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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old 07-26-2006, 11:17 AM Thread Starter
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Suzuka 8 Hour Preview

Yamaha and Yoshimura Suzuki are hoping to turn up the heat on Honda in Sunday’s Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race and prevent their giant rival from scoring a 10th consecutive win in the mid-summer Japanese race.

The 8 Hours is widely regarded as one of the toughest road races in the world. The heat and humidity are unrelenting, the circuit is one of the most technical in the world, and the upper brass from the factories can be found walking the pit lane, adding extra pressure to win.

“The Suzuka 8 Hours is a different race,” said Colin Edwards during testing at Suzuka ahead of the 8 Hours. “I really enjoy the race. It’s a once a year, one time shot, and I enjoy that. In Superbike or MotoGP there’s always next weekend. If you have a bad weekend, you always have the next weekend. There’s always more time and more chances to improve your race results. With Suzuka it’s one time a year, and you have to prove on the day in the 8 Hours what you can do. The atmosphere is completely different from a Grand Prix, and I like it.”

Honda – All the Eggs in One Basket

Honda’s winning streak has been deserved as the race is taken very seriously at corporate headquarters. Every year Honda has the fastest motorcycles, fast riders, and pit crews that have prepared for everything the race can throw at them. Strength in numbers have also helped Honda when pre-race favorites found misfortune in the race.

This year Honda’s lead team consists of current MotoGP star Makoto Tamada and former GP rider Tadayuki Okada. Okada is a two time winner of the 8 Hours and currently works as a MotoGP test rider for Honda Racing Corporation. For Tamada the 8 Hours is probably his most important race of the year as the Japanese star has struggled in MotoGP the past two seasons after scoring two wins in 2004.

Honda will field a second HRC backed CBR1000RRW, but the decision on riders has not been announced. Ryuichi Kiyonari, Honda’s factory rider in the British Superbike championship and the defending event champion, has been confirmed. Yuki Takahashi, a 250cc GP rider for Honda, was planned to team with Kiyonari, but his name was replaced with “To Be Announced” in the last entry list released by Suzuka Circuit.

Tohru Ukawa, a five-time 8 Hours winner and defending event champion, retired from racing and moved from HRC to Honda R&D over the winter. It is anyone’s guess if Ukawa is the rider Honda is waiting to announce for the race.

If Ukawa is not the rider then Honda may need help from the satellite teams to win the 8 Hours. The best of the satellite teams looks to be the Moriwaki team. Shogo Moriwaki was near the top of the times sheets in the July test, and British supersport star Leon Camier is retuirning to Suzuka after an immersive debut in 2005.

Based on the entry list, Honda appears to be doing the 8 Hours on a shoestring compared to previous years. Yamaha and Yoshimura Suzuka have a realistic chance of beating Honda in the sweltering race.

Yoshimura Suzuki – Betting On Bridgestone

The team most likely to overthrow Honda in the previous two 8 Hours was Yoshimura Suzuki. This year Fujio Yoshimura made a shocking announcement of switching from Dunlop to Bridgestone tires in a major re-thinking of race strategy.

On Dunlops the Yoshimura Suzuki team were able to match the Michelin mounted Hondas on outright lap time. But the Dunlops proved to be a disadvantage over the last half of a riding stint whereas the Michelins were consistent from beginning to end. Last year Bridgestone mounted teams dominated the qualifying sessions and Yoshimura has signed on for 2006.

Earlier in July Yoshimura announced that former GP rider Nobuatsu Aoki has agreed to team with Yoshimura regular rider Atsushi Watanabe. Aoki has been a development rider for Bridgestone for many years.

Yamaha – The Return of Edwards and Haga

Winning the 1996 Suzuka 8 Hours made international stars out of Colin Edwards and Noriyuki Haga. This year Yamaha has re-united the two flaboyant riders to reign in another 8 Hours win.

“Around the time of the Chinese MotoGP they invited me to consider doing the 8 Hours with Noriyuki,” said Edwards in a video released by Yamaha. “And Noriyuki said he would only do the 8 Hours if I would do it with him. I had the same thinking; that I would only do the 8 Hours with Noriyuki. With a week I decided that we would go ahead with it.”

Edwards has also won the 8 Hours twice for Honda, first with Valentino Rossi in 2001 and then with the late Daijiro Kato in 2002.

“The secret to Suzuka is….to be the first to cross the finish line,” quipped the Texan. “Basically a lot of emphasis is put on who is the fastest and who is on pole position. But an 8 Hour endurance race requires being the fastest over a long period of time. I think many riders come and don’t understand this sometimes. They go full, flat-out, 110% from the beginning. Some crash, and some maybe get lucky. But you’ve got to pace yourself. You have to understand and remember that you’ve got four hours each on the track. You have to pace yourself and not take too many risks or do anything crazy. The toughest time is each rider’s third hour. That fifth and sixth hour of the race is the hardest on the riders. You’ve just done two hours on the bike and you know that you have to get on the bike one more time. That third hour for the rider is difficult.”

Haga currently stands second in points in the World Superbike championship. Edwards was concerned that Haga might not be able to adapt to Michelin tires after racing on Pirelli spec tires in World Superbike, but the test at Suzuka earlier this month disproved those fears.

“I was a little bit worried about Nori and the Michelin tires, but he likes the tires very much. So as long as he’s happy, I’m happy. There’s no difference in machine set-up. The things that I like, he likes. The ideas that I have, he has the same ideas. I think we don’t have any problems with compatibility. I can’t ask for much more. We’ve got the bike working pretty good for me and Noriyuki and we’ve got a good starting point for the race.”

The World Championship Teams

A record 11 regular teams from the world championship have entered the 8 Hours this year, round five of the world championship. Suzuki Castrol leads the championship by 44 points.

“Suzuka will be difficult but our result at Zolder means we can take some risks there; we can go fast so it will be good,” said Suzuki Castrol rider Vincent Philippe on the FIM World Endurance Championship’s web site.

Due to fewer factory bikes and fewer factory riders, the regular world endurance teams have been posting strong finishes in recent 8 Hours events. The regular teams have also been getting more backdoor support from the factories. Yamaha Austria have even been promised a works engine for the race, according the the FIM’s web site.

Fans with a high speed internet connection can watch the race live at http://8tai.yahoo.co.jp/ The race starts on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. local time.


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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old 07-26-2006, 11:21 AM
 
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great link, hopefully I won't forget about the race this coming Sunday.
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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old 07-26-2006, 06:43 PM
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i love suzuka, can't wait!
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