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Steve English

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Yamaha Factory Racing made history at the Suzuka 8-Hours today, claiming their fourth consecutive victory in the great race.

This Japanese endurance race has become one of the biggest spectacles on the motorcycling calendar, and there were moments of today’s 199 laps that would have felt like an eternity for Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes.

With Katsuyuki Nakasuga ruled out with a shoulder injury following a crash in yesterday’s practice session, the burden fell on his teammates to deliver success.

They duly did, but not until they had overcome a huge challenge from Kawasaki.

What's the difference between you and me? The Suzuka 8-Hours is dominated by Bridgestone tire. Why is that? And what is the difference between a Bridgestone a Pirelli, and a Michelin at this iconic race?

Even the most talkative factory riders get tight-lipped when the topic of tires is raised. Jonathan Rea was asked after securing pole position for tomorrow's Suzuka 8-Hours about the feeling he has with Bridgestone tires, compared to using Pirelli rubber in WorldSBK.

The three-time world champion sidestepped that landmine with customary ease by saying, “both are very high performance tires.” It was a similar situation when talking with MotoGP riders about comparing to Michelin tires in recent years. There are, however, some outliers in the paddock.

Riders with experience of Bridgestone, Pirelli, and Michelin tires, and who are able to speak about the contrasts.

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A typhoon is heading towards Suzuka, but as the paddock battened down the hatches, the winds of change had already set in.

Jonathan Rea’s pole position for Kawasaki ended three year’s of Yamaha topping the times. The three-time WorldSBK champion will be out to do the same during tomorrow’s race.

Kawasaki hasn’t won the biggest race of the year since 1993 – their sole success with Scott Russell and Aaron Slight at the helm – but they may not have a better opportunity than tomorrow.

It is a race unlike any other, and it has a circuit unlike any other to match. The Suzuka 8-Hours is the biggest race of the year for Japanese manufacturers, and it is held on one of the longest laps of the year.

With lap times of over two minutes, it is very easy for time to burn during a session, and it is very easy to left rueing any mistakes you make.

The Japanese venue is one of the most technical on the planet. It is a lap of contrasts, with the sweeping corners of the opening half, followed by a hairpin and chicanes in the second half of the lap.

Getting it right takes time and any mistake is heavily punished on the stop watch.

Jonathan Rea grabbed the headlines on Friday in Japan, with an unofficial lap record at the Suzuka 8-Hours, which put the Kawasaki Team Green ZX-10RR on a pole-position start.

The Northern Irishman was nine tenths of a second faster than Pol Espargaro’s 2016 pole lap, and Rea’s time was made all the more impressive by the fact that he, like the majority of front-runners, didn’t opt to use a qualifying tire.

The FIM Endurance World Championship regulations allow teams to use 14 sets of tires throughout the Suzuka weekend, and with eight tires allocated for the race, and two qualifying tires, it means that for the opening two days the front-runners focus on race pace with used tyres.

Though of note, Rea set his fastest time in the second qualifying session, with a fresh tire.

Can you tell the difference between heaven and hell? Suzuka reveals the soul of a rider by breaking them down through each stint.

Your lungs are burning, the skin is falling off your hands because, even bandaged tightly, the extreme conditions will get the better of them, the dehydration is setting in, and your mind is foggy and far from clear.

Once you're off the bike, and sitting in your chair, the realization slowly sets in that you still have to get back on the bike.

You look around and see the faces of your engineers, and they know what needs to be done, but the only thought running through your head is that fucking bike and the pain it's been putting you through.

Suzuka is one of the most spectacular challenges on the planet for rider and machine. It flows around the hills and winds its way on top of itself.

Fast and slow corners. Sweeping bends that lead into each other and tight chicanes. There's high speeds and heavy braking. Suzuka has it all and when you add in the heat and humidity of the final Sunday of July it becomes on of the biggest tests of character and will that any rider will go through.

This is heaven, this is hell. Which is which? Who can tell? The contrast between the feeling you get from riding a Superbike on the limit at Suzuka and the after effect is massive.

How do you deal with the physicality of racing in heat? Combat the mental strain of getting back on the bike? How do you deal with the sense pressure of expectancy? Jonathan Rea, Leon Camier, and Alex Lowes give us their thoughts on these three phases of the Suzuka 8-Hours.

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Compromise has little place in most forms of racing. Speed is of the essence and everything else is secondary to it. In Endurance, the same principle guides the way, but there are compromises to be made. Speed is as necessary in the pit lane as it on the race track.

Being able to repair any damage quickly and easily is crucial. At this weekend’s Suzuka 8-Hours, we will see the fruit of that work once again, but ahead of this year’s edition, we take another look at the YZF-R1 that took the victory. It deserves one last moment in the spotlight.

With fewer restrictions in place on manufacturers, the return of “Suzuka Specials” in recent years has allowed the Japanese manufacturers to flex their creative muscles.

At the Suzuka 8-Hours, brain power is more important than horsepower, and finding a way to get the power to ground, by electronics, suspension or tires, is crucial.

Innovation is everywhere on the Suzuka grid, and last year’s winner was no exception..