The Suzuka 8-Hours is around the corner. Testing is already underway for some of the leading riders, and it will only ramp up in the coming weeks.
Flying back and forth to Japan isn’t easy for anyone, but it is what is needed if you will be able to challenge at the great Japanese race.
The past weeks saw a host of announcements for rider lineups, with some interesting developments for what we will see on the last weekend of July.
The 8-Hours is the biggest race on the calendar for the Japanese manufacturers, and still the race that has the biggest impact on a rider’s fortunes with them. Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Honda have now all announced their top teams, but what does it mean?
Yamaha is the four-time defending champions and they will have an unchanged lineup for the third straight year, with Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Michael van der Mark, and Alex Lowes. The trio are the team to beat.
Their Tech21 Yamaha R1 may not be fastest bike on track any longer, but the team is well oiled and prepared to win. They will start the race as the firm favorite because of their sustained success. That being said they will face a tough challenge this year.
Kawasaki claimed pole position last year, and this year they’re even stronger. Team Green brings back defending WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea and pair him with Leon Haslam, the reigning British Superbike champion, and Toprak Razgatlioglu. The Turkish rider has been on the WorldSBK podium for the last two rounds, and is finding his form once again.
Suzuka will be a massive barometer of his potential for Kawasaki in the world championship. The ZX-10RR is a fast machine in any trim and with the Provec Racing squad running the operation, there will be no stone left unturned this season.
Yamaha and Kawasaki will leave nothing to chance. The resources will be there for whatever is asked. Testing, development, and preparation will all be maximized. Everything is ready for the race. All the team has to do is win. If they don’t? Don’t be surprised to see a termination note in the your letterbox.
While the two favorites are doing everything they can, the same cannot be said about Honda. Instead there are a series of questions about them. Why aren’t Leon Camier and Takaaki Nakagami racing? Is Honda pulling out all the stops, or are they waiting for a new bike in 2020?
It had been thought that the recent announcement that WorldSBK and the Endurance World Championship would share homologations could mean that Honda would use Suzuka as preparation for a new Superbike for 2020. But, the rider lineups would indicate that is unlikely to be the case.
There was widespread surprise when the riders were announced. Answers on the back of a $20 note if you can explain the absence of Camier and Nakagami at the expense of Ryuichi Kiyonari.
Stefan Bradl has been reinstated to the 8 Hours lineup for the Red Bull supported squad along with Takumi Takahaski. Bradl is an official HRC test rider and the former Moto2 world champion is sure to be strong with Bridgetone tires underneath him.
He has plenty of good memories of that rubber having taken his sole MotoGP pole position with them. Takahashi is currently leading the All-Japan Superbike series.
While the Team HRC Honda will be the headline maker they will be hard pressed to actually be the top Honda squad this year. The MuSASHi HARC-PRO squad will have Ryo Mizuno and Xavi Fores in their lineup, with a third rider set to be added. Make no doubts, this Suzuka specialty team will be expecting to contend for a podium spot.
Moriwaki, who will once again be running Pirelli tires, will field a squad with former Moto2 race winner Yuki Takahashi and former Grand Prix racer Tommy Koyama. The Teluru SAG squad will have Moto2 racer Tetsuta Nagashima alongside a strong All-Japan Superbike pairing of Akiyoshi and Hada.
While Honda has a host of strong riders in their stable, it is hard to say that any trio will be particularly strong. There are weak links in almost every squad fielding Honda Fireblades, although with some squads still to add a final rider, that can still be corrected.
Yoshimura Suzuki has always used the 8-Hours as the center point of their season. This isn’t just a big race for them. it’s the only race that matters. That was why it was a surprise to see the squad add Yukio Kagayama to their lineup.
The Japanese legend has been a regular at Suzuka in recent years racing for his own team, but he has rarely looked like turning back the hands of time.
With Takuya Tsueda having been dropped from their lineup the remaining spots are taken by MotoGP test rider, and former WorldSBK champion, Sylvain Guintoli and Kazuki Watanabe. The Japanese rider, a former All-Japan GP2 champion, has also raced on the world stage in World Supersport.
With Tsueda, regularly the outright fastest Suzuki rider in recent years, but one who has also made his share of racing mistakes, and Bradley Ray not having been announced it remains to be seen if they will find a seat for 2019.
Last year Tommy Bridewell, now racing a Ducati in BSB, raced for the S-Pulse Suzuki squad so maybe there will be a home to find for Ray and Tsueda.
The English rider arrived at Suzuka and instantly adapted to the bike and Bridgestone tires, but he did plateau during the tests and race weekends and since then his results have been very patchy in the British championship.
Sitting out Suzuka maybe a good option for Ray but it’s also an opportunity missed to impress the Japanese bosses.
With the primary seats all filled, testing underway for some squads and the race only six weeks ago the ramp-up to the Suzuka 8-Hours has truly begun!
Photos: © 2018 Steve English – All Rights Reserved
Our Suzuka 8-Hours coverage is made possible by our A&R Pro members. If you like reading this unique race coverage on Asphalt & Rubber, you should consider supporting this content by signing up for A&R Pro.