Covid-19 ended all our plans. We understand the wider situation. The direction of the Japanese Government, which is the same as many around the world, makes it difficult to organize the event with so many foreigners attending the 8 Hours race. This is the case for many teams, but especially the factory ones that build their projects in coordination with WorldSBK riders and staff. We hope everything goes back to a more normal situation soon and the Suzuka 8 Hours comes back even stronger. We in KRT are ready to attend KHI’s request to defend the title in future if needed.”
The Covid-19 pandemic remains a source of concern in Japan, and the government has decided not to lift its entry ban on international arrivals, even for business travellers. International riders and permanent teams have always been an integral part of the action at the Suzuka 8 Hours, which has become the grand finale of the FIM Endurance World Championship. In their absence, the grand finale would be a domestic race. As a result, Mobilityland has decided to cancel the 2020 edition.
Kaoru Tanaka – Director of Mobilityland Corporation
“We had been preparing for the “Coca-Cola” Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Race to be held on November 1st together with all of the fans and stakeholders involved in this race event but, with anguish, we find no alternative but to make the decision to cancel it in consideration of the continued spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Japan and overseas and the fact that there is no prospect of deregulation of immigration restrictions on visitors from abroad at this stage in Japan. Once again, we extend our apologies and regrets to all the fans who were looking forward to attending the Suzuka 8 Hours, which had been postponed from the originally scheduled date in July to November. We also extend our sincere regrets to all of the other stakeholders involved in this race event and we ask for everyone’s kind understanding and cooperation going forward. In closing, let us say that we are determined to make preparations so that the 2021 Suzuka 8 Hours event will be even more enjoyable for the fans than ever before.”
François Ribeiro- Head of Eurosport Events
“We have been working hard with Mobilityland to reschedule the race from July to November – a first since 1978 – and then to organise entry into Japan for international teams and riders with a special business visa. Our hopes have evaporated with immigration restrictions for foreigners. The cancellation of the 2020 Coca-Cola Suzuka 8 Hours is not a question of spectators’ access. The decision was made not to run this iconic race as a domestic event. The Suzuka 8 Hours, the most prestigious endurance race in the world over the last 40 years, shall not run without top international riders.”
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.”
Kawasaki Racing Team Suzuka 8H
YAMAHA FACTORY RACING TEAM
Red Bull Honda
F.C.C. TSR Honda France
YOSHIMURA SUZUKI MOTUL RACING
YART – YAMAHA
MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO. Honda
S-PULSE DREAM RACING . IAI
KYB MORIWAKI RACING
Honda Dream RT SAKURAI HONDA
Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA
TEAM SRC KAWASAKI FRANCE
Honda Endurance Racing
TONE RT SYNCEDGE 4413
Bolliger Team Switzerland
Team ERC-BMW Motorrad Endurance
Zaif NCXX RACING & ZENKOUKAI
OMEGA MACO RACING
TK SUZUKI BLUE MAX
TEAM R2CL SUN CHLORELLA
Yamashina Kawasaki & AutoRaceUBE with YIC… Kawasaki
After taking control in first qualifying at the Suzuka 8 Hour, Yamaha Factory Racing Team confirmed pole position on the provisional starting grid ahead of Kawasaki Racing Team and Red Bull Honda. The final grid line-up will be decided tomorrow after the Top 10 trial.
Following a particularly eventful and heated first qualifying session, grid positions remained largely static in the second round of qualifying. Yamaha Factory Racing Team retained their place as leaders with Katsuyuki Nakasuga (today’s fastest rider, who posted a 2:05.922 lap), Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark.
Kawasaki Racing Team (Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam and Toprak Razgatlioglu) were right behind in 2nd place, ahead of Red Bull Honda (Takumi Takahashi, Ryuichi Kiyonari and Stefan Bradl).
Although they significantly upped their performance in the second session, Yoshimura Suzuki Motul Racing (Sylvain Guintoli, Yukio Kagayama and Kasuki Watanabe) remained in 5th place behind Musashi RT Harc-Pro Honda (Javier Fores, Dominique Aegerter and Ryo Mizuno).
