Leon Haslam started from pole position on the Team Green Kawasaki in perfect fashion to launch away ahead of the field but Takahashi was taking no prisoners through the first corners to quickly move past the Brit. Haslam then had a slide through Dunlop Curve and ran on to the grass, and this was lap one! It looked certain as though Haslam would go down and go down fairly heavily but somehow the 25-year-old stayed on the ZX-10RR and did so without really losing any ground.
The leaders started overtaking lapped traffic only a couple of laps into it and 10 minutes later they were lapping riders left, right and centre.
Jonathan Rea got on the bike around 43-minutes in to the race and quickly put the Kawasaki into the lead.
An hour into the race it was Rea from Van der Mark, the pair slicing and dicing their way through lapped traffic. It was quite a hazardous affair, and one that caught out Sylvain Guintoli.
The Frenchman was spoiled by a backmarker which put the Yoshimura Suzuki on to the dirt, the team had clearly demonstrated podium pace but that tumble essentially robbed them of that chance. Guintoli returned to the pits and Bradley Ray took over the control but the young Brit’ returned to the pits on the next lap as something was clearly wrong with the GSX-R1000R.
Rea and VdMark swapped the lead numerous time early in the second hour of the race.
Team Kagayama’s Joe Roberts was seventh before going down and seemingly hurting his ankle. No rider seemed to be ready to take over on the bike, thus the GSX-R sat prone and alone in pit-lane for minutes as a pilot was roused in what looked like a fairly amateurish display from the team.
Troy Herfoss returned to the pits on the Honda Asia Fireblade a little over 1hr30mins in to the race while holding down sixth place and handed the machine over to a teammate.
The second placed Yamaha of Van der Mark then came into the pits and handed the reigns over to Alex Lowes with a three-second deficit to race leader Rea.
Jonathan Rea pointed the Team Green ZX-10RR to the pits on the next lap where Leon Haslam waited to take the controls of the Kawasaki once again.
A couple of laps later Takahashi returned to pitlane on the Red Bull Honda after a full 1hr45mins on the bike, and from the lead of the race after YFRT and Team Green’s pit stops. Takaaki Nakagami then started his stint on the #33 Honda.
When things settled down and the new riders were back up to speed it was Haslam leading Lowes, but the Yamaha man was now the fastest man on the circuit and closing him down. Nakagami was 15-seconds further behind in third place on the Red Bull Honda and it was only those three on the leading lap.
Traffic again though was playing a large part in the lap times of the front runners, those that managed to thread the needle through a lucky slot gaining the advantage, while those that got baulked could suffer to the tune of seconds.
As the race neared the two-hour mark it was Haslam and Lowes rubbing shoulders. It was the Yamaha man that proved to have the biggest set and pushed his way through to the lead. Haslam then got baulked terribly by a lapped rider and lost more than a second on Lowes which allowed the Yamaha man some clear air.
Over the next few laps though Haslam clawed back the ground bit by bit and the Kawasaki nosed ahead again. On the next lap Lowes again pushed the Yamaha to the front as the pair looked as though they were in a sprint race.
Then at 2hr25mins a bike went down and caught on fire which brought out the Honda NSX safety car. It was almost 15-minutes later when we were back under full race conditions and of course the pace car had allowed the #33 Honda to close up on the leading duo.
In fourth place and a lap down was Josh Hook on the F.C.C. TSR Honda. The TSR team led the World Endurance Championship by ten-points over the GMT94 Yamaha squad. Hook came in and handed over to teammate Freddy Foray 2hr55mins into the race. Hooky was interviewed after jumping off the bike and said he was not perfectly happy with the bike and was struggling with the front end a little, but repeated that they only need to finish just behind GMT94 to claim the World Championship, while they were in fact a long way ahead of their championship rivals at this point of the race.
Ten minutes earlier Haslam had handed over the #11 Kawasaki to Jonathan Rea who immediately had the ZX-10RR laying black lines and into consistent 2m08s before then dropping in a 2m07.52s to underline his pace. By the three-hour mark Team Green led the race by four-seconds over Yamaha Factory Racing Team.
3hrs and 45mins into the race Jonathan Rea coasted into pitlane for a scheduled pit-stop seemingly out of fuel! The ZX-10RR limping along to the pit lane entry and rolling the entire long pit lane entry and pit lane with the clutch in. The stop itself was quick and Haslam was rolling out of pit-lane with new tyres and a full tank of fuel in no time. That fuel issue for Rea though had cost them dearly, losing around 30-seconds to the Yamaha Factory Racing Team and also pushing them behind Team Red Bull Honda.
