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Jul 22, 2013

Honda Previews The 36th Running Of The Suzuka 8 Hours

FIM Endurance World Championship: Jonathan Rea (11) on the F.C.C. TSR Honda CBR1000RR in 2012. Photo by Noriyuki Nakajima, courtesy of Honda Europe.

The Coca-Cola Zero Suzuka 8-hour Endurance Road Race is quite simply Japan’s race of the year.

The 36th running is even more special than usual for Honda. With 19 teams carrying the Honda badge, the aim is to claim a fourth successive victory in this uniquely grueling and important endurance race. It would be the 26th 8-hour win for the company.

Honda does not field an official entry for the classic race, but puts years of production-racing success into specially prepared Honda CBR1000RR Fireblades for the top teams, while a number of independent teams both large and small provide backing in depth with similar machines.

The Suzuka 8-Hour Endurance race is the second of four rounds of the World Endurance Championship.

But the iconic race at the world-renowned figure-of-eight F1 grand prix circuit is much more than that. Founded in 1978, it is by far the most important single motorcycle race in the Japanese industry’s heartland, and a major annual event for engineers, riders, teams … and enormous crowds of fans.

Only a handful of the most successful regular World Endurance teams make the journey to Suzuka, and the vast bulk of the 63-team entry list comes from Japan. In some cases domestic racing stars join forces with past and present international riders. The right combination of talent is the first step to success in an eight-hour sprint where speed, endurance, consistency, and a dose of good luck are all vitally important.

From its foundation, the Suzuka 8-Hour Endurance has been a show-piece battleground for the Big Four Japanese manufacturers. Rule changes over the years mean it has become an important round of the World Endurance Championship, and for the 2013 race rival European machines will also be doing battle. But the original status remains intact. The 8-Hour is still primarily Japan’s race of the year.

There are many potential pitfalls to be negotiated, in an event that is gruelling and exciting in equal measure. It offers many chances and frequent surprises. There are so many possible variables affecting the outcome.

Teamwork is crucial, with riders relying on fellow-riders, and precision spanner-work crucial during tyre changes and refuelling stops. Unlike MotoGP and Superbike championships there is open tyre competition, with Bridgestone, Dunlop, Michelin and Pirelli all involved. Changing weather conditions and accident induced pace car intervention often consign pre-planned race strategy and tactics to history and hastily modified strategies come into play, but the relatively short race (compared with such as the Le Mans 24-Hour) means it is not far off a full-on sprint race.

Conditions make it exhausting for riders.

Sweltering summer temperatures as high as 40 degrees C and humidity of 70 percent or more take a heavy toll. If all goes smoothly, each rider will do a session of just under an hour before resting, rehydrating, and undergoing whatever physiotherapy may be required. The third rider in the team generally takes a reserve role.

The trickiest and most atmospheric time is in the final hour, as darkness sets in and temperatures drop. The race starts at 11:30, and finishes at 7:30 pm.

The Suzuka circuit is part of Honda, and the 8-Hour Endurance almost as well. In 35 races Honda has taken outright victory 24 times. The list of winners is a personal and mechanical who’s who, showcasing many of Honda’s greatest riders and machines.

MotoGP World champions Mick Doohan, Valentino Rossi and Wayne Gardner are all past winners, Gardner four times … a record equalled by former GP rider Shinichi Ito. World Superbike Champion Colin Edwards has won three times for Honda, including in 2002 paired with the late Daijiro Kato. The biggest Honda winner is another former grand prix rider, Tohru Ukawa, with a tally of five.

Machine-wise, the list is a roster of successful supersports machines, from the in-line four CB900 in the late 1970s to the RS1000 and CB900F that won in 1982. Ridden by Shego Ijima and Shinji Hagiwara, this was the first Japanese team to win the home event. The next Honda win two years later saw Mike Baldwin and Superbike champion Fred Merkel prevail on the first of the next generation of V4 engines, the RS750R. The following RVF750 won five times before evolving into the legendary RC45, winning five times between 1994 and 1999. For the next four years the V-twin VTR1000SPW took over Honda victory duties, replaced the next year by the CBR1000RR still used today – a return to in-line four-cylinder configuration.

Honda’s remarkable record includes 16 years of almost complete dominance in recent years. Since 1997, a Honda has won every year except two. Last year’s victory by Jonathan Rea, Kosuke Akiyoshi and Tady Okada was the third in a row.