Marvin Fritz shaved more than a half-second off his previous best time, enabling YART Yamaha (Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz and Niccolò Canepa) to move up a place and overtake the first FIM EWC team, F.C.C. TSR Honda France (Josh Hook, Freddy Foray and Mike Di Meglio), who are now 7th on the provisional grid.
Au. Teluru SAG RT, S-Pulse Dream Racing and KYB Moriwaki Racing round off the roll call of the Top 10 teams who will face off on Saturday on a flying lap in the Top 10 Trial to redistribute the final positions on the starting grid of the 2019 Suzuka 8 Hours.
Of the other European FIM Endurance World Championship full-season teams, rookie squad VRD Igol Pierret Expériences (Florian Alt, Florian Marino and Xavier Siméon) secured a praiseworthy 13th spot just ahead of current world championship standings leaders Team SRC Kawasaki France (Jérémy Guarnoni, Erwan Nigon and David Checa).
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (Vincent Philippe, Etienne Masson and Gregg Black), also world title contenders, will start from 17th place. Honda Endurance Racing (Randy de Puniet, Yonny Hernández and Sébastien Gimbert) are in 21st place, and Wójcik Racing Team 24th.
All the teams that have qualified beyond 10th place will be back on the track at 11.30am local time on Sunday 28 July for the start of the 42nd edition of the Suzuka 8 Hours.
This weekend will see the Suzuka 8 Hours take place in Japan as the 2019 FIM Endurance World Championship grand finale, with seven Australians taking part between the 8 Hours and 4 Hours events.
The Suzuka 8 Hours has run since 1978, with many Aussie racers making their mark over the years, including Tony Hatton, Michael Cole, Kevin Magee, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner and Daryl Beattie.
The three time Australian Superbike Champion Josh Waters lines up with the MotoMap S.W.A.T team again for the fourth year in a row, with 2019 marking Waters’ ninth year racing at the Suzuka 8 Hours event.
The Mildura based rider will team up with former World 250cc/500cc/MotoGP racer, Nobuatsu Aoki for the sixth time, as well as former BSB rider Dan Linfoot, former. For 2019, Waters, Aoki and Linfoot are competing in the Superstock class.
Former World Supersport and Superbike racer Mark Aitchison takes to the grid with the Will-Raise RS-Itoh Kawasaki Racing Team, with the 35-year-old having been competing in the MFJ Superbike All Japan Road Race Championship for the satellite Kawasaki squad.
Aitchison tested with the Kawasaki team for the 8 Hours Suzuka Program and his lap times were good enough to get the nod for a start this weekend. Aitchison, who hails from the Gold Coast, and his team have had two tests at Suzuka, which saw most of the European and Japanese teams present, as well as one private test.
Aitchison’s teammates for the Suzuka 8 Hours will be Akira Yanagawa, and Ryosuke Iwato, who currently rides for Kawasaki Japan as part of their factory effort.
“The last official test was a great experience, as basically the whole EWC championship was on hand to the 8 Hours race weekend. Testing went well enough to this point, though in Japan the weather conditions are always challenging. So, it’s a matter of compromise between you and your teammates on setup. It’s Ryosuke first year as factory rider and I understand why they gave him the opportunity. He’s an extremely talented rider and his lap times at the recent test turned some heads from the top Kawasaki bosses. I think he’s got a great future ahead of him. I really love the fans energy and enthusiasm that they bring. On top of that, the event itself brings its own unique platform, which combined with spectator involvement provides such an exciting and enjoyable weekend.”
27-year-old Aaron Morris reunites with the Paris based R2CL team, in what was a last-minute call up by the team on Saturday. Morris, who is competing in the Australian Superbike Championship with the Maxima BMW team, competed with the R2CL outfit throughout the 2016 EWC championship. 2016 saw Morris and his team finishing fourth at their Le Mans debut, twelfth at Suzuka and ninth in the teams FIM EWC Championship standing.
Morris will certainly be up against it this weekend, with no testing and riding for the first time with his teammates, Yoshihiro Konno and Josh Elliott, while coming to terms with the Suzuki GSX-R1000R on a track which he’s admitted to be his favourite.
