Soon after free practice begun at 8:30 am for 45 minutes, for Round 2 of the FIM World Endurance Grand Prix Series, the 37th Coca Cola Zero Suzuka 8-hour Endurance Road Race, Hiura for the Honda Suzuka Racing team fell at the chicane, causing mayhem and a restart for the proceedings. Nakasuka for the Nakasuka / Parkes / Brookes Yamaha team later fell at the same chicane and then the spoon, forcing the practice session to be red-flagged. Once restarted, teams worked furiously to make final adjustments. The MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO team (Takahashi / Haslam / van Der Mark) recorded the fastest time to win pole.
Preceding the race, Watanabe (Watanabe / Nagashima / Itoh - AU-Teluru-Kohata RT) pitted, which was followed by rain on the west-course, delaying the start. Weather conditions deteriorated further, forcing teams to change their plans. The race was announced to start at noon, but was pushed back to 12:35 pm. The end of the race, 7:30 pm was unchanged, reducing the race to a 6 hour 55 min endurance race.
At 12:35 pm, the race started in a traditional Le Mans style. Once the lights signaled the start, 70 machines charged to the first corner. The holeshot went to Aegerter (Kagayama / Haga / Aegerter - Suzuki team). On the second corner, Yamaguchi (Yamaguchi / Kunikawa / Kobayashi - TOHO Racing with MORIWAKI team) takes the lead, but Akiyoshi (Akiyoshi / Rea / Zanetti - F.C.C. TSR Honda) also overtakes Aegerter for 2nd place. Akiyoshi then grabs the lead at the chicane. Akiyoshi, strong in the wet, outpaces the pack to steadily increase his lead, while Yamaguchi (TOHO Racing with MORIWAKI team) takes second. Aoki (Schwantz / Tsuji / Aoki - Suzuki team) battles for third, but falls on lap 6 on the 130R. On lap 8, Takahashi keeps Tsuda (Tsuda / Waters / De Puniet - Suzuki team) in check to take 3rd.
Watanabe started from the pits once the top runners completed two laps, but had to immediately pit again, adjust the machine, and start again. Honda Team Asia’s Pratama was also forced to pit on lap 8 to change his helmet shield, but was back out on the track quickly.
The rain stopped and the skies cleared, but the track was still wet. On lap 10 Akiyoshi was in the lead, and Takahashi was closing in on Yamaguchi. Not far behind, the battle for 10th raged between Tsuda, Hiura, Parkes (Yamaha), Yanagawa (Yanagawa / Watanabe / Fujiwara - Kawasaki), Yoshida (Yoshida / Kojima / Tokudome - Honda Kumamoto Racing), Kametani, Leblanc and Higashimura.
Akiyoshi posts the fastest lap, and keeps his commanding lead. On lap 13 Takahashi catches Yamaguchi to take 2nd place, and Yanagawa overtakes Aegerter for 7th. Leblanc also rises to 10th, positions changing at a furious pace. On lap 16, Akiyoshi coasts off the track at the 130R, but is back on track with no further hassles. Sunshine lights the west course. On lap 17, race-leader Akiyoshi has an 18 s margin to second-place Takahashi. Yamaguchi is 3rd, and Tsuda and Hiura battle for 4th. Yanagawa and Aegerter battle for 6th. Down the field are Barkes, Yoshida, Leblanc, and Higashimura. Kameya (Stauffer / Herfoss / Kameya - Honda DREAM RT Sakurai Honda) battles with Da Costa (Da Costa / Gimbert / Foray - HONDA ENDURANCE RACING) for 12th.
After 20 laps the west course starts to dry up. The racing line on the east course also begins to dry, and the teams start to consider tire selection. Some teams begin to pit for slick tires, and on lap 25, Akiyoshi also pits, handing the reins to Jonathan Rea. The leaden riders including Tsuda start to pit as well. Takahashi pits on lap 26, handing the bike over to Haslam.
