The 2016 Suzuka 8-Hours is in the bag, and once again the Japanese endurance race proved to be a formidable challenge to its competitors, and a great spectacle for fans.
As expected, this edition of the Suzuka 8-Hours saw strong teams succumb to the challenges of endurance racing – examples being the Honda factory-backed MuSASHI RT HARC PRO team, which had to retire early for mechanical reasons, as well as the SRC Kawasaki Team that also did not finish.
While there were surprises in defeat, we also saw surprises in victory, with the Yamaha Factory Racing Team once again winning the prestigious Japanese race. A repeat of last year’s result for Yamaha, today’s win is marks a shift in the balance of power for endurance racing in Japan.
“I’m very happy and very satisfied with this win, for me, for Alex and for Nakasuga-san because we really deserved it. From the start of the test we have worked so hard to get the best for us three,” said an ecstatic Pol Espargaro.
“After last year, to win two times with Nakasuga-san and one time with Alex is amazing. I’m sure Alex will complete the second one next year! I just want to say thanks to Yamaha, to all the people that support this fantastic team, because we are three riders but a lot of mechanics and other people work in the Yamaha Factory Team.”
“Thanks so much to Alex and Nakasuga, they were amazing today, I can’t say anymore, just thanks!”
With a bevy of marquee rider names racing on a variety of EWC, national, and specialty teams, it seems we are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of the Suzuka 8-Hours.
No better example can be given than with Yamaha’s one-off team of Katsuyuki Nakasuga (MotoGP test rider), Pol Espargaro (MotoGP satellite team rider), and Alex Lowes (WSBK factory rider), and such efforts put Honda’s domination at Suzuka is under serious question.
You can bet too that HRC feels that pressure even more, after the HRC-backed MuSASHI RT HARC PRO team retired with a mechanical problem, while Nicky Hayden was at the helm. This result echoes from last year’s disappointment, which saw Casey Stoner crash from a throttle issue, and break his shoulder and leg in the process.
Honda’s factory-backed EWC had mixed results as well, with the Honda Endurance Racing outfit finishing a disappointing 13th, after an oil leak cost them time in the pits, which was only exacerbated further for a stop-and-go penalty for pit lane speeding.
However, with the results posted by the other EWC regulars, the Honda boys could see themselves heading to Germany in a strong position for the FIM Endurance World Championship title, though it won’t be an easy race in Germany.
“The result from today puts us seventh in the EWC standings, which is a position back from where we were, but there are not that many points separating us from the top spot, so we now need to throw all we have at Oschersleban in a few weeks time,” said Honda Endurance Racing’s Assistant Team Manager Jonny Twelvetrees.
“A huge thanks to the riders and also to the crew for all their hard work, today it was just not meant to be,” he added.
Other surprises saw Team Green, Kawasaki’s All Japan Road Race Championship squad, finishing the day on the second-place podium spot. In addition to team regulars Akira Yanagawa and Kazuki Watanabe, Leon Haslam joined the outfit for Suzuka, again adding to the race’s star power.
It wasn’t an easy ride for the Green riders though, with the Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance team fighting for position throughout the race. Yoshimura’s Noriyuki Haga even diced up some corners with Leon Haslam, as their battle for second place would take them through lapped traffic.
“I was separated by Kawasaki because of my stint and I feel this is the cause we weren’t able to get second place,” said Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance’s Noriyuki Haga. “But Takuya and Josh made up for it: I’m grateful for their help. If there is a chance, I want to challenge again with the team next year.”
Noticeably absent from the top results is the SRC Kawasaki Team, which saw their rear axle break during the seventh hour, and rob the squad of a Top 10 finish. This will cost the EWC team a great deal of points in the overall Championship, though there is still hope for Kawasaki’s FIM Endurance World Championship victory.
“We’re obviously very disappointed, because we raced perfectly for six hours with all the means at our disposal to fight it out at Suzuka,” said SRC Kawasaki Team Manager Gilles Stafler.
“But other teams who, like us, are in the running for the world title also had problems, so we won’t lose ground in the provisional standings. The Oschersleben 8-Hours in end-August will be the clincher.”
The Yamaha Austria Racing Team (YART) saw the biggest gains of the weekend, with the team’s fourth place finish bringing them up to third in the Endurance World Championships results, and within striking distance to the EWC title.
“Honestly we did not expect the result that we got. Kohta really stepped up today and we couldn’t have hoped for a better result because we couldn’t have done better than that. The top three were quite a bit further away so fourth was the ideal spot today,” said YART rider Broc Parkes.