An hour later, just after Team Green Kawasaki and Yamaha Factory Racing Team had pitted, but before the more fuel efficient Red Bull Honda Team had come in, rain started to fall again… That of course meant that if Yamaha or Kawasaki were to change to wets they would need to stop again, while Red Bull Honda could perhaps stop almost on schedule…
Five minutes later Mizuno was down hurt at Degner on the Musashi Honda which brought out the safety car, throwing another factor into the race. As that incident was cleared the rain stopped and the track dried again, but that didn’t stop a rider hitting the back of another rider while behind the safety car on the main straight, delaying proceedings yet again. Then just after that was cleared the rain started falling again! Plenty of calculations being undertaken in regards to fuel usage and various other factors would have been going on pit-lane with the race now having 2hr45mins remaining.
Josh Hook brought the F.C.C. TSR Honda into the pits at the halfway mark of the race and handed over again to Freddy Foray. Red Bull Honda then stopped to put Jacobsen on the bike for the first time this race, in perhaps the sketchiest conditions yet seen in the race… A few minutes later the Yamaha Factory Racing Team machine also came into pit-lane for wets…
The event was back under full racing conditions with 2hr30mins remaining and the Red Bull Honda holding a five-second lead ahead of Michael Van der Mark.
Jonathan Rea then went down on the Team Green Kawasaki on slicks. The WorldSBK Champ looked to be cruising before the rear end snapped out so fast and put him on his head. Rea limped back to the pits which obviously cost them a lot of time before Kazumi Watanabe got on the bike and back out on the circuit.
Michael Van der Mark was visibly quicker than Red Bull Honda’s Jacobsen, the Yamaha man catching him by more than a bike length at every corner. Perhaps a strange decision by Honda to put Jacobsen out when he has no experience of the track today in race conditions, and just when it looked to be most important that Honda make their best possible pace to try and keep the Yamaha at bay… Van der Mark breezed past and immediately started pulling away, only for the safety car to come out again! This time around it was due to oil on circuit, and the suspected offender was the Team Green Kawasaki dropping oil as Rea returned to pitlane after his spill..
1hr and 45mins to go and we were back under racing conditions, Michael Van der Mark again pulling away from Red Bull Honda’s PJ Jacobsen. The track was starting to dry in places but was wet in other areas which made conditions very challenging. This duo were a lap ahead of Team Green Kawasaki.
In regard to the actual World Endurance Championship, the F.C.C. TSR Honda was still running a strong sixth place and en route to lift the crown if they kept their noses clean in these final stages of the race. They were enjoying the lead of a few laps lead over their main championship challenger GMT94 Yamaha in ninth place.
The fourth placed 090 Telaru Honda piloted by Akiyoshi was closing on Kawasaki’s Watanabe and then perhaps got a little bit excited by the sniff of stealing a possible podium, it ended in tears with him throwing it down the road. That promoted the S-Pulse Dream Suzuki up to fourth, F.C.C TSR up to fifth and the #22 Honda Asia Dream Racing Fireblade of Herfoss, Zaidi and Izdihar up into sixth place with one and a half hours to go.
Michael Van der Mark entered the pits for fuel and to hand over the reigns of the Factory Yamaha to Alex Lowes. PJ Jacobsen remained out on the Honda and now all eyes were on how much longer that the Honda could stay out on fuel, and perhaps negate the need for a late splash and dash to make the finish line… Could the race be won on fuel economy..?
Jacobsen came in only a few laps later, with 65-minutes remaining on the clock, getting slicks on the Red Bull Honda and Nakagami took the controls. The track was still quite damp in places so it took the Japanese rider a little while to find his feet and the tap to Lowes with an hour left in the race was a just over a minute. The Yamaha man lapping much quicker and continuing to pull away from Nakagami and Leon Haslam took the opportunity to also un-lap himself after passing the Honda on the circuit. The Kawasaki then pitted for fuel and for Jonathan Rea to climb onboard which again pushed them back to third place.
With half an hour to run and darkess descending across the circuit it was still Alex Lowes and the #21 Factory Yamaha in the lead by 1m12.812s ahead of Nakagami on the Red Bull Honda while Kawasaki were more than a lap further down in third place. Josh Hook on the F.C.C. TSR Honda was a comfortable fifth and on course to lift the World Endurance Championship crown while countryman Troy Herfoss was in seventh place.
With 16 minutes remaining the Factory Yamaha went to pit-lane for a splash and dash in order to finish the race distance. Lowes rejoined the circuit with a 25-second advantage over the Red Bull Honda and thus it looked as though it was to the fourth Yamaha victory in a row in what is Japan’s most prestigious race.
