Qualifying for the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race (Suzuka 8 Hours), a midsummer festivity, began today.
After Unofficial Test Session 6 from 8:30 am to 10 am, and Free Practice Session 1 from 11:30 am, the first qualifying session began at 2:45 pm, divided into three rider groups (blue / yellow / red) for 20 minutes per group.
In the FIM Endurance World Championship (EWC), starting grid positions are determined by the average lap time of each team’s best two riders. After the second qualifying session on Saturday morning is complete, and provisional rankings are determined, two riders from the top ten teams then proceed to the Top 10 Trial to be held in the afternoon to decide the top ten grid positions. The teams not in the Top 10 Trial retain their positions determined after the second qualifying session.
Session 6 in the morning began in hot, harsh conditions. YART - YAMAHA OFFICIAL TEAM EWC (Yamaha) set the fastest lap of 2 min 6.424s, followed by Team HRC with Japan Post’s 2 min 7.569s and F.C.C. TSR Honda France‘s 2 min 7.708s.
SDG Honda Racing was fourth-fastest, with TTSRacing MurayamaUnso HondaDream sixth, Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing ninth, TOHO Racing 12th and Team ATJ 13th, all setting times in the 2 min 8s range.
Free Practice Session 1 that followed was cut short due to too many riders crashing ultimately leading to a red flag.
In this session, Team HRC with Japan Post set the best time of 2 min 6.458s. TOHO Racing was second-fastest, SDG Honda Racing third, F.C.C. TSR Honda France fourth, Team ATJ sixth and Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing eighth, all in the 2 min 7s range, a second behind the session leader.
Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing was tenth-fastest, and Honda Dream RT SAKURAI HONDA was 11th.
In the afternoon the first qualifying session started with Riders Blue.
Soon after the start, the session turned chaotic as Honda Dream RT SAKURAI HONDA’s Kazuki Ito crashed, followed by Team Kawasaki Webike Trickstar’s Randy de Puniet.
Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing’s Ryo Mizuno set the session’s best time of 2 min 7.048s and promptly pitted just before the red flag halted proceedings.
As the session restarted, Team HRC with Japan Post’s Tetsuta Nagashima was the fastest out of pit lane. YART - YAMAHA OFFICIAL TEAM EWC’s Niccolò Canepa set a 2 min 6.513s lap, but Nagashima promptly bettered his rival with a 2 min 5.722 time. Mizuno was fourth-fastest, followed by F.C.C. TSR Honda France’s Mike Di Meglio.
Next up was the Rider Yellow qualifying session, which was equally, if not more chaotic as the previous, as F.C.C. TSR Honda France‘s Alan Techer and S-PULSE DREAM RACING-ITEC (Suzuki) rider Josh Waters collided at the Spoon curve. The TSR bike caught fire, halting proceedings once again. Although the session restarted, it was soon red-flagged again.
With 6 min 23s remaining in the session, riders attempted their hot laps. YART - YAMAHA OFFICIAL TEAM EWC’s Marvin Fritz set the best time of 2 min 7.084s, followed by Team HRC with Japan Post’s Takumi Takahashi clocking a 2 min 7.158 lap. Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing‘s Kazuma Watanabe was fourth-fastest in the session.
The Rider Red session was red-flagged practically as soon as it began. Once restarted Team HRC’s Xavi Vierge set the fastest lap of 2 min 6.121s before promptly pitting to greeted by the team’s smiles.
SDG Honda Racing‘s Haruki Noguchi set the second-fastest time at that point of 2 min 7.594s, but was soon pushed down a place after F.C.C. TSR Honda France‘s Tarran Mackenzie set a s min 7.486 lap. YART - YAMAHA OFFICIAL TEAM EWC‘s Karel Hanika beat everyone with a 2 min 6.009s lap, relegating Vierge to second. TOHO Racing‘s Ikuhiro Enokido impressed with the third-fastest lap for the session of 2 min 7.317s, but soon after crashed at the Spoon curve. With minutes remaining in the session, the red flag once again cut proceedings short.
Later in the evening, the Night Free Practice Session was held from 6:30 pm for one hour. YART - YAMAHA OFFICIAL TEAM EWC was fastest with 2 min 7.488. Team HRC with Japan Post was the only other team in the session in the 2 min 7s range, with a 2 min 7.802 lap.
F.C.C. TSR Honda France was third-fastest with 2 min 8.232s, while SDG Honda Racing was 16th and Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA was 18th.
SDG Honda Racing’s team principal Kotaro Honda looking back at the day’s qualifying times said, “Nagoe crashed in free practice and hurt himself, so it was hard to set a good qualifying time, but Noguchi set a good pace in his first Suzuka 8 Hours outing. We confirmed that Uramoto can also set 2 min 6s laps. We’re not quite as fast as we want yet, but we’ll be ready by the race.”
Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA’s Makoto Tamada team principal said, “Zaqhwan fell in the morning session, but was unharmed and rode well in the next session. Andi, who is injured, rode carefully. As a team, we’re getting better each time we’re on the track.”
F.C.C. TSR Honda France’s Masakazu Fujii team principal said, “Alan crashed, but Mackenzie did a great job. Di Meglio is also keeping his averages up. We’ll work hard preparing for the race.”
Team HRC with Japan Post spent the morning focusing on checking the bike and its setup in preparation for the race. In Qualifying, the team average times were highly competitive, and Nagashima reached his target time. The team will continue making adjustments for tomorrow.
The second qualifying session will be held tomorrow morning, followed by Free Practice Session 2 in the afternoon. The Top 10 Trial kicks off at 4:00 pm.