Over its 40 years, the Suzuka 8hours has witnessed many dramatic events. The rise to the podium, the fall from grace. Those who lose may have the more dramatic tale to tell. Only one team can stand at the top of the podium, but each team is given an equal opportunity to write its own tale. MORIWAKI MOTUL RACING's tale, back from a 9 year hiatus, was not the one they were hoping for.
Team manager and founder of Moriwaki Engineering, Mamoru Moriwaki has been an integral part of the Suzuka 8hours, since the beginning. “The Suzuka 8hours is special. There isn't a race so difficult. That's why it's so exciting. No matter what, keep on riding. Never give up. That's the Moriwaki spirit," he remarked.
A fortnight before race week, the team showed no signs of their long absence, topping the three day public joint test. They were 8th in qualifying, giving them a chance in the Top 10 Trial. Even the strongest of teams were seldom perfectly prepared. There were always problems. That's why MORIWAKI MOTUL RACING's riders Yuki Takahashi, Ryuichi Kiyonari and Dan Linfoot, no strangers to the world stage, would often comment “there's still more work to be done." The team slowly but surely were moving forward, improving their lap times, increasing their speed. Everything seemed to be moving in a good direction.
In the Top 10 Trial, two riders from each team would have a time attack lap each, and their performance would determine the final grid position. Takahashi and Kiyonari rode their “CBR1000RR Moriwaki-Mod," the new CBR1000RR SP2 modified with Moriwaki-original components, and both managed low-2 min 8s laps, which gave them 7th place on the grid.
Takahashi: “I was aiming for my best time, but I didn't quite make it, which is disappointing. A one-lap time attack isn't the same as an 8-hour race, so I'll keep my faith in everything we've built up since the tests, and do everything I can. We've come this far without any real problems, so I'm grateful to the team. I'll keep my concentration up until the very end of the race. Of course I want to win, but it's just as important to give 100% and make it to the finish.”
Kiyonari:“There was a crash just before my turn, and there was some debris still on the track, so I couldn't give it 100%. It's a bit disappointing, but we're looking good, and Yuki's lap moved us up one grid spot, so it's okay. We're not leading in lap times, but more importantly pace, so I'll think hard about how to adjust my riding for tomorrow. I think together, Yuki and I make the best team, so we'll show our appreciation to Moriwaki's comeback with our”
Neither rider was satisfied with their Top 10 Trial times, but they had not lost ground, either. MORIWAKI MOTUL RACING would show how they could perform to the crowds, and their fans, during the race.
Sunday, July 20. Above Moriwaki's rider at the starting grid was not a parasol to shade him from the Sun, but an oilpaper umbrella emblazoned “MORIWAKI," colored in its corporate colors of blue, signifying the sea giving birth to life and the sky, and yellow, representing the earth. Moriwaki Engineering's director and third daughter of Mamoru Moriwaki, Mirodi Moriwaki, explained the choice of umbrella: “It's the same as the photo of our two riders sitting in the tea ceremony in their leather racing gear. We're a Japanese team racing at a Japanese race track, so I wanted to express a unique Japanese style." Albeit understated, such choreography was distinctly Moriwaki.
In to battle. Kiyonari was Moriwaki's starting rider. At 11:30 am, the riders bolted across the straight to their bikes for a Le Mans style start, and soon disappeared into Turn 1. Later, Kiyonari said “I was slow off the mark." He had not lost too many positions, but light rain began to fall on the East side of the track helped prevent him from gaining more places. At the end of Lap 1, Kiyonari was 19th. With each lap that followed, he gradually moved through the traffic. 16th, 13th, 7th. On Lap 21, Kiyonari was up to 4th place. He was overtaking just before pitting, but 5th place was a respectable conclusion to his first stint. Once the tires were changed and the bike refueled, Takahashi took over.
Their timing could not have been worse. As soon as Takahashi was on the pit road, a red light at the exit prevented him from entering the track: An accident had happened, and the safety car was called onto the track. Takahashi had lost one lap, and was down to 11th place. Luck plays a large role in winning the Suzuka 8hours, but on this occasion, it worked against the Moriwaki team. Takahashi was determined, consistently lapping between 2 min 10s and 11s, passing slower riders, making up for lost time. On Lap 54, two hours into the race, he had regained 7th place. He soon pitted, and handed the bike back to Kiyonari for his second stint. Kiyonari was also charged. Lapping at 2 min 9s, and then 2 min 8s, its was as if he was physically dragging the victory towards him that was trying to slip away.
At 1:49 pm, nearly two-and-a-half hours into the race, the stadium boomed with an unwanted announcement: “Moriwaki has crashed!" It was at the S curves on Lap 61. After the race Kiyonari recalled the incident. “I tried too hard to preserve my tires, and turned too hard." The damage was not severe, and Kiyonari had managed to ride back to the pits. He had lost his front screen, and there was a gaping hole in his rear cowl.
