SUZUKA CITY, JAPAN, JULY 25 - Musashi RT HARC-PRO Honda riders Ryuichi Kiyonari and Takumi Takahashi rode a flawless race to the checkered flag in the Suzuka 8 Hours, the third round in the FIM World Endurance Championship.
The pair completed 215 laps in temperatures that reached 95 °F, but they beat the heat as easily as they did the other bikes, lapping second place at the six-hour mark.
"I am so happy that I was able to accomplish a third winning of the Suzuka 8 Hours," said Kiyonari, who dedicated the win to the memory of Manabu Kamada, winner of the 2003 8 Hours who was fatally injured in a test crash earlier in the year. "Today's win was a memorable moment that I will never forget. Takumi fought so hard that I'm glad I was able to pair up with him for this race. The team staff and Takumi were a big support in this victory."
The victory is Kiyonari's third in the 8 Hours, having won before in 2005 and 2008. The win is Takahashi's first, and a new record for the youngest winner of the Suzuka 8 Hours, previously held by Noriyuki Haga. The 20-year old Takahashi also has a hat trick of podiums to his credit, having finished third in 2008 and 2009. The official record book, however, will recognize the third rider of the team, 18-year old Takaaki Nakagami, as the youngest winner, though the only motorcycle he rode on the day was the pit scooter.
"I am so glad to win today," said Takahashi. "We were able to win the race because Kiyo worked hard to set up the machine along with the team staff. If we have another chance to race in the Suzuka 8 Hours, I will aim for the top of the podium again."
Second were Shinichi Ito and Makoto Tamada aboard a Honda with 214 laps. Both riders had physically difficulties during the weekend that they declined to discuss. Both riders were thus happy to finish second under there personal circumstances.
"Considering the pace in yesterday's result of Superpole and today's steaming hot climate, I assumed it would be a tough race," said the 43-year old Ito. "However, Makoto and the team backed me up so well that we were able to get second place. Maybe we could have got into first place, but anyway we did our best. I must thank our fans. It was a very meaningful race for me."
"I am not satisfied with our result and also with my riding," said Tamada. "I was hoping to support Ito-san, yet I ended up relying on him. I feel sorry for him and the team. I was not able to perform fully, so if I have another chance, I want the opportunity for revenge in the next Suzuka 8 Hours!"
The fastest team of the day finished third. Jonathan Rea and Kosuke Akiyoshi were lucky to be on the podium at all in a day when Akiyoshi ran his Honda into the rear of the Sakurai Honda at the start and nearly crashed. Later, mid-way into his first stint, Rea collided with a slower bike at Spoon Curve and crashed. Rea was already almost a lap behind the leaders after serving a pair of stop-and-go penalties picked up by Akiyoshi passing under the waving yellow flag. After the crash Rea returned to the pits for repairs, and rejoined the race in 42nd place, four laps behind. Over the next six hours Rea and Akiyoshi unlapped themselves twice due to lap times consistently two to three seconds a lap faster than the leaders.
"Today was a tough day. We had some unexpected troubles and mistakes, so to be honest I am not so happy," said the long-faced Irishman. "Yet working well together with Akiyoshi and repeatedly telling myself ‘never give up, keep going', we were able to get into third place. If I have a chance, I want to participate in the Suzuka 8 Hours again."
"I didn't get such a great start, so when I got into the first corner with a lot of rivals, I touched another rider, which bent my clutch lever," said Akiyoshi. "Also, I got two stop-and-go penalties which I had difficulty understanding why they happened. I felt sorry to pass the machine to Jonny under such conditions, after losing time. However, Jonny fought his best. The bike worked very well, so we were able to perform at full power and fight back to third position. I thank the team and all the fans who supported us."
The defending event champions, Yoshimura Suzuki, started from pole but finished sixth. Pole winning rider Daisaku Sakai, led the first nine laps until he was overtaken by Akiyoshi. On lap 13 Sakai tipped over at the Hairpin. The Suzuki was unhurt and the mishap only cost the teamj two position and about 25 seconds to Akiyoshi. The team finally reclaimed the lead on lap 54 with Nobuatsu Aoki on the saddle in the third hour. Midway through the fourth hour Kiyonari passed Sakai to demote the Suzuki to second. At the end of the fourth hour Sakai crashed hard into the gravel outside of Turn 2. This dropped the Suzuki to third, but a minute back from Kiyonari. But it was worse than it looked, as Kagayama could only manage ten more laps before pulling back to the pits to have the brakes replaced. Moreover, the engine felt less powerful following the crash in the gravel and Aoki suspected that small stones might have been ingested.
The Turn 2 gravel trap also collected Sakurai Honda rider Chojun Kameya when he was in fourth place. When Australian superbike rider Wayne Maxwell brought the repaired bike back to the race he found himself second from last. The team finished 35th, third from last.
Finishing ninth and best of the world endurance full season teams was Team Bolliger Switzerland, racing a Kawasaki. It was a relatively uneventful race except for a mechanical problem early in the race. "A part of the quick-shift broke and we had to change that. We lost more than two laps," explained team manager Hans-Peter Bigler. "The first rider, Horst Saiger, had to make two turns. When we had the problem after ten laps, the second rider wasn't ready so he had to go again. He had to make 32 laps and it was hard for him."
"We are really happy to be in the ninth position, especially to make more points in the championship," beamed Bigler.
Team Bolliger came to Suzuka leading the championship by two points over the defending world champions, Yamaha Austria Racing Team. They left with a ten point lead, courtesy of YART crashing twice in the race and limping to a seventeenth-place finish.
"We had a good start, but that was it," complained a mad team manager Manfred Kainz. "In 24 hours Gwen (Gibanni) crashed three times. And we lost one lap when Gwen cut the course after the second crash. Everything else - the other riders, the pit stops - was perfect.
1. Musashi RT HARC-PRO (R.Kiyonari/T.Takahashi/T.Nakagami), 215 laps, Honda.
2. Keihin Kohara Racing (S.Ito/M.Tamada), 214 laps, Honda.
3. F.C.C. TSR Honda (K.Akiyoshi/J.Rea/Y.Takahashi), 213 laps, Honda.
4. Plot Faro Panthera (O.Deguchi/T.Yasuda/Y.Kodama), 212 laps, Suzuki.
5. Team Plus One (S.Iwata/Y.Teshima), 211 laps, Honda.
6. Yoshimura Suzuki with Enos (Y.Kagayama/D.Sakai/N.Aoki), 211 laps, Suzuki.
7. Teluru Honeybee Racing (H.Noda/T.Sekiguchi), 210 laps, Honda.
8. Beet Racing (H.Takahasi/Y.Hatano/O.Nishijima), 208 laps, Kawasaki.
9. Team Bolliger Switzerland (H.Saiger/P.Muff/R.Stamm), 206 laps, Kawasaki.
10. Escargot & PGR & Sayama & H-TEC (M.Kuboyama/T.Nakatsuhara), 206 laps, Honda.