The official schedule for the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Race (Suzuka 8 Hours) has commenced. The 26th began as a sunny day, with two free practice sessions, from 8:30 am to 10:30 am and 11:50 am to 3:40 pm, being conducted. Riders were divided by their arm band colors, blue, yellow and red, each being timed over 20 minutes. The average of their best times determined their qualifying positions. The top 10 teams would gain the right to enter tomorrow’s Top 10 Trial. The night session, planned from 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm, was red-flagged and the session terminated due to rain.
In free practice, there were many riders who fell, and many red flags. Despite intermittent light showers, Takumi Takahashi / Ryuichi Kiyonari / Stefan Bradl (Red Bull Honda) set the fastest average. Ryo Mizuno / Dominique Aegerter / Xavi Fores (MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO. Honda) were 3rd fastest, and Josh Hook / Freddy Foray / Mike Di Meglio (F.C.C. TSR Honda France) were 7th.
In previous Suzuka 8 Hours races, the number of tire sets was fixed for Qualifying and the race, so teams would build their strategies accordingly, but this year to make the event more exciting for the fans, total tire sets for Qualifying and the race are separate, to riders can go all out on their time attacks. Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so teams had allocated their new tires for Qualifying in the morning, while the weather lasted.
As soon as the first qualifying for the red riders began, Hook fell at the Musashi Chicane on his second lap, but was uninjured and soon back on the track. Nakasuga (Yamaha) set the fastest lap of 2 min 5s922, but while Takahashi on his 5th time attack lap, the session was halted due to a bike in flames at Turn 1. Once the session was restarted, Takumi Takahashi set the second-fastest lap of 2 min 6s200.
In Qualifying for the yellow riders, Aegerter was soon to set the fastest time, and continued to improve his pace, and keep his lead, with a 2 min 6s501 lap. Andi Farid Izdihar (Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA) crashed at the Musashi Chicane, and with other riders also being involved in incidents causing red flags, Aegerter managed to use what little time there was to keep his lead. Foray was 7th fastest with 2 min 7s774, and Kiyonari was 8th with 2 min 7s955.
As soon as the red riders started their timed qualifying, Honda DREAM RT Sakurai Honda’s Kosuke Sakumoto crashed at the Degner. With riders crashing at the S Curves, the session is red-flagged. After the restart, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki) sets the fastest lap of 2 min 6s495. Bradl is 3rd fastest with 2 min 7s 165, Mizuno 4th with 2 min 7s267.
In afternoon qualifying, the blue riders hit the track at the same time. Nakasuga is fastest, with Haslam (Kawasaki) 2nd and Takumi Takahashi 3rd (2 min 7s264). Hook was 4th quickest, au Teluru SAG RT’s Kosuke Akiyoshi was 5th, KYB MORIWAKI RACING’s Yuki Takahashi 6th, and Xavi 7th. For the yellow rider session, au Teluru SAG RT’s Tetsuta Nagashima was 4th with 2 min 7s965, and Aegerter was 5th with 2 min 7s965. With the red riders, Mizuno was 2nd, and Bradl 4th. De Meglio was not on the track, and with a number of teams who had good times already, their riders limited their time on the track.
Overall, Yamaha’s factory team was the fastest, with Kawasaki’s factory team 2nd. These were the only teams running in the 2 min 6s range. One second off the pace was Red Bull Honda 3rd, MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO. Honda 4th, and F.C.C. TSR Honda France 7th. au Teluru SAG RT was 8th with 2 min 8s604, and KYB MORIWAKI RACING was 10th with 2 min 8s758. These were the Honda teams that made it into tomorrow’s Top 10 Trial.
Honda Suzuka Racing Team qualified 12th, Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA was 19th, Team ATJ with Japan Post was 20th, Honda Endurance Racing was 21st, and Honda DREAM RT Sakurai Honda was 23rd.
Red Bull Honda team manager Toru Ukawa said, “It was unfortunate that all three riders couldn’t improve their times due to ill-timed red flags,” adding, “but still their times are lining up nicely, and we’re progressing well for the race.”
MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO. Honda’s team manager Kotaro Honda commented, “Aegerter is in form and his times are improving. Xavi is also in the 2 min 7s range, and he’s able to average in the 2 min 8s range,” feeling satisfied with the team’s progress.
F.C.C. TSR Honda France’s President and Team Manager, Masakazu Fujii remarked, “timed qualifying is qualifying, and we’ll be preparing hard for the Top 10 Trial.”
Izdihar crashed again in the afternoon qualifying session, injuring his right little finger. “We’ll see how he can ride, and make our decision then,” said Makoto Tamada, team manager. Honda DREAM RT Sakurai Honda’s Sakumoto fell but was uninjured. He will be preparing for the race but fine-tuning the team bike as soon as it is repaired.
The Top 10 Trial begins tomorrow at 3:30 pm. Teams that did not make it into the trial qualify in today’s current positions.
Takumi Takahashi | Red Bull Honda (#33)
“Today it was difficult to set a pace due to the track temperature. I’m disappointed because I could have set a good lap time if it wasn’t for the first red flag in qualifying. We’re in tomorrow’s Top 10 Trial, so if all three of us manage to improve our average pace, we’ll do fine in the race. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, but if it’s sunny, I think we’ll be in the 2 min 5s range. But we’re concentrating on the race, so we’ll do our best tomorrow without pushing too hard. We’re aiming to win the race on Sunday.”
Ryuichi Kiyonari | Red Bull Honda (#33)
“I wasn’t able to stage a good attack, or rather, I didn’t have a clear lap for even a second during qualifying. My lap time wasn’t satisfying, but my average was better than yesterday, so I think it will help in the race. I couldn’t ride in the second session because I slept in the wrong position last night, and didn’t do anything about it. I’m sorry for my mechanics and teammates, but to make sure I was in top condition for tomorrow, I decided to sit out the second session. I’ll make sure I’m in top condition for the race, and ride hard. I’m looking forward to your support.”
Stefan Bradl | Red Bull Honda (#33)
“It was a good day for me, also for the team because we achieved our target. Especially for me to do laps to get used to the conditions and also the bike more and more, even though it’s a challenging track. So overall I’m getting more and more confident with it. I’m happy with how the day went. I’m also excited for the upcoming two days, especially the race.”
Josh Hook | F.C.C. TSR Honda France (#1)
“Overall it wasn’t bad. The setup is not wrong, and we’re going with it as is. I tried the spare bike with a different setup, but it was not as good. All three of us are fast on used and new tires, so I’m not worried. To win the championship, I think we need to be at least 5th in tomorrow’s Top 10 Trial. I made a mistake today and fell. I pushed too hard and lost front grip at the chicane, but I manage 2 min 6s laps without any problems, so it’s okay.”
Freddy Foray | F.C.C. TSR Honda France (#1)
“I’m glad because I did a 2 min 7s lap for the first time. I tried during the tests, but today I finally did it. I think if I push I can go faster, but our target is to get into the Top 10 Trial, so once we were in, I made sure I didn’t take any risks. There’s no point pushing too hard, because the race is all that matters. I’m an endurance rider, so it’s hard for me to get on the bike and immediately set fast times. I’m the type who gets used to the bike, and in the end sets fast laps. We have a different strategy to the other teams so it’s hard to say, but I’m confident we’re stronger than last year.”
Mike Di Meglio | F.C.C. TSR Honda France (#1)
“I was caught up in traffic on the first lap of my time attack, but I was fast in Sector 1 and 2 on the following lap, so I was confident to do a 2 min 6s lap, but the red flag put a stop to that, which is a shame. I believe I can do 2 min 6s laps. I gained confidence, as I was faster than yesterday. I’l focus on the race, and do my best in the Top 10 Trial. I heard it is going to rain tomorrow, but I was fast in the wet during the tests, and I’m good in the rain, so there won’t be any problems.”
