In all our coverage of the 2018 Suzuka 8-Hours endurance race, the name Suzuki has woefully not been in much of the conversation.
This isn’t to say that the brand from Hamamatsu wasn’t present at this prestigious event, but its level of involvement and readiness certainly wasn’t on par with the other three Japanese brands.
Fielding the Yoshimura Suzuki factory-backed team yet again, this year saw a big milestone take place, as Suzuki’s endurance efforts are now being conducted on the current-generation superbike.
This has caused some issues in the paddock, most notably in the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT), which is Suzuki’s factory-backed team in the FIM World Endurance Championship.
The winningest team in the FIM EWC – by a considerable amount – SERT struggled during the 2017/2018 season, finishing 6th overall in the championship. Surely as they sort out the new GSX-R1000R, SERT will once again be on top of the game.
In the hunt at Suzuka, it was the Yoshimura Suzuki team that was carrying the banner for Suzuki, finishing 10th – of note, behind the Suzuki team of S-Pulse Dream Racing – IAI, which finished 4th.
A man on a mission, Steve was able to get a bunch of shots of the Yoshimura Suzuki bike before it took to the track. You should check them out, and if you haven’t already, you should see his captures of the Suzuka race bikes from Red Bull Honda, Yamaha Factory Racing Team, and Kawasaki Team Green.
The race-winner that could have been. Kawasaki Team Green was the Suzuka 8-Hours favorite coming out of Saturday’s Top 10 qualifying session, and the factory-backed Kawasaki team traded corners with Yamaha during the opening laps of Sunday’s endurance race.
What looked like an upset in the making, turned out to be a fizzle, largely because of a poor fueling and pit stop strategy, which saw Jonathan Rea first run out of gas, and then stay out on slicks during a rain storm.
As he tumbled down the asphalt, you have to wonder if the World Superbike champion saw his Suzuka fortunes tumbling with him.
The 2018 Suzuka 8-Hours endurance race was the biggest effort that we have seen from Kawasaki, which enlisted the help of its future WorldSBK team (Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam, and part of the KRT pit box), to join the Japanese engineers and All Japan Superbike rider Kazuma Watanabe.
Part of the effort involved honing the specially prepared Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR race bike for the Suzuka 8-Hours, and this included a considerable amount of pre-event testing, with WorldSBK crew chief Pere Ribe overseeing the bike’s development.
This is it. This is the biggest, baddest, meanest superbike on the Suzuka 8-Hours grid. Setting the high-water mark in Japan FOUR YEARS IN A ROW now, the Yamaha YZF-R1 from the Yamaha Factory Racing Team is the pinnacle of the sport.
You may not have known it, but things didn’t quite go Yamaha’s way this year at the Suzuka 8-Hours though, with Katsuyuki Nakasuga having to sit out the race because of injury.
This left Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark to carry the load between the two of them, a tiring job at Suzuka.
Winning by only 30 seconds in an eight-hour race is still called winning though, and in doing so the Yamaha Factory Racing Team showed the depth and talent of its team. This is a high-level, high-functioning, endurance racing outfit, and it comes straight from the factory in Iwata, Japan.
And while the Yamaha YZF-R1 is a motorcycle that you can pick up at any dealership in the United States (so long as it isn’t for a Superbike Deathmatch), the machine on the Suzuka Circuit this past weekend is anything but ordinary.
I sent our man Steve English down to the pits to get some shots of this mysterious machine, and the Japanese team was being “very Japanese” about letting us taking photos, as Steve puts it.
That didn’t stop us from getting some photos though. Go ahead, go get a towel before you continue further. We’ll wait.
I am just now getting to the photos I took during the WorldSBK round at Laguna Seca, so apologies for the delay. As such, I have compiled the entire weekend’s shots into a single gallery, rather than breaking them out by day.
The order isn’t chronological then, but instead works its way around a lap of the track. The gallery starts in pit lane, with bikes and riders getting ready to take to the circuit. Next follows the pageantry of the starting grid, as my colleague Andrew Wheeler would call it.
A few shots from Turn 1 (the scariest turn in all of motorcycling, if you ask me), Turn 2 (the double-apex known better as the Andretti Hairpin), and Turn 3 (one of my favorite turns, as a rider) to get things started.
I pick the WSBK riders up again at the top of the hill at Turn 7. This vantage point always provides some good heavy braking shots, with riders often lifting the rear-wheel off the ground as the head into The Corkscrew – though, I didn’t seem to get that shot this year.
Taking a number of vantage points to this iconic turn, I shot the Corkscrew from both the inside and outside. The inside shots are the ones that are more famous, but my favorite photos from Laguna Seca always come from the outside, where on a clear day you can see the Pacific Ocean in the background.
Coming down The Corkscrew I got a sequence of PJ Jacobsen finding the wrong line through the turn, with the marshals facing a very difficult bike recovery situation, which included fluid on the course.
Following the line through The Corkscrew, riders sweep wide into Rainy Curve (Turn 9), before tightening the line at the apex. The Corkscrew isn’t that technical of a turn to ride, beyond the fact that if you get it really wrong, you will lose all your drive down the hill and thru T9.
One of the few right-handers, Turn 10, and then the bus stop that is Turn 11, and the racers are back on the front straight. This is where I caught them again, power-wheelieing out of T11 and accelerating in front of the grandstand.
If you do this 20 or so times faster than anyone else, you find yourself in parc fermé with bubbly in your hands. This year the crowd got a taste of the prosecco as well, courtesy of Jonathan Rea.
Enjoy the shots, I left them in super-high resolution form in case you need a new desktop background. Note, there are more photos in the thumbnail gallery, if you want to click through those as well.