On lap 27, on slick tires, Rea posts a lap time of 2 in 18.028 s. One lap later he betters his time to 2 min 16.050, and leads Haslam by 32.624 s. Waters is 3rd, followed by Kobayashi, Yasuda, Watanabe, Brocks, Kojima, and Costa. The course is completely dry by lap 33, and each rider betters his own lap time, leading to changes in the ranking. From the top, the order is now Rea, Haslam, Waters, Kagayama, Kobayashi, Watanabe, Brocks, Costa, Deguchi, and Kojima.
Rea increases his lead on lap 36 by running a 2 min 9.805 s lap, putting 40 s between himself and Haslam. Tsuda is 3rd, and Kobayashi catches and passes 4th place Kagayama. Watanabe is 6th. The battle for 7th between Yasuda and Brocks intensifies. Watanabe catches up to the battle for 4th, and on lap 39 the positions change - Kagayama, Watanabe and Kobayashi. Brocks is 7th, followed by Yasuda, 8th. Rea betters his fastest lap by setting a 2 min 9.805 s lap. On lap 43 he does even better with a 2 min 9.720 s lap. Yasuda catches Brocks on lap 47, to move up to 7th place.
Rain hits the Spoon, and then the home straight. The pits buzz with activity. Watanabe passes Waters and Haslam for a momentary 2nd, but slides off the track, falls, and is forced to restart.
On lap 50 Rea hands the bike over to Akiyoshi, tires changed for the wet. The sudden rain affects the rankings, now with Akiyoshi leading Kagayama, Tsuda, Nakasuga, Hiura, Takahashi, Kunikawa, and Izutsu. The safety car enters due to a crash.
The race is restarted at 2:30 pm as the safety car exits the track. The race order now is Akiyoshi, Kagayama, Tsuda, Nakasuga, Hiura, Takahashi, Kunikawa, and Izutsu. With Akiyoshi and the safety car between him and Kagayama in second, the gap is nearly one lap, a huge advantage for Akiyoshi. On lap 60 the race order is Akiyoshi, Kagayama, Tsuda, Nakasuga, Takahashi, Hiura, Kunikawa, Izutsu, Yoshida and Cudlin. As the skies clear again and the sun starts to shine, Takahashi is 4th and Hiura 5th.
On lap 70 the track is polarized between dry and wet sections, reeking havoc for the riders. Akiyoshi continues at a steady pace, keeping his lead safe and sound. Kagayama, Tsuda, and Takahashi follow behind. At the 3 hour mark teams start to change riders, from Akiyoshi to Rea, from Kagayama to Aegerter, from Takahashi to van Der Mark, from Tsuda to de Puniet. By lap 77 Rea leads, followed by Aegerter, de Puniet, van Der Mark, Parkes Yasuda, and Yamaguchi. Honda Team Asia, 40th at the 1 hour mark due to an irregular pit stop, recovers to 10th place by lap 83. The track is now completely dry, and the riders are picking up the pace.
Race leader Rea maintains his lead by lapping consistently around the 2 min 10 s mark. On lap 88, 3rd place van Der Mark picks up the pace from 2 min 10 s laps to 2 min 9 s, attempting to catch de Puniet. 4th place Parkes also laps at 2 min 9 s, nothing short of a sprint race. On lap 92 van Der Mark sets the fastest lap at 2 min 8.826 s, catching up to de Puniet, and on lap 93, grabs 2nd place at the 130R. Hiura is 5th, Kunikawa 7th and Yoshida 10th. The safety car is called in at 4:40 pm, by soon exits the track. Rea is still in front as he pits to hand the bike over to Akiyoshi. van Der Mark is replaced by Takahashi, de Puniet by Tsuda, and the battle of the second half begins.
