Yoshimura Suzuki’s Daisaku Sakai beat the Hondas by a hair in Saturday’s Superpole final qualifying session ahead of Sunday’s 33rd Suzuka 8 Hours.
The 28-year-old Suzuki ace lapped the figure-of-eight race course in 2:07.905 in the third and final knock-out session. The red-and-black Suzuki will line up at the head of the row for tomorrow’s Le Mans start.
Sakai is member of the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, the winner at the previous round in Albacete.
“Daisaku did a very good job today,” said teammate Yukio Kagayama. “He had a big mistake last year in the Special Stage, so this year he tried harder.”
Starting behind the Suzuki will b e the F.C.C. TSR Honda. The team nominated Kosuke Akiyoshi, the pole position rider from the 2009 8 Hours, to ride Superpole over Jonathan Rea. Akiyoshi’s best lap time in the third session was 2:07.963 seconds, though in the second session Akiyoshi went quicker at 2:07.683.
Akiyoshi’s teammate, Jonathan Rea, secured provisional pole on Friday and the best time from practice on Thursday, yet the team nominated the Japanese rider for Superpole.”To be honest, I get to do this Superpole at every race,” said Rea. “This is a good opportunity for him to have a go at it. It was exciting for me to watch as well as opposed to riding. We are in a good position for tomorrow. It’s a long race.”
Shinichi Ito, the 8 Hours record holder with seven poles, placed the Keihin Kohara Racing Honda third in the line-up with a time of 2:08.268 seconds.
“I knew I was not riding well and I lost time. I knew the result would not be good, and, to be honest, I’m not satisfied,” said the three-time 8 Hours champion. “We could have taken pole position today – if [teammate Makoto] Tamada-san was riding!”
Based on the results of Superpole, the race is shaping up to be a four-way battle as the Musashi RT HARC-PRO Honda qualified fourth, just .28 of a second behind Ito’s Honda.
Fifth overall went to Plot Faro Pantera Suzuki, a great effort for a small team, but more than a second off the time of the top four.
Sakurai Honda’s Chojun Kameya was sixth-best, and first Dunlop-shod bike on a day where Bridgestone swept the top five spots.
Final qualifying was changed for 2010 from a single flying lap to three ten-minute knock-out sessions. The top 20 teams nominate a rider for the first session, with the top sixteen advancing to the second session, and the top eight to the last session.
The only World Endurance Championship team to make the final session of eight bikes was Yamaha Austria Racing Team. They finished bottom of the list and to make matters worse, rider Gwen Giabbani crashed in the fast right-hand curve from the final chicane to the front straight.
“He crashed on a slow corner and the bike slid into the gravel. He was in first gear and lost the rear,” explained team owner Manfred Kainz. “He’s a little bit scratched, but he’s okay. He lost some skin on the shoulder. He will race tomorrow – he has to.”
1. Yoshimura Suzuki with Enos (Y.Kagayama/D.Sakai/N.Aoki), 2:07.905, Suzuki.
2. F.C.C. TSR Honda (K.Akiyoshi/J.Rea/Y.Takahashi), 2:07.963, Honda.
3. Keihin Kohara Racing (S.Ito/M.Tamada), 2:08.268, Honda.
4. Musashi RT HARC-PRO (R.Kiyonari/T.Takahashi/T.Nakagami), 2:08.548, Honda.
5. Plot Faro Panthera (O.Deguchi/T.Yasuda/Y.Kodama), 2:09.873, Suzuki.
6. Dream RT Sakurai Honda (C.Kameya/W.Maxwell), 2:10.888, Honda.
7. Teluru Honeybee Racing (H.Noda/T.Sekiguchi), 2:12.155, Honda.
8. Yamaha Austria Racing Team (I.Jerman/S.Martin/G.Giabbani), 2:38.773, Yamaha.