The Suzuka 8 Hours has been absent from the calendar since it last took place in 2019 due to the global health pandemic. Its return this weekend, 4-7 August, and is eagerly anticipated by fans and competitors alike, with a number of EWC regulars – plus some of Japan’s best riders and their teams – preparing to take on the challenge of the ultra-exciting Suzuka Circuit layout.
Race week has arrived and the final joint tests scheduled for August 2 and 3 are underway. These will be followed by Qualifying on Friday, a Top 10 Trial on Saturday and then the race on Sunday, August 7.
Following Second Qualifying on Friday, the leading 10 teams go forward into Saturday’s Top 10 Trial. Two riders per team take part with each rider getting one lap to set their time. The lap times of each rider are then combined to complete the final starting grid for Sunday. The 5-4-3-2-1 qualifying points are awarded after the Top 10 trial rather than after the completion of Second Qualifying, which is the case at other EWC events.
Tuesday’s opening day of practice was met with harsh sunshine and temperatures exceeding 36℃ which saw track temperature rise above 62℃ which posed plenty of challenges for bikes, tyres and riders.
For #33 Team HRC (Tetsuta Nagashima / Takumi Takahashi / Iker Lecuona), Nagashima and Takahashi were available for Day 1 tests but Suzuka debutante Lecuona is still in transit from the Czech Republic following the World Superbike event at Most last weekend. That story was similar up and down pit-lane with all the World Superbike regulars contesting the Suzuka 8 Hour still in transit but expected to be on tracklater today, Wednesday.
There was also some news of line-up changes with Gregg Black being called up from his managerial duties with the Yoshimura Suzuki Endurance Racing Team to instead pull on the leathers and replace Belgian Xavier Siméon who is suffering from COVID-19. Sylvain Guintoli and Kazuki Watanabe complete the SERT line-up.
Team HRC’s Nagashima set a 2 min 6.966 s lap on his first outing, which ended up being the fastest lap of the day. Team-mate Takahashi fell at one stage, but recovered to set a 2 min 7.655 s lap before the day ended.
Honda has powered 27 Suzuka 8 Hours winners and was unbeaten between 1997 to 2006. It’s now aiming to win the event for the first time in eight years when it can also count on the factory Team HRC entry, which will challenge F.C.C. TSR Honda France but Honda hasn’t won in its home round of the FIM Endurance World Championship since 2014 with Takumi Takahashi, Leon Haslam and Michael van der Mark.
Managed by Masakazu Fujii and represented on track by Mike Di Meglio, Josh Hook and Gino Rea, F.C.C. TSR Honda France is the only frontrunning EWC team to have claimed two podium finishes in this year’s series. It starts the Suzuka 8 Hours with its Honda CBR 1000RR-R 15 points behind Yoshimura SERT Motul, the defending champion FIM EWC team, in the provisional rankings and is determined to complete round three on top in the title chase, they ended the opening day fifth fastest.
“This is one of my favourite countries and tracks on the calendar of the EWC and it’s very good to be back. We’ve missed riding at Suzuka a lot, it’s an amazing layout and to be here this year is great. The test last month was average, so to speak, we were expecting to be a lot more competitive than we were so we have a lot of work to do but we are getting there slowly and that’s the main thing. Working on race set-up has been our target, to be fast but also consistent on the tyres in the hot conditions. Overall, we’re feeling good and the bike seems good. We just need to keep working.”
YART had set the pace in the opening session but slipped to third overall by the end of the day and are also awaiting for some key personnel to arrive from last weekend’s World Superbike to support the team at Suzuka. On track its rider triumvirate of Niccolò Canepa, Marvin Fritz and Karel Hanika are unchanged as the Austrian outfit bids for its first EWC win of the season, with Hanika also aiming to extend his pole position sequence to three events.
Kawasaki Racing Team Suzuka 8H has retained Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam, part of line-up that won the last Suzuka 8 Hours to take place on 28 July 2019, and added three-time Suzuka winner Alex Lowes, who finished second three years ago, for an all-British attack. Haslam has also won the event three times, while Rea has two Suzuka victories to his name. The team were not on track during the Tuesday tests but are expected to be on track today.
“I have completed one test ahead of Suzuka this year. We pretty much packed up our WorldSBK team and are going there with a couple of tests completed, trying to do a good job. It worked out in 2019. I think this year our rider lineup is good, with Alex and Leon. Hopefully, Leon is fast, Alex is fast, and we will have a good race. But in the Suzuka 8 Hours, it’s not all about the fastest guy. It’s about who makes the least mistakes, who’s consistent, and who’s good in traffic around the track as well. There’s always a lot of traffic.”
“Suzuka is a special event and this year it’s my first race in Japan in Kawasaki green. I’m proud to wear the colours and to be team mates with Jonathan and Leon. We have a strong team. I am looking forward to working together and fighting for victory. It’s a pleasure to race in front of Kawasaki’s Japanese fans.”
“I’m really looking forward to Suzuka. The last time I was here Johnny and I won it, so I have very, very good memories. I have done a lot of work out here in Japan already, working with a full KRT staff. Obviously, the pace times have all been very competitive, which has been good for me. It is kind of the highlight of my year. It has been a tough year in other championships, with a few issues, so to come out here and be assured that I am still as quick as anyone has been a big bonus. I’m super-excited to be team-mates with Johnny and Alex – I couldn’t wish for better team-mates. The Suzuka 8 Hours always throws a few curve balls with everything that goes on, but I am super-happy and confident to take on the challenge. We will see what we can do and try to get back-to-back wins.”