“I had to do quite a bit of work, I rode half the race, but I felt like I needed to do it so I could finish in the dark and keep the gap because it was so close between fourth and seventh and we could easily have slipped back. It’s good for the championship points; it’s really close at the top so coming to Oschersleben things could be interesting. It’s a track I like well and the bike works well there so we can have a go at the championship title.”
For the Yamaha GMT94 Team however, the day had tougher results, as the French team finished 14th at Suzuka. David Checa (brother to Carlos Checa) was the first man to ride the GMT94 Yamaha YZF-R1, but he was forced to return to the pits in the opening laps with a technical failure at the rear wheel.
Losing 40 places in the process, the GMT94 Yamaha team would rally to outside the Top 20, only to be hit with another technical issue – this time with the headlights. This caused more time lost in the pits, and meant that the team had to settle for 14th place. This puts Yamaha GMT94 sixth overall in the EWC standings, with 52 points.
The bag was equally mixed for Suzuki’s teams, with the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT) suffering a stop-and-go penalty for a jump start, and then a high-speed crash early in the race, when Vincent Philippe swerved to avoid another rider.
“It has not been a great race for us. We got a penalty and when I was trying to avoid a rider crossing in front slowly, I slipped down,” explained Phillipe. “We tried to get the points, but we could not today. It is very disappointing but we will switch our mindset and prepare for the next race.”
SERT would fight back from 48th to 22nd though, and for their efforts they hold fourth in the EWC series, just nine points back from the leaders Team April Moto Motors Events.
That’s right, Suzuki’s other EWC team still leads the FIM Endurance World Championship results after Suzuka, though the team’s lead is challenged now by a number of tough racing outfits. That’s a lucky result, considering Team April Moto Motors Events’ 19th place finish, which brings them only 2 championship points.
The FIM Endurance Championship will meet for its final race in Germany later this month, when the Oschersleben 8-Hours kicks off on August 27th.
Select Race Results from the 2016 Suzuka 8-Hours Endurance Race:
|1||Yamaha Factory Racing Team||NAKASUGA / ESPARGARÓ / LOWES||YAMAHA||217 laps|
|2||Team Green||YANAGAWA / WATANABE / HASLAM||KAWASAKI||– 2’17.883|
|3||Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance||TSUDA / BROOKES / HAGA||SUZUKI||– 1 lap|
|4||Yamaha Austria Racing Team||PARKES / FUJITA / NOZANE||YAMAHA||– 4 laps|
|5||Moto Map Supply||KONNO / WATERS / AOKI||SUZUKI||– 4 laps|
|6||Team Kagayama||KAGAYAMA / KIYONARI / URAMOTO||SUZUKI||– 5 laps|
|7||EVA RT TEST TYPE-01 Trick STAR||DEGUCHI / IZUTSU / NIGON||KAWASAKI||– 5 laps|
|8||SatuHATI Honda Team Asia||PRATAMA / WILAIROT / ZAIDI||HONDA||– 6 laps|
|9||Mistresa with ATS||NAKATSUHARA / KOBAYASHI / SEKIGUCHI||HONDA||– 6 laps|
|10||au&Teluru·KoharaRT||AKIYOSHI / CUDLIN / OHKUBO||HONDA||– 6 laps|
|11||TOHO Racing||REA / YAMAGUCHI / WILARIOT||HONDA||-7 Laps|
|12||Team R2CL||MORRIS / SUCHET||SUZUKI||-8 Laps|
|13||Honda Endurance Racing||DA COSTA / GIMBERY / FORARY||HONDA||-8 Laps|
|14||GMT94 – Yamaha||CHECA / CANEPA / MAHIAS||YAMAHA||-8 Laps|
|18||F.C.C TSR Honda||JACOBSEN / AEGERTER / WATANABE||HONDA||-10 Laps|
|23||Suzuki Endurance Racing Team||PHILIPPE / DELHALLE / MASSON||SUZUKI||-10 Laps|
|19||Team April Moto Motors Events||BLACK / FASTRE / CUDLIN||SUZUKI||-10 Laps|
|62||Team SRC Kawasaki||LEBLANC / LAGRIVE / GUARNONI||KAWASAKI||-56 Laps|
|65||MuSASHI RT HARC PRO||VAN DER MARK / HAYDEN / TAKAHASHI||HONDA||-144 Laps|
Source: Suzuka; Photo: Yamaha Racing