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.
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