Seeing the return of American racing legend Kevin Schwantz to FIM road racing, the 2013 Coca-Cola Zero Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race was certainly one to remember.
While the return of Schwantz overshadowed many of the other big names in the sport that competed in the event, not to mention the former World Champion’s own teammates: Noriyuki Haga & Yukio Kagayama, the Suzuka starting grid was also blessed with the entries of Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam, Josh Brookes, John McGuinness, Michael Rutter, Simon Andrews, and American Jason Pridmore.
Though a long eight-our race, the on-course action was surprisingly close, with the Top 5 teams on the same lap well past the three-hour mark. Team Kagayama was in good shape for a solid result from the onset of the race, as Noriyuka Haga put the team’s Suzuki GSX-R1000 in a solid fourth position.
The team rose as high as second-position with Team Manager Yukio Kagayama on-board, as the Suzuka specialist kept a solid pace, and benefited from the pit stops of other teams, not to mention the retirement of the FCC TSR Honda team, which had a race-ending crash with Ryuichi Kiyonari at the helm.
While the crash from Kiyonari on the FCC TSR Honda dashed the race-win-repeat hopes of World Superbike’s Jonathan Rea, Kevin Schwantz finally dazzled fans in the third hour as he took to the course. For all the postulation that the 49-year-old was over the hill for the Suzuka 8 Hours, the Texan held his own on the Kagayama Suzuki, and managed to keep Team Kagayama in the podium hunt, especially as other top teams succumbed to the rigors of endurance racing.
With the MuSASHI RT HARC-PRO Honda of Leon Haslam, Takumi Takahashi, and Michael Van Der Mark electing not to pit as the rain came down in the final hour, the team managed the race from the second-hour onward, and never looked back. That’s not to say though the Yoshimura Suzuki Race Team, with BSB-wonder Josh Brookes, factory Suzuki test rider Nobuatsu Aoki, and Takuya Tsuda didn’t keep the the pressure on until the checkered flag.
In fact if Brookes hadn’t crashed the Yoshimura Suzuki in the crash-heavy Degner Curve during the third hour, team could very well have been on the top step of the podium. Instead Brookes, Aoki, and Tsuda had to settle for second place, nearly two minutes back at the race’s conclusion
Other crash disappointments came for the BMW Motorrad France Team Thevient, which saw both its riders go down before finally retiring in the third hour. Qualifying fifth, the BMW Motorrad France team backslid down the order from the start, and first the to go down was Erwan Nigon in the second hour, which dropped the team from 7th to 33rd in the running order. By the third hour, the team was headed upward and back up to 25th, but a crash from American Jason Pridmore dealt the team another blow.
By the fourth hour, BMW Motorrad France Team Thevient was sitting in 47th place, and ultimately had to retire from the race. Seeing its third rider, Damian Cudlin suffer a crash earlier in the week that sidelined him from the race, it was a tough outing for the BMW Motorrad boys.
Having an even tougher week in Japan was the Honda TT Legends crew, which struggled with the Suzuka Circuit from the word go. With Michael Rutter and Simon Andrews new to the track, veteran John McGuinness had to anchor the team. Qualifying a disappointing 29th, the team managed to make progress by the race’s end, with a 22nd result. Battling a burnt clutch and a punctured tire though, the team’s seven-pit-stop strategy had a null effect with the unnecessary stoppages.