Lowes crossed the line just as the counter registered eight hours and thus had to do another lap to finish the race which made a few teams a little nervous in regards to their fuel range to the flag… Lowes did it though, his third victory in succession and Yamaha’s fourth.
Yamaha Factory Racing Team Manager, Wataru Yoshikawa
“Alex and Michael raced really well right from the start against our chief rivals that were also fielding riders from the World Superbike Championship and from the British Superbike Championship. I actually think that helped them focus right off the bat. The weather kept changing all the time during the race and our team obviously doesn’t have a bird’s-eye-view of the circuit, so we believed in the skills and judgement of our riders, and that worked really well for us. We had no mistakes and fought well the whole race and I think that’s what helped us get this win, and though he didn’t enter the race, Nakasuga was behind Alex and Michael the whole time and I feel that was the biggest factor for this fourth victory.”
“I didn’t race at all today so I feel a bit stressed about that but I am happy that throughout the year in the All Japan Series I have been able to build a bike that got us to the win here at the 8 Hours. I am also so pleased and really excited about the two wonderful riders that rode today. It was a very exciting race and I really wanted to race too, so I regret that, but I’m so happy that, we Yamaha, made new history in the 8 Hours of Suzuka. We won’t stop here, we will continue to develop the bike and continue to try and win more races here.”
“I feel really good. Firstly, even though Nakasuga didn’t ride today, he is a massive part of the project. I really enjoy coming here, the atmosphere we have in the team is really great. In today’s race the bike was amazing; it was working really well. It was nice to have a strong fast bike; it made it easier to pass in the race, so a massive thank you to Yamaha for giving it to us. Obviously the race was quite stressful at times, lots of safety cars and lots of difficult weather conditions but it all seemed to fall when Michael was riding the bike. I certainly had a lot easier race than him, so a massive thank you to him also for his effort. The second half of the race we just had to be smart and get the bike to the finish. For me to win three in a row is fantastic, its four for the team and three for me so I’m really happy, hopefully I can come back and do it again next year.”
Michael van der Mark
“It’s been a really tough race today, it started yesterday when we knew that Nakasuga was unfortunately not fit to ride, then I was told I was going to start the race, that was a bit stressful! I think it has been my most difficult Suzuka 8 Hours with all the conditions, it kept changing so quickly, and the first stint I think was one and a half stints, where I thought I had the worst but then when I did my third one I was on the bike for an hour and 40 minutes because of safety cars, rain, then dry so it was really tough. At the end we managed a nice gap and Alex finished it off really nicely. I’m really happy with the weekend, the team had a plan and they never changed it. Even though some other bikes looked stronger at times we always kept doing our thing and the results are clear. Next year I hope to be back with Alex and Katsuyuki riding here again!”
Takaaki Nakagami claimed second place for Honda and Jonathan Rea third for Kawasaki.
“It was a very, very difficult race we had so many different conditions thrown at us and things we were not prepared for. I am really happy and I gave a big effort and myself, Leon, Kazuma and the all the team fell short; the chips just did not fall our way this year and congratulations to Yamaha and Honda. It just didn’t happen for us but we proved our speed which I am really happy about. I just want to thank my team mates, they did a really good job in a difficult race”.
“Really happy. I made a podium again with Team Green. I had a real good first part of the race and had some good battles with Yamaha and Honda. I came into a little bit of bad luck in the mid race stage and had to bring the bike home for third place. I am really happy, it was a great team effort and the bike was working really good. I can’t be too disappointed, we are back on the podium here at Suzuka so I am really happy”.
“First of all I would like to forward big thanks to Kawasaki, the sponsors and Team Green. It was a difficult race with many extraordinary issues like the typhoon, ever changing weather and the safety cars etc. I had only one stint but that was not a problem because I know my job is not only on Sunday. However I do regret that we ended up third although we had good potential to win. I will be improving myself as from today for the next Suzuka 8hr based on the experience I absorbed from two great riders this week”.
F.C.C. TSR Honda crowned World Endurance Champions
One of the biggest parties though will be amongst the F.C.C TSR Honda squad as fifth place was enough to secure them the 2017-18 World Endurance Championship crown. Josh Hook was entrusted with the bulk of the work throughout the race and entrusted for the final stint to bring home the crown for his French based team, and he did it in fine style. That result also helped Honda to win the World Endurance Manufacturer’s Cup.
Josh Hook – F.C.C. TSR Honda France
“We have done our best all season for this moment. We have raced in each event to win. All of our hard work has come together today, with us becoming the champions, so I’m so happy. I’d like to thank the whole team from the bottom of my heart. Team Manager Fujii and everyone at TSR have been so good to me since I started in the All Japan races, so I’m happy I could return the favor by winning the championship at TSR’s home track at Suzuka.”
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