“I’d love to improve on my best placed finish of twelfth we scored in 2016. We didn’t have a base set up, so we starting again and with three riders it’s hard to have a direction which everyone is happy with.”
2019 marks the first time in Paul Byrne’s career that he will race at Suzuka, joining TEAM SUGAI Racing Japan for the 4 Hours event. Kazu Kuroda from K1 Racing contacted the Irishman and now Australian citizen, a few weeks ago to see if he interested in racing on the team’s Honda CBR600RR. Byrne, 34, previously worked with Kuroda back in 2016, when he was his mechanic racing the International Island Classic and the International Festival of Speed on the DMR Harris XR69.
Byrne has had to learn the 18-corner circuit, as well as get his head around riding the Aprilia RSV4 machine, a bike he hadn’t ridden before, taking part in the official three-day test.
“I mentioned to Kazu that I had an interest in doing some endurance racing in Japan and finally its all come together for the first time, which I’m really grateful for. The first day was about just learning and trying to get as many laps done as possible plus. I really enjoyed the challenge. The second day I was a lot more relaxed and I started to push a bit harder and my lap times came down. But the main objective of the test was for me to help my teammate, Sugai Yoshiyuki with feedback. On top of that I just wanted to get some laps on track to learn it ahead of this weekend.”
Other Aussies to keep an eye out for over the weekend are full-season FIM Endurance World Championship competitors Broc Parkes (YART – Yamaha) and reigning Champ, Josh Hook (F.C.C. TSR Honda France). Also contesting is current Australian Superbike Champion Troy Herfoss (KYB Moriwaki Racing Team).
Hook and the F.C.C. TSR Honda France team are currently sitting third in the Championship; with a strong fourth-fastest finish at the Official Test and topping the times at yesterday’s practice as the quickest of the full-season FIM EWC Team.
YART’s lucky number seems to be five. Currently sitting fifth in the standings and posting the fifth-fastest time at yesterday’s practice, Parkes and his teammates all were quick and consistent.
Red Bull Honda consistently quickest during testing
HRC’s Japanese squad of Takumi Takahashi, Ryuichi Kiyonari and Stefan Bradl dominated testing at Suzuka this week. Red Bull Honda, as the team is referred to, topped all three days of testing. The fastest overall time of the test was set on day one by Red Bull Honda at 2m05.939, which they then backed up on day two with 2m06.139s before then topping the very wet final day of testing also.
Takumi Takahashi is in hot form after just scoring four consecutive wins in the All Japan Road Race Championship (JRR) JSB1000 class and was the quickest rider during this week’s test.
The Yamaha Factory Racing Team of Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Alex Lowes and Michael Van der Mark were consistently the second quickest team ahead of two more Honda teams.
“Our setup is solid for the dry, but I wanted to have a chance to ride in the wet as well, so today was very important for us. Of course I’d rather the entire race be dry, though. This test has been productive and has given us a lot in preparation for the race. Next up is the race weekend, so I’m looking forward to getting together both of my teammates, and I want us to work together to get the best result we can.”
The reining World Endurance Championship trio of young Aussie Josh Hook and his French team-mates Freddy Foray and Mike Di Meglio were third quickest on day one but were pipped out of that third spot on day two by MuSashi RT Harc-Pro.
Yoshimura Suzuki were fifth quickest ahead of the YART Yamaha World Endurance squad of Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz and Niccolo Canepa.
“Today we only rode in the morning session. Both for me and my teammates, we all had lap times that were plenty fast. I’ve ridden on Bridgestones in the wet at Suzuka several times before and I know how well they work here, so our fast times were to be expected. For this test, we were consistently quick, and all things considered it was a great three days. But for us, going up against teams with factory bikes, including F.C.C. TSR Honda, with our EWC-spec R1, I know it will be a big challenge. But you never know what can happen in endurance racing. That’s why we have to give it our all and never give up.”
Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, Suzuki’s MotoGP test rider, partners two Japanese riders, Kasuki Watanabe and veteran Yukio Kagayama in the Yoshimura Suzuki squad.
