SUZUKA CITY, JAPAN, JULY 23 – Jonathan Rea claimed provisional pole position for his F.C.C. TSR Honda team in Friday timed qualifying for the Suzuka 8 Hours with a brilliant time of two minutes, 8.08.053 seconds.
“I have to be happy with the lap times, they are quite consistent and the bike is easy to ride as well,” said the Irishman. “The only thing I’m worried about is the weather conditions: the heat and the humidity. After 20 laps I’m getting a littler pain in my knees and heat from the footrests. But everyone’s the same and I’m just going to have to man-up for 28 laps.”
Hot weather is something to expect at the 8 Hours, and this year is no exception as temperatures soared to 37 C (99 °F) for the second straight day.
Rea’s teammate, Koksuke Akiyoshi, recorded an impressive time of two minutes, 8.363 seconds. Because tire sets are limited to three in qualifying, the team gave Rea two new sets to Akiyoshi’s one.
“I feel sorry for him a little bit, because we had three tires for our qualifying sessions. We both started on new ones in the morning. I got the new one in the afternoon.”
The Yoshimura Suzuki was second best on the day, with credit going to Daisaku Sakai for a time of two minutes, 8.397 seconds. Sakai’s teammates, Yukio Kagayama and Nobuatsu Aoki, were just 0.485 and 0.769 seconds slower on their best laps.
Kagayama has proven that he can turn out a fast lap even though his right hand is not fully healed after sustaining a fracture four weeks earlier. “It wasn’t easy, but it is getting better. It is much better now. Every day is getting better for some pain level and muscle power. I can control the pain level, but after three or four or five laps, my muscle power drops off.”
While Kagayama is concerned about the hand, Aoki is concerned about the heat and the Hondas.
“Today, again, was extremely hot. The ground temperature reached to 65 C (149 °F), again. In that conditions, the front tire doesn’t work well. Also, the Honda guys, they are going pretty fast on the straights. They are faster than us. We are trying to catch up.”
Suzuka Circuit specialist Shinichi Ito posted a time of two minutes, 8.539 seconds, good enough to give his Keihin Kohara Racing Team third overall. Ito’s teammate, Makoto Tamada, rode the Honda to a best time of two minutes, 8.996 seconds.
The fourth and final team to get below two minutes and nine seconds was Musashi RT HARC-PRO. Ryuichi Kiyonari showed that he was on the pace with a time of two minutes, 8.817 seconds, while his teammate, Takumi Takahasi, was just 0.001 seconds slower.
“I am happier than yesterday – a little bit,” said Kiyo-san, though his face did not show it. “The machine settings are still not good enough. After three or four laps, when tire grip is going down, it is difficult to control. Everybody looks like, after ten or fifteen laps, they are doing 2:09. But we cannot. It’s too hard. The rear is sliding and spinning and no grip. The front, on braking: no grip, no way.”
The Dunlop-shod Sakurai Honda squad had a messy day, with riders Wayne Maxwell and Chojun Kameya admitting up to running off track no less than four times trying to keep up with the front running teams on Bridgestone tires. The Australian recorded the best time at two minutes, 11.217 seconds, good enough for seventh yet behind a Honda team and Suzuki team racing on much smaller budgets.
“In testing we haven’t experienced this kind of heat,” said the lanky Australian. “The bikes in front of us are on different tires. It is a little difficult for us at this stage. I’ve had the same problem in cool conditions as now, but we were doing 2:09, just one second slower. Now the problem is ten-fold because of the heat. And it is hard for me to communicate with Kameya, but it is getting better. Now I have to convince the suspension guys to go in another direction with the front forks.”
In the night practice session Kameya went a full second faster than Maxwell’s qualifying time, giving renewed hope to the team on a day they would rather forget.
The reigning World Endurance Champions, Yamaha Austria Racing Team, rounded out the top ten overall and were best of the championship teams, thanks to a gung-ho Gwen Giabbani.
Final qualifying takes place on Saturday with Superpole, with the race starting at 11:30 am Japan time.
F.C.C. TSR Honda (K.Akiyoshi/J.Rea*/Y.Takahashi), 2:08.053, Honda.
Yoshimura Suzuki with Enos (Y.Kagayama/D.Sakai*/N.Aoki), 2:08.397, Suzuki.
Keihin Kohara Racing (S.Ito*/M.Tamada), 2:08.539, Honda.
Musashi RT HARC-PRO (R.Kiyonari*/T.Takahashi/T.Nakagami), 2:08.817, Honda.
Crown Keibibhosyou Racing (T.Hamaguchi*/K.Kitaguchi/S.Tani), 2:09.813, Honda.
Plot Faro Panthera (O.Deguchi*/T.Yasuda/Y.Kodama), 2:10.550, Suzuki.
Dream RT Sakurai Honda (C.Kameya/W.Maxwell*), 2:11.217, Honda.
Team Plus One (S.Iwata/Y.Teshima*), 2:11.397, Honda.
Teluru Honeybee Racing (H.Noda*/T.Sekiguchi), 2:11.401, Honda.
Yamaha Austria Racing Team (I.Jerman/S.Martin/G.Giabbani*), 2:11.458, Yamaha.