Akiyoshi laps at a steady 2 min 11 s pace with a commanding lead, but slips and falls heavily entering the 130R, thrown off the bike completely. He is carried off for medical attention, apparently ending his race. Takahashi inherits the lead, cranking the pace up to 2 min 9 s. His gap with 2nd place Tsuda is now 40 s, thanks in part to the safety car. Haga is now 3rd, Hiura 4th. Brocks is now 5th, followed by Kobayashi, Deguchi and Yoshida. Takahashi continues his consistently fast pace to maintain his lead. 2nd place Tsuda speeds up attempting to catch Takahashi, but by lap 120, the time difference is over 45 s. The fourth rider-change sees Takahashi replaced by van Der Mark, and 2nd place Tsuda by de Puniet. Aegerter, and Nakasuga 4th. Morii is now 5th, and Kunikawa 6th.
van Der Mark keeps the pace consistent at 2 min 9 s, building an even larger gap with de Puniet. Aegerter is still 3rd, Parkes is now 4th, and Morii loses one place and is 5th. Kunikawa is 6th, and Izutsu moves up to 7th. Cudlin is 8th and Baba 9th. Another crash occurs on corner 1, invoking the safety car for the third time.
Akiyoshi, thought to have been out of the race, had limped his bike back to the pits by 5:07 pm, and the crowd went wild. The team hurriedly fixed the bike, and at 5:28 pm the machine appeared from the shed and was refueled. Zanetti took the reins, and was back on the track by 5:31 pm. He spent one lap to make sure the bike was alright, and powered through the field from 50th, to 44th.
As 6 hours and 30 mins elapsed, van Der Mark, de Puniet, Aegerter, Parkes, Kunikawa, Yasuda, Izutsu, Cudlin, Baba, Maxwell and Yoshida filled the top spots, waiting for the safety car to move off the track. At 6:45 pm the lights signaled the go-ahead, and riders pitted for the final rider-change. Second place de Puniet handed over the bike to Waters, and third place Aegerter to Kagayama. The safety car was called off at 6:48 pm, leaving around 40 minutes of racing left. van Der Mark pits, for Takahashi to take the last run. A multiple crash litters the S-bend, and one more bike off the track invokes the safety car for the fourth time. Oil is found on the track at the hairpin and 130R, and on the pit road, which is then taken care of.
7th place Leblanc was one of the riders involved in the incident, causing a change in the ranking: Takahashi leads, with Waters, Kagayama, Parkes, Yasuda and Yamaguchi following. At the restart at 7:09 pm the gap between Takahashi and Waters which was 1 min 39.513 s was reduced to 1 min 8 s. Takahashi cautiously increased his pace, and maintained his lead, with Waters chasing, Hock passed Nigon to grab 7th place.
As Waters laps at 2 min 15 s, Takahashi maintains a 2 min 14 s lap time to rider to victory, and for the last two laps, rides with caution to finally reach the checkered flag. MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO survived the 6 hour 55 min race, and four safety cars, to win their third Suzuka 8 Hours race, making it two in a row. Waters finished 2nd, Kagayama 3rd, Brocks 4th, and Yamaguchi (TOHO Racing with MORIWAKI) with a brave last-lap overtake, 5th. Honda Suzuka Racing Team’s Yasuda was 6th, Honda Team Asia’s Hook was 7th. Yoshida (Honda Kumamoto Racing) finished 11th. F.C.C. TSR Honda made an amazing comeback from 50th, to finish the race in 40th place.
“Thank you for all the support. I’m so happy we could win. I was worried about the weather at the start, thinking it might not clear up. My first stint was in the rain, and the team decided on the third rider-change to trust my experience in the rain. I would have liked to have raced in the dry too!”
“Takumi rode a consistent race, the pit stops went fine, and the team work, one of the most important aspects of the 8 Hour race, was great. I raced in the wet and the dry, taking care not to crash. I’ve never felt so much pressure before, but we won, and I’m really satisfied.”
“I rode later than planned, while it was still wet, but the machine and teamwork were perfect. It’s my second year racing in the Suzuka 8 Hours race, and a consecutive win, so I couldn’t feel better!”
“It was a tough race from a chaotic start. We had difficulty keeping up with the F.C.C. TSR Honda’s pace, but we did all we could, which I think led to our win. Honda machine have now won the race 5 years running, and I’m relieved we kept the tradition going. We ran with the same riders as last year, and I think the teamwork was perfect, better than racing with all-Japanese riders. It’s a bit early, but we’ll be working hard to make it three wins in a row.”
