Another year and another Suzuka 8 Hours. This year’s edition promises to be unlike any another in recent years.
Honda and Kawasaki are ready to take a shot at Yamaha, and Suzuki is once again lurking in the background with a package that could spring a surprise.
Yamaha returns as the four-time defending champion, with an unchanged lineup on the #21 Yamaha Factory Racing Team machine.
Katsuyuki Nakasuga missed last year’s edition after a crash ruled him out of the race, but the Japanese star is back in action this year and feeling confident. Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark split the duties last year and return this year, but there’s been changes to the R1 for this year’s race.
Van der Mark’s frame has always been an issue at Suzuka. The six-footer has to be as adaptable as possible for his teammates, but with Nakasuga ruled out of the race last year the team made changes to the bike to push the handlebars further away and make it more comfortable for the Dutchman.
Amazingly when Nakasuga returned to action following his injury he kept the bars in the same place and was just as fast. The result is that Van der Mark is now much more comfortable on the bike. Given his recent wrist fracture that can only be a positive.
Last year the Yamaha wasn’t the fastest bike on track, but it was the most complete bike. Able to complete 28-lap stints and lap consistently in the 2:07’s made it very difficult to beat.
If you’re going to win this year’s 8 Hours, you’re going to match Yamaha’s consistency on track and their efficiency in the pits.
Honda’s plans last year focused on their ability to stay out of the pits. The Fireblade didn’t have the straight up pace of the Yamaha, but it did have better fuel efficiency and could run at least one lap longer in each stint.
That can add up during an endurance race and open a bigger window for a team to try something different with their strategy.
For this year Honda has made a big step forward and Takumi Takahashi (#33 Red Bull Honda) looks to have rounded into perfect form in the buildup. He’ll be crucial if Honda is to have a chance of breaking their Suzuka hoodoo, which now stretches back five years.
The Red Bull machine won’t be the only strong Honda, with the EWC regulars joined by a host of Japanese squads. The pick of these could be the #634 Harc PRO machine. With Xavi Fores making his Suzuka debut alongside Dominique Aegerter and Ryo Mizuno, they will be very confident of once again showing well compared to the factory HRC outfit.
Kawasaki is pulling out all the stops for 2019 with Kawasaki Racing Team in Japan to compliment their WorldSBK season. Jonathan Rea is back in Japan and rumors have been rife that part of his deal to return to the race was dependant on having his usual team around him.
Having brought Pere Riba to Team Green in 2018, this year the whole band is making the trek to the Far East with Leon Haslam once again paired with Rea. Toprak Razgatlioglu has been immense in WorldSBK of late, and he will be racing the 8-Hours for the first time.
How he adapts to riding with the KRT squad is a question mark but speed and experience shouldn’t be a major issue with Rea and Haslam former 8-Hours winners.
Suzuki is the wild card contenders for 2019, but keep on eye on the #95 S-Pulse bike with Bradley Ray and Tommy Bridewell.
The usual suspects are all in action from the EWC with the #7 YART machine sure to be a contender once again. Broc Parkes, Nico Canepa, and Marvin Fritz forms are very potent rider line-up. They’ll be up against the #1 TSR machine of the reigning world champions with Josh Hook, Mike di Meglio and Freddy Foray leading their assault.
Outside of that the battles between the Dunlop shod #2 Suzuki and the Pirelli shod #19 Moriwaki Honda could be an interesting subplot.
Stat Panel: Stats and facts for the Suzuka 8 Hours
Inaugural 8-Hours: 1978
First Winners: Wes Cooley and Mike Baldwin
Most Successful Riders:
- 5 wins: Tohru Ukawa
- 4 wins: Wayne Gardner, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Shinichi Itoh, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Michael van der Mark
- 3 wins: Alex Lowes, Takumi Takahashi, Colin Edwards
- 2 wins: Leon Haslam
- 1 win: Jonathan Rea, Bradley Smith, Valentino Rossi
Most Successful Manufacturers:
- 27 wins: Honda
- 8 wins: Yamaha
- 5 wins: Suzuki
- 1 wins: Kawasaki
Most Laps: 2002 Daijiro Katoh and Colin Edwards (Honda) – 219 laps
Stint Length: 28 laps
Target Average Lap Time per Stint: 2:07
Photo: Yamaha Racing