Troy Herfoss had a late call-up to join KYB Moriwaki Racing for Suzuka and the Australian Superbike Champion tested with the squad this week where the team recorded a best of 2m09.275s.
Josh Waters will contest Suzuka as part of the MotoMap SWAT Suzuki squad alongside his good friend Nobuatsu Aoki and British rider Dan Linfoot. They recorded a best of 2m09.940s during this week’s test.
Testing form bodes well for Honda to extend their record as the most successful manufacturer at the Suzuka 8 Hour. In fact, Honda have 27 wins to their name, well ahead of next best Yamaha on eight victories. Suzuki have five wins while Kawasaki has only ever won the prestigious event once, and that was more than 25 years ago when Aaron Slight and Scott Russell piloted a ZXR750R to victory.
Kawasaki have shown form in recent years though with Jonathan Rea setting a 2m05.168s lap record during qualifying for the event last year. The primary strike force for the Kawasaki Racing Team for Suzuka 2019 sees Rea joined by Leon Haslam and young Turk Toprak Razgatlioglu. That trio were otherwise engaged preparing for the Laguna Seca round of the World Superbike Championship this weekend. They are certainly race fit though and there is no question that they have the speed to challenge for Suzuka 8H glory.
The next time we will get to see the true form guide shake out ahead of the July 28th event is on Thursday, July 24th.
The 42nd edition of the Suzuka 8 Hours is also the FIM EWC season finale. Heading to Suzuka SRC Kawasaki currently lead the championship by five-points over SERT while F.C.C. TSR Honda is third a further 18-points adrift. SRC Kawasaki France did not take part in this week’s testing. The FIM EWC season finale sees participants score 150 per cent of the regular points, with 45-points awarded to the winner of the Suzuka 8 Hours.
While the 5.821km Suzuka circuit itself was opened in the September of 1962, the Suzuka 8 Hour first came about in 1978.
It quickly became the most important race for production based bikes in the world.
American duo Wes Cooley and Mike Baldwin won that inaugural duel on July 30, 1978, on a Yoshimura backed GS1000 Suzuki.
Australia planted its flag at Suzuka in 1979 when a Team Honda Australia squad consisting of Tony Hatton and Mick Cole rode a CB900 to victory.
New Zealand took their first top step on the rostrum the following year when Kiwi Graeme Crosby partnered with American Wes Cooley to win the race on a Yoshimura GS1000 Suzuki.
While the race was a Japanese affair largely contested between Nippon manufacturers, it was not untiul 1982 that Japanese riders themselves tasted the champagne. That year the race was reduced to six hours due to an incoming typhoon and standing atop the podium were Shigeo Iijima and Shinji Hagiwara.
Wayne Gardner won the first of his quartet of Suzuka 8 Hour victories in 1985 while sharing the riding duties on the RVF750 Honda with Masaki Tokuno. Gardner went on to win again the next year, 1986, while partnered with Dominique Sarron.
1987 was the first time Yamaha took top honours and it came thanks to the talents of Kevin Magee, who became the fourth Australian to win a Suzuka 8 Hour. Magee won in partnership with German Martin Wimmer in 1987, the following year, 1988, the Horsham Hurricane’s victory was taken in conjunction with a then 28-year-old Wayne Rainey. The American also won his first 500cc GP race victory that year.
Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan won in 1991 on an RVF750 Honda.
Daryl Beattie then shared the victory podium with Gardner in 1992 on the Oki Honda Racing Team RVF750.
New Zealand’s Aaron Slight then won three on the trot with a different partner each time. The first victory in 1993 coming on a Kawasaki with Scott Russell, followed by two wins on the RC45, the first with Doug Polen and the second with Tadayuki Okada.
1993 also signalled the change from F1 or TT style motorcycles as the premier category at the Suzuka 8 Hour to ‘Superbikes’.
Colin Edwards and Noriyuki Haga put Yamaha back on top in 1996 before Honda then went on a ten-year winning streak that stretched all the way from 1997 through to 2006.
The first three of that decade long Honda winning streak were won on RC45s, the next four on VTR-SP twins, including Valentino Rossi’s 2001 victory with Colin Edwards on the Cabin Honda VTR-SP1, while the Fireblade took top honours in 2004/05/06.
