The Festival of Summer, the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Race (Suzuka 8 Hours) has been held every year since 1978, except for 2020 - 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 2022 marks a return of the event, starting the clock once again.
The effects of the pandemic are still apparent, as everyone involved, including team riders and staff, and the press, require PCR tests, and access to the paddock is severely restricted. Even so, fans are overjoyed the event will be held this weekend.
Honda has won the Suzuka 8 Hours 27 times, and was invincible from 1997 to 2006. In 1997, Shinichi Itoh / Tohru Ukawa rode their RVF/RC45 to become the first all-Japanese team to win the event, and went on to win the following year. In 2002, Daijiro Kato / Colin Edwards rode their VTR1000SPW on a six-stop strategy, one less than their competitors, for a record-setting victory of 219 laps, which yet to be broken. Tohru Ukawa set the record for the most Suzuka 8 Hours wins, five, in 2005, and is yet to be beaten.
In the 2019 Suzuka 8 Hours, Takumi Takahashi / Stefan Bradl / Ryuichi Kiyonari rode their CBR1000RRW against fierce competition from the Kawasaki and Yamaha factory teams, staging an epic battle as the three teams were on the same lap until the end. In the closing stages, rain and oil leakage from one of the bikes, and Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea crashing whilst in the lead, signalled a premature end to the race. Yamaha was declared victorious, with Red Bull Honda in second on the podium. Later, Kawasaki was declared winner, pushing Red Bull Honda down to third.
Honda has not won the event since 2014, with Takumi Takahashi / Leon Haslam / Michael van der Mark on their CBR1000RR. Honda is determined to win its first Suzuka 8 Hours in eight years. Kazuhiko Yamano, former MotoGP team manager, leads Team HRC into the 2022 edition. “This team is built upon the 2019 Ukawa-led squad, and he’ll be joining us as well,” described Yamano. “We have seasoned MotoGP staff and new members who will learn HRC technologies into the team. After auditioning, we chose Tetsuta Nagashima, Takumi Takahashi and Iker Lecuona as our riders.”
The bike they will ride is the CBR1000RR-R FIREBLADE SP, test-ridden since last year by Moto2 rider Tetsuta Nagashima, in preparation for this year’s event. Takahashi, in his second season in British Superbike Championship (BSB) racing, has won the Suzuka 8 Hours three times, and is irreplaceable for the team. Superbike World Championship (WorldSBK) HRC factory rider Lecuona will be racing his first Suzuka 8 Hours.
Teams racing with the CBR1000RR-R production kit bikes are also vital to the Suzuka 8 Hours. Many All Japan Road Racing Championship JSB1000 class teams will also compete. HARC-PRO., with a rich history of Suzuka 8 Hours wins, will race as #73 SDG Honda Racing. Led by Shigeki Honda as team manager, young promising riders Teppei Nagoe, Spanish Superbike Championship (ESBK) rider new to Honda this season, Naomichi Uramoto, and Ikuhiro Enokido will represent the team.
Ryuichi Kiyonari, four-time Suzuka 8 Hours winner, will race for #104 TOHO Racing alongside teammates ST1000 class riders Takuma Kunimine and Hiromichi Kunikawa. #17 Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing, led by team manager Shinichi Ito, enters its first Suzuka 8 Hours. JSB1000 Kosuke Sakumoto and ST1000 champion Kazuma Watanabe have been on the Suzuka 8 Hours podium before. And joining them is Taiga Hada, in his rookie ST600 season.
#9 Murayama.Honda Dream.RT will be represented by experienced Suzuka 8 Hours riders Kosuke Akiyoshi, Osamu Deguchi and Yoshihiro Konno. #72 Honda Dream RT SAKURAI HONDA has Sodo Hamahara as their lead rider. Hamahara, who was second, and Honda’s best, in the JSB1000 class last year, will be joined by Suzuka specialist Daijiro Hiura, and former Moto3 and current ST600 class rider Yuki Kunii for their first attempts at the endurance race.
#40 Team ATJ will be represented by JSB1000 rider Satoru Iwata, ST1000 rider Yuki Takahashi and ST600 rider Tomoyoshi Koyama. Takahashi and Koyama are both former World Grand Prix (WGP) riders, and have All Japan championship titles under their belts. Yudai Kamei, racing for Honda’s Suzuka Factory employee team, #25 Honda Sofukai Suzuka Racing, has momentum with his pole position in the JSB1000 class this season. He will be joined by Yuuki Sugiyama and Jun Tadokoro.
From the Asia Road Racing Championship, #88 Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA will race with ASB1000 riders Md Zaqhwan Bin Zaidi and Gerry Salim, with SS600 rider Helmi Azman. Makoto Tamada is team manager, on a quest to see his Asian riders finish in the top places.
Endurance World Championship (EWC)
The Suzuka 8 Hours is Round 3 of this year’s EWC calendar. Until 2019, the Suzuka 8 Hours was the final round, taking the season across the calendar year. Due to the coronavirus, the series is completed within the same year.
Although five rounds were initially scheduled for this season, the final round was canceled. Le Mans 24 Hours (France) and Spa 24 Hours (Belgium) have been held, and after Suzuka 8 Hours, the Bol d’Or 24 Hours (France) remains to be held.
#5 F.C.C. TSR Honda France, the first Japanese team to win the EWC in 2017-2018, will race at Suzuka with their regular riders. Team manager Masakazu Fujii said, “We’re aiming to win with Josh Hook, Gino Rea and Mike Di Meglio.” The team is currently second in the EWC.
As fierce as the battle to win the Suzuka 8 Hours, the EWC title is also up for grabs. The stronger EWC teams become, the harder Suzuka 8 Hours is to win. Fujii commented, “The concentration needed to win EWC is now at the MotoGP level.” The battle of the EWC teams is a must-see.