Yuki Takahashi | KYB MORIWAKI RACING (#19)
“This week we managed to use our time efficiently to confirm that all three riders, the bike and the Pirelli tires are working together well. We spent half of Free Practice riding like it was the race, and the other half like it was Qualifying. Our strategy for the timed qualification worked really well, and we got into the Top 10 Trial in 10th place, so I’m very happy. My synergy and riding style is well matched to Koyama, Troy did some great laps in the limited time he was on the track, and the teamwork between the three of us is great. No-one has crashed yet, and we’re doing great so far this week.”
Tomoyoshi Koyama | KYB MORIWAKI RACING (#19)
“Yuki prepared the bike, so I can ride with confidence. The first time I rode it I did 2 min 9s, and everything was going well, but this week the track temperature went right up, and because the feel was completely different I could not set a fast lap. We needed mid-2 min 8s laps to get into the Top 10 Trial, so I focused on one single lap, and did 2 min 8s4, which was much faster than my previous best. This is thanks to Yuki’s bike setup and the team.”
Troy Herfoss | KYB MORIWAKI RACING (#19)
“I’m having a really fun time. I was on the Pirelli Qualifying tires for the first time, and set my presonal best on this bike, so I’m really happy. My teammates are doing a great job and we’re in to the Top 10 Trial, so I’m very satisfied.”
Mamoru Moriwaki | KYB MORIWAKI RACING (#19) President and Team Manager
“First, I’m very pleased we’re into the Top 10 Trial. In Qualifying, we expected rain in the afternoon so we tried to set fast times during the morning. It was dry in the afternoon, so I left the plans to improve lap times up to Takahashi, and he did a great job. Both Koyama and Troy also improved their times, and the team atmosphere is great. We’re aiming to improve our position in tomorrow’s Top 10 Trial.”
Md Zaqhwan Zaidi | Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA (#22)
“I’m happy with the qualifying today because I did my best and the position is better than last year. But I’m not so happy with the time 2 min 9s4. We need to focus on the race. Andi got injured and we need to think about how to improve on the weekend. I will do my best.”
Andi Farid Izdihar | Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA (#22)
“We tried some settings in Free Practice. There are some positive points but some still need to be fixed. We tried again and it was getting better step by step. I tried my best in Qualifying 1 but I lost my grip and crashed. I restarted but couldn’t find the feeling. I kept trying in Qualifying 2 but I disappointed many people, because I crashed at the Turn 3 on the first lap. I hope I can ride tomorrow. We’ll see the conditions tomorrow.”
Teppei Nagoe | Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA (#22)
“I rode the spare bike in Qualifying 1. I felt low on rear grip but it was good on new tires. I rode the race bike in Qualifying 2 and it was better, but I need more grip on the rear. I’ll do my best in the race on Sunday.”
Makoto Tamada | Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA (#22) Team Manager
“They were difficult sessions because our riders crashed twice a day, three times this week. We can fix the bikes after crashes, though. We’ll check on Andi’s condition again tomorrow. I’d like him to join the other two riders in the race but it’s not sure yet. It will be hard work to prepare the bikes. Conpared to last year, it’s harder this year. But we never give up, and keep on concentrating on the race. Our target is the top 5.”
Kosuke Akiyoshi | au Teluru SAG RT (#090)
“Race week started on Wednesday, a day earlier than previous years, but we couldn’t ride at the start due to mechanical problems. From there we set up the bike listening to opinions from Nagashima and Hada, which finally came together in official qualifying. We should be able to go faster with a few more tweaks. Nagashima is consistently fast, and Hada has improved greatly during the week, so I’m looking forward to the race.”
Tetsuta Nagashima | au Teluru SAG RT (#090)
“We had problems from the get go, and still couldn’t find the right settings on Day 2, but thanks to Akiyoshi, the bike felt great during Qualifying. The bike is improving a lot, as I managed to lap in the low 2 min 8s, and even managed 2 min 7s laps. Hada is becoming faster with each ride, and is consistent even when he pushes hard, so he’s come a long way this week. The three of us will work together to aim for the podium.”