Yukio Kagayama and Kousuke Akiyoshi broke Suzuki’s 24-year drought in 2007.
Carlos Checa and Ryuichi Kiyonari put the Fireblade back on top in 2008.
2009 saw the introduction of three-rider teams and another all-Japanese victory for Yoshimura Suzuki.
2010 saw Honda’s Fireblade kicked off another winning streak that carried right through to 2014.
Winners for Honda in this period included Leon Haslam, Takumi Takahashi, Jonathan Rea, Takaaki Nakagami, Tadayuki Okada and Michael Van der Mark.
2015 marked a new era of domination by the Yamaha Factory Racing Team and the YZF-R1M.
Japanese hotshot Katsuyuki Nakasuga has been part of all those victories while Pol Espargaro (2015/16) helped him to two, as did Alex Lowes (2016/17), while Bradley Smith (2015) and Michael Van der Mark (2017) played their parts in Yamaha’s recent string of success also.
In 2018, Nakasuga again partnered with Alex Lowes and Michael Van der Mark and the trio went on to claim Yamaha’s fourth successive victory.
Suzuka 8 Hour Most Successful Riders
Only five riders have taken four victories at the prestigious race. Wayne Gardner (1985-1986-1991-1992), Ryuichi Kiyonari (2005-2008-2010-2011), Shinichi Itoh (1997-1998-2006-2011), Katsuyuki Nakasuga (2015-2016-2017-2018), Michael Van der Mark (2013-2014-2017-2018).
The most successful rider at the Suzuka 8 Hour is Tohru Ukawa. The Japanese rider has five victories to his name (1997-1998-2000-2004-2005). All five were won on Honda machinery, two on the RC45, one on the VTR1000 and two more on Fireblades.
Suzuka 8 Hour Most Successful Manufacturers
Honda are the leading manufacturer with 27 wins. Next best is Yamaha with eight victories while Suzuki have five wins.
Kawasaki has only ever won the prestigious event once and that was some 25 years ago when Aaron Slight and Scott Russell piloted a ZXR750R to victory.
Over the previous 5 years, ‘Kawasaki Team Green’ (managed by Kawasaki Motors Japan – KMJ), participated in the Suzuka 8 Hour and achieved a 2nd place podium in both 2016 and 2017, followed by a 3rd place podium in 2018.
This year Kawasaki will challenge to win the race with its factory team (‘Kawasaki Racing Team’ – KRT). The team riders will be Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam, and Toprak Razgatlioglu.
“I’m very excited to be returning to the Suzuka 8-Hour with Kawasaki. The race itself has a huge place in my heart. After last years’ experience, and being so competitive with Team Green, I am back for more. Last year we had some great speed but also made some mistakes. We will learn from those mistakes and be more prepared than ever. It’s one of the toughest, most exciting, races in the world. Racing in temperatures as hot as 36°C is a true test of man and machine. I love the challenge and can’t wait to spend time with all the Japanese fans.”
“The Suzuka 8-Hour is a fantastic event and this will be my fourth year now with Kawasaki. We have had some good races in the past, and a memorable one where I rode for five and a half hours out of the eight. Last year, with Jonathan, we were leading the race until we had a small problem. We have been on the podium every year and I feel that we have been making improvements with our package. Hopefully with some good testing under our belts we can make a strong challenge and finally get on that top step of the podium. It is good riding with Johnny as we have very similar set-up requests and we will have to see what the strategy is this year. I am really looking forward to it.”
“This is my dream team! I am ready, always, and we will see how it goes. I am a fan of the 8-Hour race but this will be my first time riding. I am so lucky to be in a team with Johnny and Leon; it feels incredible. I have ridden once before in the Japanese Superbike Championship, last year. The Japanese Kawasaki team told me that it was a similar bike to the 8-hour machine, and the main difference should be the endurance style fuel tank. The biggest difference from WorldSBK racing for me will be the Bridgestone tyres. It is like a dream to ride at Suzuka in the 8-Hour because it is an incredible track!”