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!”
Taking things all the way to the last round of the championship – the Bol d’Or 24 Hour race – the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team can finally lay claim to being the the 2015 FIM Endurance World Champions.
Though endurance racing is very much a team effort, this victory for SERT couldn’t have been achieved without the team’s EWC veteran riders: Vincent Philippe, Anthony Delhalle, and Etienne Masson.
The trio’s results have allowed Suzuki to claim its 14th EWC title, which is just one part of the Japanese brand’s domination in the FIM Endurance World Championship.
On its road to EWC glory, SERT won at Le Mans, finished fourth in the very competitive specialist field at Suzuka, landed second on the podium at Oschersleben, and wrapped up the Bol d’Or in the third position.
Once upon a time, the Suzuka 8 Hour race was a big deal. A very big deal. It was the race the Japanese factories sent their very best riders to compete in, the event often being written into the contracts of the top Grand Prix and World Superbike riders as part of their factory deals.
The list of big names to win the race is impressive. Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Daryl Beattie, Aaron Slight, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, Noriyuki Haga, Colin Edwards, Daijiro Kato, Alex Barros, Shinichi Itoh, Tohru Ukawa, Taddy Okada. And of course Valentino Rossi.
There, they faced the very best of the Japanese Superbike riders, as well as the regulars from the World Endurance Championship, of which it forms a part.
It may have been an honor to have been asked to do the race, but the GP riders were far from keen. Held in July, the race fell right in the middle of the Grand Prix season.
Racing in the event meant multiple flights to Japan for testing and practice, then the grueling race itself in the oppressive heat and humidity of a Japanese summer. It meant doing the equivalent of four Grand Prix in the space of eight hours, then rushing home to get ready for the next race.
The best case scenario meant they started the next Grand Prix event tired and aching from Suzuka. The worst case was a crash and an injury that either kept them off the bike or left them riding hurt.
The only benefit was that it kept the factories happy, and marginally increased a rider’s chances of extending his contract with the manufacturer for a following season.
You may have already heard that Casey Stoner crashed out of the Suzuka 8-Hour this weekend, while leading the race no less. The result of which was a broken scaphoid and fractured left tibia/ankle for the 29-year-old Australian, who had finally found himself back in motorcycle racing.
Ultimately, the throttle on the MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO Honda CBR1000RR was to blame, with it getting stuck open at 26º of full throttle.
For fans that have been waiting the return of Casey Stoner, a rider we tip as likely the most talented ever to race on two wheels, this is a disappointing end to what could have been a fairytale weekend.
Time will tell if Stoner mounts another racing motorcycle, though we imagine this weekend’s events don’t help the realization of that pipe dream.
Click after the jump, for the carnage…and note why many riders consider Suzuka too dangerous a venue for motorcycles.
In Japan, the Suzuka 8-Hour is a huge deal, but for the rest of the world, it ranks on par with the rest of the FIM Endurance World Championship.
That’s kind of a shame, really, as the Endurance World Championship is the only motorcycle championship where we still see different tire manufacturers competing against each other, the bikes are beautifully technical in their own special way, and in the case of Suzuka, there are often heavy-hitters at play.
This year was no different, with Yamaha fielding its “Yamaha Factory Racing Team” with two MotoGP stars, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, along with factory test rider and MotoGP podium-finisher Katsuaki Nakasuga.
If you will pardon the pun, it’s a tough break for Casey Stoner and his Suzuka 8-Hour debut, as the two-time MotoGP World Champion broke his right scapula & left tibia today in crash that occurred while he was leading the famous iconic endurance race.
Stoner, along with his teammates Takumi Takahashi and Michael van der Mark, took the factory-backed Honda team of MuSASHI RT HARC-PRO to a third-place qualifying position, after the Top 10 team qualifying shootout.
With Stoner at the helm of #634 for his first stint of the day, the Honda team took over the leading position, when the Yamaha Factory Racing Team pitted.
Subsequently, the Australian lost control of the Honda CBR1000RR because the throttle got stuck open, which then caused him to crash into the hairpin turn of Turn 11, which is appropriately enough called “Hairpin”.
The line up for the Suzuka 8-Hour endurance race looks to be the strongest for years. Today, Yamaha confirmed that Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider pairing of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro are to race for the factory entry at Suzuka, alongside Yamaha test rider and Japanese Superbike champion Katsuyuki Nakasuga.
Smith and Espargaro will face Casey Stoner and Michael van der Mark, who will be racing for the Honda factory team.
Rumors that Yamaha were taking their entry for the race very seriously first emerged at Jerez, where paddock gossip had Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo entering the race in the factory team.