“I’m satisfied with 5th. I’m happy I was in the lead, even though it was only for the first lap. I took care with the surface temperature, as the track differed between qualifying and the race. I’m grateful that the staff supported me, never giving up. I rode with this gratitude in the back of my mind. We’re going to keep on fighting, and I appreciate and look forward to everyone’s support.”
“I’m happy with the results. Race week wasn’t so good, as I was not as fast as in testing. But I kept my calm and continued to ride, and by race day, I found my rhythm. I’m glad I could maintain the average time I set for myself. I’m grateful to all the staff who spent endless nights tuning the bike.”
“I’m glad, actually enthralled with 5th place. I’m blessed with a really wonderful team. I felt the pressure of having to hand the bike off to Tatsuya, but I kept up a steady rhythm and made sure I didn’t make any mistakes. I could have improved a number of aspects, but I think I rode well for myself, and everyone supporting us.”
“I’m glad we could finish 6th, considering the track surface conditions changing so often. Our results are thanks to good teamwork. I’ll be putting all my energies into the All-Japan Road Race Championship Series now. Thank you for all your support.”
“We were aiming for the podium, but I’m still happy with 6th. We couldn’t use our race bike because of an accident during free practice, so considering we were running the spare bike and the weather kept on changing, the mechanics did a perfect job. The training really paid off. All three riders also performed well. I think the assistance we were given by the companies local to Suzuka really helped, as they are enthusiastic in supporting motor sports activities. I’m grateful to everyone for supporting us.”
“My road racing experience has been for speed, but this endurance race has taught me to not only ride at my own pace, but to be patient. It was a first for me, and with the ever-changing weather it was a real experience, and I enjoyed myself.”
“We won last year’s Suzuka 4 Hours race, and I’m glad we could finish 7th in this years 8 hour race. I’d like to thank Honda and everyone who supported us. I’ll take this wonderful experience, and use it to improve my career even more.”
“First, I’d like to thank Honda Team Asia. Finishing 7th is the best result, and I’m glad. It was a tough week, but we managed to finish the race, and gained a great flow.”
“There was an irregular problem, but we finished within our top-10 goal, which was great. The riders fought well, and the team was superb. I now see what we can improve even further, so given the chance, I’d like to challenge this race again.”
“I think everyone could see that we were strong, and that we could win, as we were a lap ahead of everyone else in the first half of the race. We won’t give up, and we’ll move forward.”
|1||#634 MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO|
(T.TAKAHASHI/L.HASLAM/M.van der MARK)
|2||#34 YOSHIMURA SUZUKI Shell ADVANCE|
|3||#17 Team KAGAYAMA & Verity|
|4||#07 MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA with YSP|
|5||#104 TOHO Racing with MORIWAKI|
|6||#25 Honda Suzuka Racing Team|
|7||#22 Honda Team Asia|
(J.HOOK/M.Zamri BABA/D.Ekky PRATAMA)
|8||#1 SUZUKI ENDURANCE RACING TEAM|
|9||#94 Yamaha Racing GMT94 Michelin|
|10||#7 MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA -YART|
|11||#33 Honda Kumamoto Racing|
|15||#40 Honda ESCARGOT&PGR&H-TEC(E)|
|20||#85 Honda QCT MEIWA Racing|
|23||#41 Honda SAYAMA Racing&Hamamatsu&H-TEC(E)|
|26||#66 DOGFISH O-TEC Suzuka|
|28||#28 Team Honda Technical College|
|30||#9 All JAPAN Honda DREAM CENTRAL BL RT|
|33||#111 HONDA ENDURANCE RACING|
|35||#090 au&Teluru ・ Kohara RT|
|39||#67 Honda DREAM RT WAKAYAMA|
|40||#11 F.C.C. TSR Honda|
|44||#77 Honda Kouyoukai DREAM Racing Team|
|49||#112 Honda EG Racing|
|55||#88 MOTOBUM with ISHIGAKI ISLAND TUNA|
|56||#78 Honda BlueHelmets MSC KUMAMOTO|
|RT||#59 B'WISE Racing Team|
|RT||#71 Honda DREAM RT SAKURAI HONDA|