World Superbike star Rea returns this year to spearhead the 19 CBR1000RR teams taking part, with the same F.C.C. TSR Honda team again riding with the magic number ‘11’ that has graced the fairing of many Honda 8-Hour winning teams. This year the Isle of Man resident is teamed with four-times former Suzuka winner Riyuchi Kyonari. The Japanese international racer is three times British Superbike champion.

Rea’s victory last year was shared with veteran Okada and Akiyoshi, who played a major role in developing this year’s machine, and had expected to take part. Akiyoshi suffered a fractured femur earlier this season, and had to cede his ride to Kiyonari. Should the team achieve the ambition of a second straight win come true, it would be Kiyonari’s fifth, putting him equal with Tohru Ukawa.

A strong challenge is expected also from the international MuSASHi RT HARC PRO team, where Takumi Takahashi and Leon Haslam are backed by Michael van der Mark. Japan’s Takahashi and Britain’s Haslam have both competed at GP level, the latter now a leading light in World Superbikes. Dutchman van der Mark is the reigning World Superstock Champion, currently competing in World Supersport.

The team is seeking a return to the winner’s circle after three years: All Japan championship rider Takahashi won the 8-hour in 2010, and was third in 2009 and 2011.

GP winner and World Superbike rider Makoto Tamada (J) is teamed with Malaysian racer Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman in Honda Team Asia. Veteran Tamada is racing this year in the 600 Supersports Asian championship; his Malaysian team-mate is returning for a second Suzuka 8-Hour visit.

Fans’ favourite Shinichi Ito, nicknamed “Mr 8-Hour” after four victories and seven pole positions, returns to the scene of many triumphs for the first time in two years, riding the TOHO Racing with Moriwaki CBR1000RR Honda. The former 500cc grand prix star is teamed with All-Japan Championship rider Tatsuya Yamaguchi for a strong popular challenge. The third rider is All-Japan 600cc racer Kazuma Watanabe; last year the squad finished second.

Another rider with a big reputation is multiple Isle of Man TT winner John McGuinness, teamed with fellow-Britons Simon Andrews and Tony Rutter, for the HONDA TT LEGENDS squad. A further international entry comes from Australian pairing Jamie Stauffer and Josh Hook, riding for Honda DREAM RT SAKURAI HONDA.

Nineteen CBR1000RRRs on the grid makes Honda the most numerous choice for 63 entrants. Traditional Japanese rivals are also present in force: Suzuki has 13 machines, one ridden by 500cc World Champion and racing legend Kevin Schwantz, out of retirement for this race. Kawasaki and Yamaha have 10 bikes apiece. Numbers are made up by six BMWs, three Ducatis, and one each Aprilia and KTM, adding a European flavour to the traditional Japanese technical and sporting battle.

The remaining 14 Honda teams have an all-Japanese line-up, representing a significant body of local talent. Of the 14 several will be racing in the colours of teams allied to motorcycle clubs belonging to Honda technical schools and manufacturing facilities across Japan.

Takashi Yasuda / Daijiro Hiura / Koji Kitagachi represent the Honda Suzuka Racing Team; Motoki Furusawa / Yuta Kodama ride for Team Honda Technical College. Honda Kumamoto Racing fields Mitsuhiro Yoshida / Kazuhiro Kojima / Kazuki Tokudome; and Honda Ryokuyoukai Kumamoto Racing has Makoto Kitaori / Yasuhiro Ohhashi / Kensuke Mori.

Strong as the Honda line-up is they face formidable race-hardened and experienced opposition determined to end Hondas run of 8-Hour success. Chief among them will be the Yoshimura Suzuki RT of Takuya Tsuda, Josh Brookes and the vastly experienced Nobuatsu Aoki. The ultra-competitive World Endurance Championship winning SERT Suzuki team field Vincent Philippe, Anthony Dehalle and Julian Decosta.

Yamaha France run with David Checa, Kenny Forett and Matthieu Legrive, while the Monster Energy Yamaha will be in the hands of the Japanese-Australian combination of Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Broc Parker and Josh Waters. The Kawasaki Trickstar Team have high hopes of success with strong Team Tamaki Serizawa, Osamu Deguchi and Hitoyasu Izutsu.

Whichever team takes the honours at Suzuka on July 28 will have raced fast and hard for eight long gruelling hours in extremely demanding conditions and, as Wayne Gardner so rightly said of victory at the 8-Hours; “To win the Suzuka 8-Hour race is the greatest feeling a rider can have in motorcycle racing.” After a brief pause he added. “To lose the race from a strong position is the worst feeling a rider can have.”

