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Honda doesn’t want you to see these photos. I am pretty sure that there is a dark room somewhere on the Suzuka Circuit facility, possibly guarded by Yakuza henchmen, where they are keeping Steve captive for his misdeeds in bringing you the detailed photos we are about to show you.

This is how seriously HRC is taking this year’s Suzuka 8-Hours.

“Win at all costs” is the mantra being used by the Red Bull Honda team, which will field PJ Jacobsen, Takaaki Nakagami, and Takumi Takahashi at this year’s edition of the race. Their goal is simple: to restore honor to the company, and win the most prestigious race on the Japanese calendar.

To do this, Honda has built a special machine. A one-off superbike, this Honda CBR1000RR SP2 was designed to race at only one race track, for only one race, for only three riders. This Honda represents everything that HRC knows about making an endurance racing machine.

As you can imagine then, while this story starts with a bit of hyperbole, it isn’t far from reality.

A typhoon is heading towards Suzuka, but as the paddock battened down the hatches, the winds of change had already set in.

Jonathan Rea’s pole position for Kawasaki ended three year’s of Yamaha topping the times. The three-time WorldSBK champion will be out to do the same during tomorrow’s race.

Kawasaki hasn’t won the biggest race of the year since 1993 – their sole success with Scott Russell and Aaron Slight at the helm – but they may not have a better opportunity than tomorrow.

Jonathan Rea grabbed the headlines on Friday in Japan, with an unofficial lap record at the Suzuka 8-Hours, which put the Kawasaki Team Green ZX-10RR on a pole-position start.

The Northern Irishman was nine tenths of a second faster than Pol Espargaro’s 2016 pole lap, and Rea’s time was made all the more impressive by the fact that he, like the majority of front-runners, didn’t opt to use a qualifying tire.

The FIM Endurance World Championship regulations allow teams to use 14 sets of tires throughout the Suzuka weekend, and with eight tires allocated for the race, and two qualifying tires, it means that for the opening two days the front-runners focus on race pace with used tyres.

Though of note, Rea set his fastest time in the second qualifying session, with a fresh tire.

Can you tell the difference between heaven and hell? Suzuka reveals the soul of a rider by breaking them down through each stint.

Your lungs are burning, the skin is falling off your hands because, even bandaged tightly, the extreme conditions will get the better of them, the dehydration is setting in, and your mind is foggy and far from clear.

Once you're off the bike, and sitting in your chair, the realization slowly sets in that you still have to get back on the bike.

You look around and see the faces of your engineers, and they know what needs to be done, but the only thought running through your head is that fucking bike and the pain it's been putting you through.

Suzuka is one of the most spectacular challenges on the planet for rider and machine. It flows around the hills and winds its way on top of itself.

Fast and slow corners. Sweeping bends that lead into each other and tight chicanes. There's high speeds and heavy braking. Suzuka has it all and when you add in the heat and humidity of the final Sunday of July it becomes on of the biggest tests of character and will that any rider will go through.

This is heaven, this is hell. Which is which? Who can tell? The contrast between the feeling you get from riding a Superbike on the limit at Suzuka and the after effect is massive.

How do you deal with the physicality of racing in heat? Combat the mental strain of getting back on the bike? How do you deal with the sense pressure of expectancy? Jonathan Rea, Leon Camier, and Alex Lowes give us their thoughts on these three phases of the Suzuka 8-Hours.

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The Suzuka 8-Hours endurance race kicks off this week, with the racing action coming to us this weekend. The final stop on the FIM Endurance World Championship calendar, Suzuka also happens to be the endurance race that all the Japanese manufacturers want to win.

To put Suzuka into perspective, this race means more to Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha than the Motegi round of MotoGP.

It means more than any domestic championship, the World Superbike Championship, and possibly even the MotoGP Championship as well. For the Big Four, this is big business.

It is no surprise then that we are seeing three official one-off factory teams entering this year’s Suzuka race, on top of the bevy of factory supported squads already in the FIM EWC paddock.

With so much on the line this year, Asphalt & Rubber will have boots on the ground for the 2018 Suzuka 8-Hours, bringing you content every day from this truly unique race in Japan.

Leon Camier’s misfortune of suffering a fractured vertebra has become PJ Jacobsen’s gain, as the American racer has been promoted into the factory Honda team at this year’s Suzuka 8-Hours endurance race.The move is a huge win for Jacobsen, for several reasons.

First, the Suzuka 8-Hours has always been an incredibly important race for the Japanese manufacturers, one that they take very seriously.

Second, this year’s race in particular is a pivotal year for Honda, as Big Red is looking to stop Yamaha’s recent run of three consecutive Suzuka victories.

To do this, Honda is fielding a full-factory outfit, the Red Bull Honda team. This is the first time that their has been an official HRC team at Suzuka in 10 years, a sign of how seriously Honda is looking for a win at its home track.

World Superbike rider Leon Camier has endured a difficult season thus far in the World Superbike Championship. Breaking ribs and suffering from a lung contusion during Race 1 at Aragon, Camier had to miss the next two rounds of the 2018 season.

Now suffering another crash, this time at the Suzuka 8-Hours test in Japan, Camier is once again on the mend, fracturing the C5 vertebra in his neck.