KRT engineers and mechanics will support KMC’s Japanese engineers and technicians in this year’s effort at what is arguably the biggest single race on the Japanese motorsports calendar.
Markus Reiterberger, Jérémy Guarnoni and Illya Mykhalchyk formed the BMW Motorrad World Endurance Team that won the 24H SPA EWC Motos in early June aboard a BMW M1000RR. But while the German rider is optimistic of more FIM Endurance World Championship success, he also expects plenty of strong opposition from several top Japanese riders and their teams, in addition to a host of EWC regulars.
“Suzuka is special. It is a very important race for the Japanese. They have a lot of tests and experience there and tyres for the circuit. So it will be quite a task for us to compete against the experienced Japanese manufacturers as the only European manufacturer. But we will give our very best and we still have our sights set on the world championship title. This is why we need the best possible result. Of course we want to win, we want to finish on the podium – this is always the case. We will see if this is possible after the first days of testing at Suzuka. But we definitely have the team, the riders and the material for it.”
Reiterberger travelled to Japan after he scored an IDM German championship double in late July at the Schleiz track. He has admitted that Suzuka will be a different prospect altogether.
“I’ve already been to Suzuka twice with the Penz13 team, once for the test and once for the race,” said the 28-year-old. “The track is breathtaking but very difficult to learn. Jérémy knows it already, Illya still has to learn it. And I certainly will need some time, too, to get in swing there again. We need to find a good set-up for the bike and then it is about understanding how the overall package of bike, tyres and conditions works best. The heat will for sure be a challenge. According to the forecast, we can expect 32 degrees Celsius and a humidity between 20 and 40 per cent. That sounds like that what we are used to. But if we get the typical Suzuka weather with 40 degrees and very high humidity, then it will be of course very difficult.”
Japan’s EWC round is the only race on this year’s calendar not run for 24 hours. While the twice-around-the-clock races run in 2022 have delivered non-stop action with riders pushing from start to finish in their pursuit of glory, the Suzuka 8 Hours will be even more intense.
Taking the Le Mans-style running start at 11h30 local time (04h30 CET) on Sunday 7 August, riders race through the heat of the day, through sunset and into early evening with the chequered flag scheduled to be waved to the winner of this prestigious race at 19h30.
Suzuka 8 Hour Practice Times
Tuesday Test Session Two
Team HRC – Honda 2m06.966
Kawasaki Racing Team Suzuka 8H – Honda – 2m07.451
YART – Yamaha 2m07.884
Honda Sofukai Suzuka Racing – Honda 2m08.194
F.C.C. TSR Honda France – Honda 2m08.260
SDG Honda Racing – Honda 2m08.379
Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing – Honda 2m08.439
S-Pulse Dream Racing ITEC – Suzuki 2m08.692
Yoshimura SERT Motul – Suzuki 2m09.206
Kawasaki Plaza Racing Team – Kawasaki 2m09473
EVA RT 01 Webike Trickstar – Kawasaki 2m09.880
NCXX Racing with Riders Club – Yamaha 2m09.935
Team Kodama – Yamaha 2m10.066
BMW Motorrad World Endurance Team – BMW 2m10.507
TOHO Racing – Honda 2m10.539
Honda Asia Dream Racing with Showa – Honda 2m10.552
TEAM ATJ with Japan Post – Honda 2m10.569
KRP Sanyoukogyo & RS-Itoh – Kawasaki 2m10.571
Webike SRC Kawasaki France – Kawasaki 2m10.573
Akeno Speed – Yamaha 2m10.985
EWC Teams Standings
Yoshimura SERT Motul
F.C.C. TSR Honda France
YART – Yamaha Official Team EWC
TATI TEAM BERINGER RACING
BMW MOTORRAD WORLD ENDURANCE TEAM
Team Bolliger Switzerland #8
Team LRP Poland
VILTAIS RACING IGOL
Wójcik Racing Team EWC 77
MACO RACING Team
ERC Endurance Ducati
WEBIKE SRC KAWASAKI FRANCE
TEAM MOTO AIN
TEAM GT ENDURANCE
Motobox Kremer Racing #65
Kingtyre Fullgas Racing Team
2022 Suzuka 8 Hour Schedule
Tuesday 2 August
Wednesday 3 August
Thursday 4 August
Administrative checking, rider briefing, technical inspection
Friday 5 August
08h10-10h10: Free Practice
12h10-12h30: First Qualifying (Blue Rider)
12h45-13h05: First Qualifying (Yellow Rider)
13h20-13h40: First Qualifying (Red Rider)
15h50-16h10: Second Qualifying (Blue Rider)
16h25-16h45: Second Qualifying (Yellow Rider)
17h00-17h20: Second Qualifying (Red Rider)
18h30-19h30: Night Practice
Saturday 6 August:
14h15-15h00: Free Practice
15h30-17h00: Top 10 Trial
17h00: Post-Top 10 Trial press conference
The Suzuka 8 Hours is back on the FIM EWC calendar in 2022 having not taken place since 2019 due to the global health crisis. Operated by Honda-owned Mobilityland, Suzuka features a unique figure-of-eight layout and presents a considerable challenge for riders thanks to its wide variety of corners. Opened initially as a test track for the Japanese motor giant in 1962, the venue hosted the first edition of the famous Suzuka 8 Hours motorbike race in 1978, nine years before staging its first Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. The Suzuka 8 Hours has been a popular feature on the EWC calendar and a key fixture on the international calendar since with leading grand prix motorcycle racers taking part – and winning – over the years.
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