MotoGP’s Asia-Pacific races tend to get lumped together in the popular imagination. They are “The Flyaways”, formerly three, now four races in parts East, a long way away from the homes of the vast majority of the paddock.
The triple header – Motegi, Phillip Island, and Sepang – is especially susceptible to this, as the three back-to-back races tend to leave the paddock in a state of constant befuddlement, fatigued from jet lag, and spending much of their time on 8+ hour flights between the various venues. Everything tends to become one big blur.
Yet there are vast differences between all four flyaways. Leaving the crushing heat of Thailand, the paddock heads east to Motegi, a track where conditions can be almost Northern European, with mist, rain, and cold mornings.
Across the equator to Australia, and the edge of the Bass Strait, from a massive circuit complex to an old-fashioned facility perched on a cliff above the sea, from stop and go to fast and flowing. Then north again to Malaysia, and more oppressive tropical heat.
Conditions, tracks, and cultures, all are different. Buriram lies in the heart of Thailand, a long way from the tourist-filled beaches. Motegi is up in the hills in central Japan, a place where the 21st Century meets a very traditional culture.
Phillip Island can be boiling hot or arctic cold, those two extremes often within 20 minutes of each other on what is essentially a vacation island. Sepang sits next to Kuala Lumpur, the epitome of a fast-growing Asian city, and a hodgepodge of cultures. The contrasts could hardly be greater.
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.
With the holiday season receding into the rear view mirror, that means that we are getting closer to seeing bikes on tracks.
Testing starts this week for both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, and before testing, the Movistar Yamaha team will present their 2018 livery later on this week as well.
The action starts on Tuesday in Jerez, where virtually the entire WorldSBK paddock is gathered for a two-day test.
The Andalusian track will see the first real test of the 2018 WorldSBK machines, with the teams all having had the winter break to develop their bikes under the new technical regulations – new rev limits, and better access to cheaper parts.
All eyes will once again be on triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, the man who dominated at Jerez in November.
The WorldSBK grid at Jerez will be full of replacement riders, as injury takes its toll, not just on the regular riders, but also on possible replacements.
Sylvain Guintoli is to step in and replace the still injured and departing Randy Krummenacher in the Kawasaki Puccetti team for the rest of the season, the Swiss rider having previously fractured his wrist.
Guintoli will ride for the Puccetti team in both the remaining rounds this year, at Jerez and at Qatar.
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.”
Being a replacement rider is never easy. Being asked to replace a factory MotoGP rider is always an honor, and one which nobody wants to turn down, but it also means being thrown in at the deep end, with a new bike, new tires, and sometimes even new tracks to learn with little or no testing.
Bearing all that in mind, experience can make the world of difference. So when Suzuki were forced to replace Alex Rins, after he broke his left arm in Austin, they turned to one of the most experienced riders around.
Sylvain Guintoli spent five seasons in 250s and two full seasons in MotoGP, before heading off to World Superbikes, where he won the title in 2014. He is currently racing the brand new Suzuki GSX-R1000 for Bennetts Suzuki in the BSB championship.
In Barcelona, I found myself alone at Guintoli’s debrief, and had a chance to spend fifteen minutes talking to the Frenchman.
We had a wide-ranging conversation, covering topics as diverse as the changes to the bikes and tires since 2008, the character of the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP bike, and how it compares to Suzuki’s production GSX-R1000.
It is not often that journalists get to speak to team managers at length, but test days provide the perfect opportunity to do just that. So it was that a small group of journalists attending the tests sat down with Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio to discuss progress so far.
There was a lot to talk about. There have been rumors that Andrea Iannone is not fitting in well with the ECSTAR Suzuki team, and is currently engaged in talks with Aprilia about moving there for the 2018 season. Some of Iannone’s issues are down to his problem adapting to the bike, and trying to fix his feeling with the front end.
Brivio spoke to us about Iannone’s situation, and the development of the GSX-RR. He also talked about the benefits of a satellite team, what Suzuki is doing to improve the spec electronics package, the test program at Barcelona, and the return of Alex Rins for the test.
It was a long discussion, but there was plenty to go over. We think you will enjoy it.
Sylvain Guintoli is to replace Alex Rins at Suzuki from the next race at Le Mans onwards, until Rins is fit to return. To help him prepare for his return to MotoGP, Guintoli will test the Suzuki GSX-RR on Monday, at the official Jerez test.
Choosing the Frenchman to replace Rins at Le Mans is an obvious choice. Guintoli has previous experience in MotoGP, having ridden a Yamaha and Ducati in 2007 and 2008.