Honda Rider and Team Manager Quotes:

F.C.C. TSR Honda rider Jonathan Rea says:
“I tested recently and even on the first afternoon we were as fast as last year. The team has been held back a little by Akiyoshi-san’s leg injury but Kiyonari-san has definitely stepped up to the plate. He has been riding really well. We have a really good compromise on our bike settings, so it should be good. The bike’s character is completely different with Bridgestone tyres compared to the bike I ride in SBK. With the engine leaned off for fuel consumption, it feels like a very balanced and stable Superstock bike … very stable. This race is a huge part of my year, and I have more tools in the bag this time from my experience. You have to conserve energy, and go with the flow. The goal is to win again.

F.C.C. TSR Honda rider Riyuchi Kiyonari says:
“I knew Jonathan from his BSB years. He was a fast rider back then, and now he is one of the world’s top class riders. It means I have confidence in him and know I can rely on him. It would have been reassuring if Akiyoshi was able to race with us. We consider him as a team mate and he will be with the team. We, together, will do everything possible to win the race.”

F.C.C. TSR Honda Director Masao Takeda says:
“Akiyoshi has developed an excellent machine that is fast for any rider. Because of his work, both Rea and Kiyonari were able to make good lap times from the start of testing. We know we have a strong team. Our two riders have exceptional ability, and Akiyoshi will be there to cheer us on for the race weekend. By combining all of our powers, we are aiming for a second consecutive win.”

MuSASHi RT HARC PRO Honda rider Takumi Takahashi says:
“In the past I have been the junior teamed up with senior riders in the Suzuka 8-hour Endurance. This year is different, because I am the experienced rider in the team, and it is up to me to give leadership to the other riders. It is the first time at this complicated race for both Leon and Michael, and I feel responsible to help them use all their talent.”

MuSASHi RT HARC PRO Honda rider Leon Haslam says:
“I’m proud to be picked by a strong team, aiming to win. All three of us tested the bike recently and it went well. We worked hard, comparing the Bridgestone tyres and getting back up to speed at Suzuka. I ended up equalling our team’s fastest lap time in two days of rain during the first test; in the second Suzuka test in the dry I threw in a race run and was quickest in our team.
We’re prepared for any conditions. Suzuka is one of those circuits where you have to love it. The more laps you do the better you get.”

MuSASHi RT HARC PRO Honda rider Michael van der Mark says:
“Testing for the 8-hour has been really exciting.
It is something special to be invited by HRC to one of the most important races on the year. It is also a big challenge for me as I have never ridden the CBR1000RR, never been to Japan, and the tyres were different as well. I was nervous for the test, but it went better than even I expected, and now I can’t wait. I am the third rider, but I don’t know if they will use two or three riders in the race. But just to be invited by Honda is pretty special.”

MuSASHi RT HARC PRO Honda director Shigeki Honda says:
“Last year we suffered disappointment, with a crash while chasing a top result. This has filled the whole team with a very strong determination, that we must win without fail this year. Haslam and Michael are new to the team, but they have made a good impression, performing well at tests and also fitting in well. Takahashi is the nucleus of the team, and the aim is to win the race by using teamwork, to make the most of the strength of the three riders.”

Honda Team Asia rider Makoto Tamada says:
“The reason for the existence of this team is the growing importance of Asia, and with my team-mate we will be aiming for the top-three podium. Azlan is a rider with good potential, and he has Suzuka
8 Hour Endurance experience from last year. He has also raced in some All-Japan JSB1000 races this year, helping his growth as a rider, and his confidence. For my part I think I am stronger than last year. I’m confident of a strong result.”

Honda Team Asia rider Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman says:
“Last year I was the first Malaysian rider to take part in the Suzuka 8-hour Endurance race, and I learned a lot in that time. I got more racing miles in some All-Japan races this year, and two test sessions at Suzuka for this race. I am much more experienced than last year, and am confident my riding has also improved. I hope to stand on the podium with Tamada, who is such an experienced rider.”

Honda Team Asia director Hiroyuki Matsuyama says:
“Our team is two years old, mixing Japan with Asia – and not only riders. Asian mechanics have joined us, to extend the involvement.
Communication can be difficult, but somehow that adds to the enjoyment for me, and I feel we are doing valuable work with them. I think Tamada has sharpened his sense as a rider since competing in the Asian Championships this season; Azlan has also improved greatly since last year. We are considering a number-three rider, and we are aiming for a top-three podium finish.”

