MORIWAKI Returns to Suzuka 8hours After 9 Years.
MORIWAKI MOTUL RACING, racing at the Suzuka 8hours since the inaugural event in 1978, has played a vital role as a racing constructor in supporting the race scene in Japan, and continued to take on new challenges and accomplish numerous legendary feats in the 8hours’ 40 year history.
1981 was the most stunning year for MORIWAKI, which made popular the then 1000cc team’s name. Team founder Mamoru Moriwaki scouted a rider, rough around the edges, but fast, competing in local Australian races. Moriwaki then entered the rider in British and U.S. races, and brought him to Japan, to race in the Suzuka 8hours.
The rider, unknown at the time, was Wayne Gardner. On a monster of a bike with a MORIWAKI-developed and -manufactured aluminum frame and an enhanced 4-cylinder engine, Gardner set an astounding 2 min 14.76s lap record in qualifying, nearly 3 seconds faster than Honda’s factory team. Although the team failed to finish the race due to a crash, Gardner’s ferocious riding had left a huge impression. He later went on the join Honda’s factory team to compete in grand prix racing and become world champion.
Mamoru Moriwaki, at the 8hours joint test, recalled the 1981 race as his most memorable, the race in which “Wayne [Gardner] smashed the track record in qualifying and took pole position.”
MORIWAKI Engineering went on to develop racing machines brimming with original ideas, and competed in races local and abroad. This, according to Midori Moriwaki, Mamoru Moriwaki’s third daughter and director of MORIWAKI Engineering, is why it took nine years for the team to return to Suzuka 8hours.
Midori Moriwaki: “A lot of people ask why we didn’t race in the Suzuka 8hours for 9 years. We weren’t dormant, we continued to build and supply racing bikes for Moto2. MORIWAKI had been racing at the 8hours for so long, we know how difficult it is, and how unforgiving the race can be. So, we weren’t content on just racing; we have to win. Juggling Moto2 and 8hours is difficult, and we weren’t prepared to spread our efforts too thin. That’s why it took us 9 years. We didn’t stop racing at all.”
MORIWAKI modified whatever they could with the new CBR1000RR SP2. To MORIWAKI, that has been vital policy since its inception 45 years ago. Radical modifications are not permitted by the regulations, but MORIWAKI crams as much originality into their machines as the rules allow. For that reason, this year’s MORIWAKI MOTUL RACING bike was named “Honda CBR1000RR MORIWAKI MOD,” and MORIWAKI’s bike number since the early 1990’s, Number 19, made a comeback.
Yuki Takahashi, Ryuichi Kiyonari and Dan Linfoot will be racing for the team this year. Both Japanese riders participated since the first tests on July 5 and 6, helping to perfect the bike.
Yuki Takahashi brings his world championship experience, in 250cc 2-stroke racing in the GP250cc class, MotoGP and Moto2, joining the MORIWAKI team in 2014 as their ace rider. He then competed in the J-GP2 class, and JSB1000 class in preparation for Suzuka. Ryuichi Kiyonari brings his MotoGP, Superbike and British Superbike prowess to the team, in addition to being 4-time champion at the Suzuka 8hours. The two Japanese riders, who will ride the bulk of the 8hours race, were eager to race.
Takahashi:“The fans reacted more than I’d expected to MORIWAKI’s comeback, and I can feel their expectations. Their support is our motivation to race in a way worthy of such a renowned team. The CBR has a very high potential, and we’re not taking full advantage of it yet, but we’ll get there. We have a tremendous team, and we’ll be aiming to win.”
Kiyonari: “Ever since I was racing in SRS-J (Suzuka Circuit Racing School - Junior), Mamoru Moriwaki had taken good care of me, so I can’t believe I’m racing for him this year, and I’m so happy. The new bike’s electronics are better than ever before, making the ride a lot better. I’ve experienced the joy of winning and the pain of losing in the Suzuka 8hours race. It’s the most satisfying race to be a part of. This year is its 40th anniversary. Its 30th anniversary was awful for me, so I want to make this race a good one with the MORIWAKI team. It’s not about how many races we’ve won so far. If we’re racing, we in it to win. That’s how a rider thinks.”
Another unique aspect of the MORIWAKI team is its choice of tire. The team will be running on Pirelli’s unlike any of the other contenders.
Takahashi:“MORIWAKI will be racing on Pirelli’s this year, so the bike slides differently to the other Honda’s in the race, so it’s important to set up the suspension and electronics to suit the tires.”