Taiga Hada | au Teluru SAG RT (#090)
“I was a bit anxious on the first day because I was slow, but thanks to Akiyoshi and Nagashima, the bike was really easy to ride during Qualifying. In the first qualifying, I was on new tires and setting my best lap times, but I got caught up with another rider and there was a red flag. I think I could have lapped in the 2 min 7s range. My averages are not bad, so now it’s a matter of stamina.”
Randy de Puniet | Honda Endurance Racing (#111)
“Since the beginning of this week we struggled a lot in many points. We had hoped for some improvement today, but finally ererything we tried did not work out. Hats off to the team who did an amazing job in every direction to get our problems fixed. But in the end we are too slow. On my side, I have chattering everywhere so I can’t ride the bike without taking risks and there is no point to take any risks when you are four seconds slower. Honestly I am really disappointed for everybody at the moment but it is like this. We have another session tonight and one tomorrow to find a solution.”
Yonny Hernandez | Honda Endurance Racing (#111)
“It was really hard work for the team and the riders so far. We have some problems with the setup and the feeling so far, especially with the grip. We only have the tires we normally ride in Europe and so we have a lot of work to do. I think now we need to focus on riding with the material we have right now. We are all just trying to do our best and I think this is not our position. But we keep working to try to get the best combination so we can do a good race. A big thanks goes out to the team for the really hard work done so far this week. We are having two more sessions where we can find something more. I am not disappointed but I am really surprised about the gap we are having compared to the other teams we were fighting all season so we know we can be faster, we just need to keep working hard to find the solution.”
Sébastien Gimbert | Honda Endurance Racing (#111)
“My feeling is not good because this position is not what I have come here for. We have too much problems with chattering and this makes it difficult to ride – especially here on this track. The bike is physical and it is not easy to pass other riders. Also yesterday I crashed two times losing the front. Honestly I had no feeling on the bike but today after the qualifying it was a little bit better. For a better result we need to find two more seconds but at the moment I don’t know where to find it. This is not our normal position in the ranking, but we have two more sessions to work on everything and find a solution to our issues.”
Xavi Fores | MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO. Honda (#634)
“I’ve been improving the bike and my riding throughout the two test days and today’s free practice and qualifying. My times have been improving, and my feeling is much better. Each of our three riders has different needs for the bike so the team has a lot of work to do, but they’re a professional team and they’re doing a great job, and I’m having a great time on the bike. This is my first time I’m racing with two other riders, so it’s a really great experience. I’m really looking forward to the race.”
Dominique Aegerter | MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO. Honda (#634)
“We went over the calibration between each rider and the bike two days ago and yesterday, and during today’s free practice and qualifying. Each rier has a vastly different riding style, and different needs on the bike, so the main focus was to calibrate the bike. It’s a tough demand, but the team has done a fine job, which shows in us being 4th fastest in timed qualifying. What does concern me is that it rained during the night session, which changes the track. The team has a lot of data for Suzuka, though, and I believe they have it covered, so I’ll concentrate on my riding. We’re behind Yamaha, Kawasaki and HRC, with whom we have a bit of a gap, but it’s not a huge gap and we should be able to overcome it with a bit more work. This race week is a lot of fun. I’d like to thank my Moto2 team. I’m officially an MV rider, so they had to give me their blessing to ride on a bike from a different manufacturer, so I’m very grateful to them. And, I love the Suzuka fans, Japan, Suzuka, and the Suzuka 8 Hours. Thank you!”
Ryo Mizuno | MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO. Honda (#634)
“With the bike improving, the team and I have to aim higher. We’re not in a position we wanted to be, but this is reality, and the result of what we have built up during the tests. I understand my anxiety comes from wanting to aim higher and higher, so I’ll just have to think that way. It’s been hot since race week began, so the bike’s settings have changed a lot, which is another reason. The team and all three riders have worked closely for the two day tests and today’s Qualifying, but it was not enough to work our way into the top 3. All our riders are improving our lap times, so we’ll keep on working hard, and if there’s a chance during the race, we’ll take it.”