2013 Suzuka 8 Hours
The 36th edition of the Suzuka 8 Hours this past weekend became a four-way battle to the end, but Musashi RT Harc-Pro Honda took home the win.
This was Honda’s 26th victory at the famed race, and the fourth consecutive win for the CBR1000RR Fireblade. The winning team, with pilots Leon Haslam, Michael van der Mark and Takumi Takahashi, took the win by a minute and 52 seconds ahead of Yoshimura Suzuki (Takuya Tsuda, Nobuatsu Aoki and Josh Brookes).
Taking the final podium position was Team Kagayama Suzuki (Yukio Kagayama, Kevin Schwantz and Noriyuki Haga), which finished a lap behind the Honda CRB1000RR Fireblade. This was the 1993 500cc MotoGP Champion Schwantz’s first race since 1995.
The 48-year-old Texan has great memories of Suzuka – he won his first-ever premier class race there in 1988 (Suzuka was on World Championship calendar from 1988-1995), and, sadly his competed in his final race there on April 23, 1995.
The Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT) of Vincent Philippe, Anthony Delhalle and Julien Da Costa were in the hunt for the podium, but were slower than the Kagayama Suzuki. But due to its third-place in the opening of four rounds in the Endurance World Championship at Bol d’Or, SERT now holds the points lead.
When the Suzuka 8 Hours got underway, the Musahi RT HARC-Pro Honda was quickly hunted down by last year’s Suzuka 8 Hours winner, the FCC TSR Honda CBR1000RR piloted by Jonathan Rea, Haslam’s Pata Honda World Superbike teammate.
Rea was a favorite for this year’s race, but was unable to finish after his teammate Ryuichi Kiyonari crashed in the third hour of the race. The damage sustained by the team’s CBR1000RR was too heavy to continue.
The Musashi team inherited the lead, which they extended to one lap over their nearest rivals and held it to the checkered flag, despite rain falling at Suzuka during the final 40 minutes.
Haslam, 30, whose father Ron was runner-up in the 1979 running of the 8-hours race, becomes the second British rider to win the Suzuka 8-hours in as many years after Rea’s victory last season.
Van der Mark, meanwhile, is the first Dutch rider to win the event, doing so on his first attempt and in his first competitive ride on a Superbike machine and his debut on Bridgestone tires.
Leon Haslam says: “This means so much after the tough season I’ve had. The leg held up pretty well during my stints but I just want to say thanks to the whole Musashi HARC-Pro team. They did a great job and also Mickey and Takahashi-san rode really well. I feel sorry for Jonathan and Kiyo [Ryuichi Kiyonari] but it’s a long tough race and anything can happen. I’m just glad that we managed to hold on to the lead until the end. It’s a really magical feeling.”
Michael van der Mark says: “I’m just so excited! What a fantastic day it’s been – I can’t really believe yet what’s happened! We won the 8-hours!! We had a really strong team and the bike was working so, SO good! And the teamwork during the pitstops was perfect. It was amazing to watch. I am so thankful to everybody that helped me and allowed me to be a part of this incredible experience.”
The Yamaha France GMT 94 Michelin Yamalube also performed well in Japan, coming in fifth. David Checa, Kenny Foray and Matthieu Lagrive finshed just two laps behind the Musashi RT Harc-Pro.
Honda Team Asia (Makoto Tamada, Azlan Kamaruzaman and Yuki Takahashi) finally came out on top in the duel for sixth place with the Honda of Toho Racing with Moriwaki (Tatsuya Yamaguchi, Shinichi Ito and Kazuma Watanabe).
The Monster Energy Yamaha YART finished eighth but made its mark at this 36th edition of the Suzuka 8 Hours when Katsuyuki Nakasuga shot his team into pole position by beating his own 2012 lap record in 2:06.817.
The Monster Energy Yamaha YART held its own in the leading pack until a minor leak in the engine seal forced it into the pits for repairs. Given the fast pace of the leaders, it returned to the track mid-race in eleventh place.
In 10th behind Honda Kumamoto Racing, Team R2CL (Suzuki) with Gwen Giabbani, Dylan Buisson and Masahiro Shinjo made a remarkable entry into the Top 10 after qualifying in 21st place, finishing a few seconds ahead of the Kawasaki of Bolliger Team Switzerland ridden by Horst Saiger, Roman Stamm and Daniel Sutter.
Among the other permanent teams competing in Japan, the Honda TT Legends showed its mettle in the last part of the race. After tumbling down the field with a gear box problem, John McGuinness, Michael Rutter and Simon Andrews finished 22nd.
The British factory team came in ahead of the French Flembbo Leader Team. The Kawasaki ridden by Janek Prosenik, Xavier Demarey and Osamu Nishijima finished 27th. For its maiden Suzuka 8 Hours, Motobox Kremer by Shell Advance with Martin Scherrer, Timo Paavilainen and Florian Bauer finished 31st.
The start of the race was particularly eventful. The first of the top teams to drop out was the FCC TSR Honda. Having taken the lead, Ryuichi Kiyonari crashed almost three hours into the race. BMW Motorrad France Team Thevent also dropped out after two crashes for Erwan Nigon and Jason Pridmore. Erwan Nigon was in the vanguard at the start of the race battling it out in on equal terms with Takuya Tsuda (Yoshimura Suzuki), Katsuyuki Nakasuga (Monster Energy Yamaha YART) and Takumi Takahashi (Musashi RT Harc-Pro).
At the end of the race, a shower added a touch of suspense but had no impact on the race leaders. The next leg of the FIM Endurance World Championship will be the 8 Hours of Oschersleben in Germany on August 17.