Race week for the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Race (Suzuka 8 Hours) has arrived. Final joint tests are scheduled for August 2 and 3, followed by Qualifying on the 5th, Top 10 Trial on the 6th, and the race on Sunday, August 7.
Due to the Superbike World Championship (WorldSBK) Czech round being held on July 30 - 31, WorldSBK riders will be arriving at Suzuka in time for the second day of tests, on August 3. Other riders filled the pitlane, revving to go.
Day 1 was met with harsh sunshine and temperatures exceeding 36℃. As the track temperature rose above 62℃ posing challenges for bikes, tires and riders, Session 1 was underway from 9am to 10:30am and 10:45am to 12pm. Session 2 was divided into three parts, from 1:30pm to 2:30pm, 2:45pm to 4:15pm and 4:30 pm to 6pm.
For #33 Team HRC (Tetsuta Nagashima / Takumi Takahashi / Iker Lecuona), Nagashima and Takahashi were available for Day 1 tests, but sat out Session 1, opting to begin tests in the afternoon.
In Session 1, EWC regulars YART-Yamaha Official Team EWC (Yamaha) set the fastest lap time of 2 min 7.970 s. For Honda, #25 Honda Sofukai Suzuka Racing (Yudai Kamei / Yuki Sugiyama / Jun Tadokoro) was third fastest with 2 min 8.849 s, while #73 SDG Honda Racing (Teppei Nagoe / Naomichi Uramoto / Ikuhiro Enokido) was one place behind with 2 min 8.891 s, and #104 TOHO Racing (Ryuichi Kiyonari / Takuma Kunimine / Hiromichi Kunikawa) was fifth with 2 min 9.026 s. #88 Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA (Md Zaqhwan Bin Zaidi / Gerry Salim / Helmi Bin Azman) was seventh-fastest with 2 min 9.489 s, and #5 F.C.C. TSR Honda France (Josh Hook / Gino Rea / Mike Di Meglio), joining in from the second run, was eighth with 2 min 9.538 s.
In Session 2, #33 Team HRC’s Nagashima set a 2 min 6.966 s lap on his first outing, which ended up being the fastest lap of the day. Teammate Takahashi fell at one stage, but recovered to set a 2 min 7.655 s lap before the day ended.
#25 Honda Sofukai Suzuka Racing was fourth-fastest in the afternoon, improving its lap time from Session 1 to 2 min 8.194 s. #5 F.C.C. TSR Honda France was fifth with 2 min 8.260 s. #73 SDG Honda Racing’s Enokido recovered from a fall in the morning session to set a 2 min 8.379 lap, sixth-fastest. #17 Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing (Kosuke Sakumoto / Kazuma Watanabe / Taiga Hada) improved its pace by setting a 2 min 8.439 s lap time.
Team HRC’s team manager, Kazuhiko Yamano commented, “The fuel tank is vital for endurance racing, so we made final adjustments including the spare tank. I believe we have completed our final checks for the race. Takahashi’s crash was unexpected, but he was uninjured, so we’ll take it as a good omen. He did well, setting a 2 min 7 s lap right after falling. Our base setup is coming together well through the tests, so we’ll listen to the riders’ requests, and see what we can do. We have a great bike to revert settings to if we change our mind, so we can aim higher.”
Nagashima has been setting the fastest times throughout the tests, and is now demonstrating his speed consistently, not just during his hot laps. Nagashima mentioned, “I think it’s good that we set a 2 min 6 s lap despite the rising air and track temperatures. We’ve made solid progress this far, so we’ll move further ahead in tomorrow’s tests.”
Takahashi said, “I’m sorry about the meaningless crash, as I wasn’t even pushing hard. We’re lucky that there was no damage, so we can go into tomorrow’s tests without that worry. I’m grateful for the opportunity to test a few things I wanted to try out. Nagashima and the team have done a great job with the base setup of the bike, so I’ll try to contribute to the team with the experience I have with Suzuka 8 Hours racing.”
Day 2 of the final joint tests will be held on August 3, following a similar schedule.