At 1:53 pm, the crew pushed the bike into the garage for repairs. They were calm, and with the precision of seasoned professionals, got the bike that looked brand new once again back into pit lane, fifteen minutes later. The Suzuka 8hours is an endurance race, but to win, the rider had to race as if it were a sprint race. 15 minutes is a lot of time to lose. The bike was fitted with tires for Takahashi, but it was Kiyonari riding the CBR1000RR SP2 as he exited the pits.
Kiyonari:“It was Yuki's turn, but I insisted on riding. It was my mistake, so I had to fix it. I couldn't imagine leaving the bike up to another rider, when it was my fault. It would be different if I was injured, but I wasn't, so I had to give the bike to Yuki after I made up for some of the lost time.”
Back on the track, three hours after the race had started, MORIWAKI MOTUL RACING was 53rd. Victory was realistically out of their reach. The team was 45th at the halfway mark. Both riders concentrated on improving the team's position. After 5 hours, they were 37th. They were moving through the field at an amazing pace. Midori Moriwaki, in the pits, commented, “This is what racing is about. We have to show everyone Moriwaki does not give up." At the 6 hour mark, 31st. An hour later, 29th. As the sun set and the race came to a close, MORIWAKI MOTUL RACING finished 27th, 14 laps adrift of the winner. After the crash, they had regained 25 places - true to their word, Moriwaki did not give up.
The crew waited in pit-lane for their rider to return, with smiles on their faces.They had not achieved their goal, but were glad, and maybe satisfied, that the crash had not stopped the team from completing the race. Midori Moriwaki stood by, a tear in her eye.
Midori Moriwaki:I want to tell them how well they did. When Yuki left the pit for his last stint, he said `I'll make it back, so please wait for me.' Both riders gave everything they had after the crash, and we gained valuable data for next year. I'm so grateful to Yuki Takahashi, Ryuichi Kiyonari and Dan. I just spoke to my father, and he said our disappointment this year will urge us on to better results next year. We cannot give up. And we'll be back.
With euphoria still in the air, and out of their racing armor, the riders met in the garage.
Kiyonari:“I'm so sorry for falling Yuki. It's all my fault.”
Takahashi“It's not your fault. It could happen to either of us. Thank you for everything. How much weight did you lose this race? I lost 3 kilos.”
Kiyonari“This morning I was 5 kilos heavier! (laughs) Damn, I wish I hadn't crashed.”
The conversation emanated their close friendship, and the hardship of racing a motorcycle for eight hours.
Takahashi:“This is what Suzuka 8hours is. Sometimes you keep your head down, ride, and finish on the podium. Some times you aren't as lucky. It was a good experience. Our results weren't good, but no-one got injured, and we learned a lot for our next attempt. Racing for Moriwaki brings a lot of attention and a lot of pressure to get good results. That's what racing in the Suzuka 8hours for Moriwaki is about. It has been a disappointing race, with disappointing results. But, it would have been hard to win even without the crash. That's another disappointment. We'll work hard to be able to win without the help of fate. If Moriwaki asks me to race next year, of course I will!”
Kiyonari:“It feels like there was nothing we could do. We had a bad start. The safety car on the track at the wrong time, was simply bad luck. And, the crash. Without the crash, we would have had a more interesting race. There were some issues with the bike, and I tried to compensate, but I tried too much. The Suzuka 8hours is an extremely difficult race. I'm thankful, more than anyone could imagine, to Moriwaki's team staff and mechanics. I'm straight back to the All Japan series, and I'll keep on fighting.”
Linfoot:“I was reserve rider and didn't race today, but I enjoyed watching Kiyo[nari] and Yuki [Takahashi] riding. The Moriwaki team is amazing. They're professional, but everybody's very friendly. Next time I'd like to be riding for the team, not backup. I'd like to thank everyone in the team. Thank you for giving me this opportunity!”
One common theme runs through each rider's comments: They are looking at the next Suzuka 8hours. Moriwaki's return to Suzuka is not a one-off attempt. Mamoru Moriwaki's remarks post-race made that very clear.
Mamoru Moriwaki:“Suzuka 8hours is amazing! It really helps everyone develop. Our young staff after coming here now move completely different to before. They concentrated well, and did a great job when we had the accident. Young staff develop faster by bringing them here, rather than having them work in an office for 4 to 5 years. I was already thinking about next year even before today's race finished! Of course we'll be back next year! We just have to! We have to take our revenge!”
Moriwaki flexed his biceps, smiling, as a sign of determination. Moriwaki's comeback after 9 years may be merely a prologue to their story. Fans are counting on the MORIWAKI MOTUL RACING spirit: Never. Give. Up.