TOHO Racing with Moriwaki rider Shinichi Ito says:
“I have been here at the Suzuka circuit as an advisor to Honda since last year, and I noticed that Yamaguchi’s riding has been very fantastic – the way he has come up to the top with only a production bike. The idea of riding with him in the Suzuka 8 Hour Endurance came from me: finally I spoke out and asked him to ride with me.
Watanabe is also a rider of growing talent. I am happy that together we can fight for victory. We shall enjoy the race, and challenge the limit!”

TOHO Racing with Moriwaki Honda rider Tatsuya Yamaguchi says:
“Last year I managed to finish second. Our bike was a production machine, with a racing kit … so our result was described as “a miracle”. Being team-mate to Ito-san is also a miracle for me.
With his potential, and also the ability of Watanabe, I want to show our power more than last year.

TOHO Racing with Moriwaki Honda rider Kazuma Watanabi says:
“I respect Yamaguchi. He established his team by himself, operated it well, and achieved good results as a rider at the same time. Ito is ‘Mr 8-Hour.’ He has had great success, and has given me a lot of valuable and accurate advice in the All-Japan races. It is a partnership with two great riders, and a great chance for me to learn.
I will try not to be a burden on my team-mates.”

TOHO Racing with Moriwaki Honda director Hiroshi Saito says:
“We have added a third rider this year, to give the chance for a young rider to fulfil his dreams. Last year we showed what we can do – we achieved second place even with a production bike with a race kit. We showed what can be achieved against faster machines if you keep maximum effort and never give up. Our target this year is to make an enjoyable race for the fans once again.


1 - 1979: Tony Hatton, AUS/Michael Cole, AUS - Honda CB900
2 - 1981: Mike Baldwin, USA/Dave Aldana USA - Honda RS1000
3 - 1982: Shigeo Iijima, J/Shinji Hagiwara, J - Honda CB900F
4 - 1984: Mike Baldwin, USA/Fred Merkel, USA - Honda RS750R
5 - 1985: Wayne Gardner, AUS/Masaki Tokano, J - Honda RVF750
6 - 1986: Wayne Gardner, AUS/Dominique Sarron F - Honda RVF750
7 - 1989: Dominique Sarron, F/Alex Vieira, Por - Honda RVF750
8 - 1991: Wayne Gardner, AUS/Mick Doohan, AUS - Honda RVF750
9 - 1992: Wayne Gardner, AUS/Daryl Beattie, AUS - Honda RVF750
10 -1994: Doug Polen, USA/Aaron Slight, NZ - Honda RVF/RC45
11 - 1995: Aaron Slight, NZ/Tadayuki Okada, J - Honda RVF/RC45
12 -1997: Shinichi Ito, J/Tohru Ukawa, J - Honda RVF/RC45
13 -1998: Shinichi Ito, J/Tohru Ukawa, J - Honda RVF/RC45
14 -1999: Tadayuki Okada, J/Alex Barros, Bra - Honda RVF/RC45
15 - 2000: Tohru Ukawa, J/Daijiro Kato, J - Honda VTR1000SPW
16 - 2001: Valentino Rossi, I/Colin Edwards, USA - Honda VTR1000SPW
17 - 2002: Daijiro Kato, J/Colin Edwards, USA - Honda VTR1000SPW
18 - 2003: Yukio Nukumi, J/Manubu Kamada, J - Honda VTR1000SPW
19 -2004: Tohru Ukawa, J/Hitoyasu Izutsu, J - Honda CBR1000RRW
20 - 2005: Ryuichi Kiyonari, J/Tohru Ukawa, J - Honda CBR1000RRW
21 - 2006: Shinichi Ito, J/Takeshi Tsujimura, J - Honda CBR1000RR
22 - 2008: Ryuichi Kiyonari, J/Carlos Checa, E - Honda CBR1000RR
23 - 2010: Ryuichi Kiyonari, J/Takumi Takahashi, J - Honda CBR1000RR
24 - 2011: Ryuichi Kiyonari, J/Kosuke Akiyoshi, J/Shinichi Itoh, J - Honda CBR1000RRW
25 - 2012: Jonathan Rea, GB/Kosuke Akiyoshi, J/Tady Okada, J - Honda CBR1000RR