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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.

The winningest team in the FIM Endurance World Championship, the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team is the standard by which other endurance teams are measured…and that is a measuring stick that has seen a lot of use in recent seasons. This is because the FIM EWC is a hot bed for competition right now, with a bevy of factory-backed teams capable of winning on any race weekend. This has made it tough for SERT, and its riders Vincent Philippe, Etienne Masson, and Gregg Black, who currently sit sixth in the 2018 FIM Endurance World Championship standings. For this season, SERT hopes that a new racing platform will make the difference, as the French team has finally jumped onboard with the current-generation Suzuki GSX-R1000.

Vince Lombardi once said that he “firmly believes that any man’s finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out for a good cause and he lies exhausted on the field of battle. Victorious.” The day is done, the battle is won, and for a third consecutive year, Yamaha lifted the Suzuka 8-Hours trophy. It was a dominant performance by the #21 crew, and in the aftermath they sat and enjoyed their success. They weren’t exhausted, but for Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark, and Katsuyuki Nakasuga this was the final moment of their 2017 in Suzuka, Japan. Sitting in their paddock office, the trio of riders were relaxed, but the emotions of the day were starting to take hold.

Yamaha claimed its third Top 10 Shootout victory on the bounce at Suzuka today, but the Yamaha Factory Team know that there is still plenty of work to do to claim victory at the Suzuka 8-Hours

There are no team sports quite like motorsport. Fans focus their attentions on the riders on track, but it truly is a team effort that drives performance.

At the Suzuka 8-Hours, teamwork becomes even more important, and how a trio of riders work together and gel can become the deciding factor between winning and losing.

Yamaha retained its vice-like grip on the Suzuka 8-Hours by leading the way in qualifying, ahead of this weekend’s 40th edition of the legendary race, but Honda’s consistency could be a real threat.

Alex Lowes was the pace-setter for the Factory Yamaha Team with the WorldSBK star setting his fastest ever lap of the Japanese circuit. His 2’06.4 was marginally faster than his teammate, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, and afterwards Lowes was pleased with their efforts and excited for the weekend.

“I’m really happy with today,” said a smiling Lowes. “I did a 2’06.4 on the same tires that we will be using for the race, so that’s very positive. It’s also the first time that I’ve done a 2’06 around here. Today was difficult in the morning because there were some damp patches, but the bike is really good here.”

On first glance, the field looks to be close ahead of this weekend’s Suzuka 8-Hours. Yamaha led the opening session, Honda topped the second, and there are four manufacturers inside the Top 5, and all within a second of the pace.

It seems to be setting up for a great weekend of racing, but when you delve into the times it’s clear that, while Honda has made progress, they are still playing catch up with their CBR1000RR SP2.

Despite a crash for Jack Miller, the #634 machine led the way in the afternoon session, but with Yamaha electing to use only one set of tires in the session, their true one-lap pace is still unknown.

Not only does the FIM EWC showcase several manufacturers, with strong race-winning potential each of the championship’s multiple iconic events, but it the series is the last great venue for a proper battle between the different tire brands. Add to that the fact that the Endurance World Championship is comprised not only of endurance specialists, but also with some of the top names from motorcycle racing, both in factory and satellite teams, and it’s easy to find a reason to cheer for a particular entry. The best part though might be the photography that comes from motorcycle racing, which often spans from daylight and into the darkness of night. This year’s 24 Heures Motos at Le Mans event was no different, and we have a bevy of photos to share with you from France.

Any in racing series, defending the #1 plate is no easy feat, and when it comes to motorcycle racing, this statement is the most true in the FIM Endurance World Championship.

Composed of only four races for the 2016 season, the endurance championship still requires 52 hours of racing, and many more hours of practice and qualifying leading up to that figure.

To put that in perspective, it is roughly three-times more racing that MotoGP does in a season, and twice as much racing than what occurs in the World Superbike Championship.

All that extra racing time means there are more opportunity for where things can go wrong, and with only four opportunities to score points, it makes reliability, teamwork, and racecraft all the more important.

It is also worth mentioning the FIM Endurance World Championship is the only racing series where a tire war still exists, and it is also a battlefield where four factory-backed manufacturers can win at any particular event.

With all that considered then, we must give a well-earned congratulations to the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT), along with its riders Vincent Philippe, Anthony Delhalle, and Etienne Masson, for winning the 2016 FIM Endurance World Championship.