Kiyonari: “I don’t think there is anything drastically different compared to other tires, but the feel is great.”
MORIWAKI MOTUL RACING’s results on Day 1 during the public joint test on July 11 - 13 were not stunning: Takahashi on the spare bike lapped 2 min 9.540s and Kiyonari 2 min 9.645s, placing them 13th and 15th respectively for the day. Takahashi, however, was not anxious.
Takahashi:“My first experience on an 8hours bike was last week [on the 5th and 6th], but I’m getting used to the bike step by step, so there aren’t any problems. I won’t be aiming too high, but continue to get accustomed to the bike, and test the matching between the tires and the hot conditions.”
On Day 1 at the final joint test before race week, a single photo was posted to the MORIWAKI Engineering team’s Facebook account. Takahashi and Kiyonari, in their racing gear, sat on tatami mats in a tea ceremony room. Serious expression, eyes open, intently looking ahead. In the middle of the photo the brush stroke characters read “Into battle.”
Midori Moriwaki:“MORIWAKI is a Japanese team, and the 8hours is raced at Suzuka, in Japan. I wanted to express how we’ll be racing as Japanese, in the spirit of harmony. That’s why the samurai would attend tea ceremonies between the extraordinary (battles) and ordinary life. By doing so, they could find peace in their hearts, and move between the extraordinary and ordinary. Riders risk their lives on the track. By finding peace in their hearts in a tea ceremony, they go into the world of racing as military commanders. The instant they transition from static to dynamic, their expressions, their eyes show how strong their fighting spirits are.”
On the second day of tests at the Suzuka circuit battlefield, the two riders, of military commander spirit, began to show how competitive they had become. The first two sessions were humid, and dry. Torrential rains hit the final session in the afternoon, temporarily red-flagging the session which restarted once the rain lightened. The track was completely wet. On a severely shortened session, Takahashi was one second faster than the previous day, lapping at 2 min 8.731s, placing him 9th overall. Kiyonari was close behind, lapping at 2 min 8.842s, 10th overall. As Takahashi promised, they were gradually closing in on the leaders. From this day, the team’s third rider, British rider Linfoot had joined them. He had raced at Twin Ring Motegi, but was new to the Suzuka circuit.
Linfoot: “Most British tracks are short, so Suzuka felt long to me. I’ve experienced the track virtually on video games and YouTube, but it’s different in real life. I’ve known about the 8hours since I was a kid, and it has been my dream to race here. The team is great, and their work is professional. I’m the reserve rider, and the priority is the two Japanese riders, so my task is to be prepared to race on short notice. I have a lot to learn here, which will give me more experience.”
The final test day saw more progress. During the second session of the day, starting at 11:45 am, Takahashi lapped at 2 min 8.557s with Kiyonari within one-thousandth of a second, claiming 1st and 2nd in Group B. They were ranked high, and it seemed miraculous. As the lap times were displayed on monitors in the pit box, team staff began to smile.
Umeko Minami, Mamoru Moriwaki’s wife and eldest daughter of Yoshimura Japan founder Hideo “Pop” Yoshimura, was pleased, commenting “with the company on the line and with everyone involved, this creates a strong bond in the team. 8hours racing is really special.”
At the end of the test, Takahashi on fresh tires reduced his lap time to 2 min 7.346s, the fastest time of the three day tests, sending him to the top of the table. Kiyonari was also fast in the final session, setting 2 min 8.094s.
After the tests Mamoru Moriwaki was happy. “We’ve improved a lot. We’ve made a lot of drastic setting changes until now, and we’ve settled on the overall tuning, so we’ll be able to reduce our lap times even further,” he said. On his return to Suzuka, he continued:
Mamoru Moriwaki:“It’s been a while, but the 8hours race is awesome. There isn’t another race so difficult. That’s why it’s so exciting. Years back in the 8hours, we had a situation where some component was damaged beyond repair. Or so we thought. But, our team used a drill and washers to make the component, so we could get back on the track and finish the race. That kind of experience gave us confidence. MORIWAKI staff and mechanics aren’t discouraged easily. If they have to, they’d draw diagrams on the spot and carve new components out of steel to continue the race. The MORIWAKI spirit lives on in this team.”
The MORIWAKI bike decorated in the team’s traditional colors, blue signifying the sky and sea, and yellow depicting the earth, is back at the 8hours race after a nine year pause, for the 40th running of the race. Their progress towards the race is solid, setting them up for a real chance at winning.