In case you missed the story last week, Kevin Schwantz is preparing to race in this year’s Suzuka 8-Hour endurance race. The blue ribbon event in Japanese motorcycle racing, a Suzuka 8-Hour win is perhaps the most covetted trophy to have if you are a Japanese motorcycle OEM.
The Japanese manufacturers take the Suzuka 8-Hour so seriously, it is not uncommon to see them stack their endurance teams with top-talent from other World and national series, like MotoGP, WSBK, BSB, and AMA Pro Racing. With rumors circulating about a very factory Yamaha team in the works, right now our attention however is on Team Kagayama.
Formed by Japanese rider Yukio Kagayama, who in addition to having raced in the MotoGP, World Superbike, and British Superbike Championships, is also a previous Suzuka 8-Hour winner with the Suzuki Endurance Race Team. Joining Kagayama and Schwatnz on the three-rider team is Noriyuki Haga, also of MotoGP, WSBK, and BSB fame.
Releasing a Q&A about his team’s Suzuka 8-Hour entry, Yukio Kagayama walks us through how the team came together, what equipment the riders will use, and his outlook on the team’s competitiveness. It’s a pretty interesting read.
When did you talk to Kevin and Nori about this project?
“The project started in Summer 2012. I’d heard that Kevin always wanted to enter the Suzuka 8-Hour again but had some small problems doing so.”
What kind of problems?
“First, how to organise the team? Who would he get as a partner, what machine; and who would he get to be his team staff. Secondly, Kevin has a good partnership with Yoshimura, so if Kevin came back to the 8-Hour, naturally it should be with Yoshimura. Kevin has a good partnership with Dunlop in his racing-school in the USA, but Yoshimura uses Bridgestone tyres. So Kevin’s dream looked over, but I wanted Kevin to enter Suzuka as a racing rider, not just as a big guest for racing in Japan.”
Doesn’t your own team use Dunlops?
“Yes. My own team – which started in 2011 at the Japanese Superbike Championship – uses Dunlops, but at the 2012 Suzuka 8-Hour I raced for SERT.”
What do you think about Kevin Schwantz?
“He is my idol! I started racing when I was in junior-high school. I’ve known Kevin since in 1985 or 1986 when he was with Yoshimura and first entered the Suzuka 8-Hour and some Japanese Championship events. And then he won the Japanese GP at Suzuka in 1988,1989,1991,1993 and 1994. So many Japanese fans remember this and still love him!”
Did you work with Kevin also when you became a Suzuki test rider in 1992?
“Yes. I did test many bikes for Suzuki and I also helped with development testing on Kevin’s RGV-GAMMA 500 – a great honour and great memories for me!”
How did you get to talking with Kevin about the project?
“Initially, I talked to Kevin through a mutual acquaintance about my ‘Dream Team’ and my passion and he said yes! But it took a long time to solve many problems with his many contracts.”
And you have also signed Nori Haga to the team?
“Yes! We have been good friends for a long time. I started racing mini-bikes when I was at school and he started around the same time. We also started to enter Japanese Championship races together then Nori moved to WSBK in 1998 and I moved to BSB in 2003, but we’ve always stayed in touch with each other. We are very good friends but also good competitors on the track and we respect each other.”
How did you talk Nori into joining you in the project?
“We were in WSBK together for long time and Nori was always saying that he wanted to race the Suzuka 8-Hour together, but then it was a bit of a joke between us then. However, we both began to think seriously about it. This year we had the chance to do it, but as Nori rides Yamaha, I had to ask permission from Yamaha and they said yes, so a big thanks to them for allowing this.”
Has Nori had any experience of the Suzuki GSX-R1000?
“No, but he did ride a Suzuki mini bike when he was eight years old! (laughs) I don’t have any worries about Nori adapting to the bike and Kevin recently did an eight-hour race in America – and he was faster than Blake Young. We have a serious team and we are riding to win, not just make the news.”
Photos: Hiro Nakamura, Dave Smith, & Kevin Schwantz School