Ito Gets Record Seventh Suzuka Pole

Cycle News Staff | July 26, 2008

FCC Technical Sports Racing’s Shinichi Ito showed no signs of slowing down as the 41-year-old rider set a new lap record to take pole position for a record seventh time ahead of Sunday’s 31st Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race. The three-time champion of 8 Hours races lapped the highly technical Suzuka Circuit aboard a Honda in two minutes and 7.014 seconds. “I was looking for two minutes, 7.6 seconds,” said Ito when asked what time he was aiming for in the one-lap Special Stage. “After I got on the bike I thought maybe I could get two minutes, 7.3 seconds, but we were running on the race tire so I knew I couldn’t get the fastest time, but I pushed anyway. I did a little mistake at the Hairpin, and I lost 0.1 or 0.2 seconds. But I am satisfied with the time I got.” Ito, like many other riders, opted to use a known race tire rather than an untested qualifying tire. Because Suzuka Circuit limits the number of tires for qualifying and the race, riders generally do not explore qualifying tires during qualifying sessions. “We did not have time to test the qualifying tire,” Ito said. “We knew the race tire was good, and the Bridgestone engineer told us that with our race tire we could get an upper two minutes, seven second time. So we decided to go with race tires.” Though Ito takes great pride in his mastery of Suzuka Circuit, he did not enter the session with a win-or-crash viewpoint. “My body cannot take any more crashes. Every time I ride I try not to fall.” Yoshimura Suzuki’s Yukio Kagayama and Kosuke Akiyoshi, aiming to repeat as winners of the 8 Hours, were second fastest at two minutes, 7.310 seconds. Kagayama rode first and stayed conservative to ensure a reasonable starting position. Akiyoshi rode second and came out guns a-blazing, but was all over the curbs in the first chicane. The HRC Honda team of Carlos Checa and Ryuichi Kiyonari were third at two minutes and 7.687 seconds. “We didn’t prepare well for Special Stage,” said the Spaniard, who qualified on pole in 2007. “I have been riding one bike all weekend, and then today I changed to the second bike. The second bike was not the same. At the same time, the Bridgestone qualifying tire was not so good. But I didn’t know if it was the bike or the tires. Also, we had a misunderstanding: everybody used race tires, and those were better than qualifying tires. I used qualifying tires with some adjustments on the bike. But it was not enough.” Checa’s Japanese teammate clocked the better time, but wasn’t happy with his lap. “I made many mistakes during the time attack so when I came back to the pit I was surprised.” The factory Yamaha team’s string of impressive performances continued on Saturday as riders Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Yuji Sato posted a time of two minutes and 7.936 seconds. Their time was set by current All Japan points leader Nakasuga who flew through the first half of the course, lost time down the back straight, and lost more time when the bike started to come around during braking for the Casio Triangle. The second Yoshimura Suzuki of Atsushi Watanabe and Daisaku Sakai were fifth at two minutes, 8.030 seconds. The second HRC Honda ridden by Yuki Takahashi and Jonathon Rea were seventh but not for a lack of effort. Rea was near a lap record pace at the end of the second sector, but then the front tire went for a long slide exiting the fast right kink before the Hairpin. Rea managed to get the wheels back in line but only just before he ran off the track and into the gravel. “I put a good first two sectors together,” said the Irish Rea. “In the right before the Hairpin I went a little too fast. I was lucky that Takahashi put in a good lap before me and I knew I could go balls-out and do one fast lap. It didn’t work out, but if it did it would have been quite special.” The Moriwaki Honda was seventh but first of the scores of kit-spec race bikes in the 8 Hours. Riders Cal Crutchlow and Tatuya Yamaguchi mounted qualifying tires but learned, as was the case with Checa, that one needs to test a qualifying tire in order to understand how to use the sudden increase in grip. “I was happy with that,” said Crutchlow of his time of 2:10.480. “I made a few mistakes on that lap. It’s all new to me, I’ve never done anything like that. I tried my best. As long as we are consistent in the race we will be alright.” The last factory bike was the Honda of Leon Haslam and Chojun Kameya in Sakurai livery at two minutes, 10.491. “In practice I had on an old race tire and the best I could do was two minutes and 12 seconds something,” said Haslam. “Then to go and get so much more grip, the thing turns so much more and pushes the front so much more harder, it took me a few corners to dial in just how much grip it had.” Qualifying Results 1.                  T.Tsujimura(2:09.550)/S.Ito(2:07.014), Honda 2.               Y.Kagayama(2:08.959)/K.Akiyoshi(2:07.310), Suzuki 3. C.Checa(2:08.338)/ R.Kiyonari(2:07.687), Honda 4.               Y.Sato(2:10.346)/K.Nakasuga(2:07.936), Yamaha 5.       A.Watanabe(2:08.650)/ D.Sakai(2:08.030), Suzuki 6.      Y.Takahashi(2:08.454)/ J.Rea(2:11.602), Honda 7.            C.Crutchlow(2:10.480)/T.Yamaguchi(2:10.197), Honda 8.             L.Haslam(2:10.491)/C.Kameya(2:10.534), Honda 9.                  T.Takahashi(2:11.242)/Y.Konishi(2:10.644), Honda 10.                  T.Yamamoto(2:11.690)/H.Matoba(2:17.761), Honda