Kevin Schwantz will ride for one of the Suzuki teams hoping to end Honda's win streak in the Suzuka 8 Hours.
The Coca-Cola Zero Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race will run this weekend for the 37th time (the first was held in 1978) and Honda is hoping to take its fifth straight win and the 27th victory for the brand in what is arguably the most prestigious endurance road race in the world. The numbers are stacked in Honda’s favor with 27 Honda teams entered in this year’s race, though Honda doesn’t enter an “official” entry in the eight hour.
Although it is a round of the World Endurance Championship, only eight of the series regulars are making the journey to Japan – thus most of the 71 teams entered are Japanese squads.
Among the past winners of the race are World Champions Mick Doohan, Valentino Rossi and Wayne Gardner, the Aussie winning the race four times (former GP racer Shinichi Ito also won the race four times). Former World Superbike Champion Colin Edwards has won three times for Honda, including in 2002 when he teamed with the late Daijiro Kato. The biggest Honda winner is Tohru Ukawa, with a tally of five winners
Last year’s victory by Takumi Takahashi, Leon Haslam and Michael van der Mark was the fourth win in a row for Honda. Those three will be back for this weekend’s race, the trio hoping to repeat last year’s victory.
“I was proud to be picked again by a strong team aiming to win once more,” said Haslam in a Honda release. “The pressure will be on us, but that is a positive for me. I’ll try to be as fast and consistent as possible, and I know I have two strong teammates who will do the same. I’m really looking forward to riding this beautiful bike again.”
The list of potential challengers is plentiful. On the Honda side there’s the F.C.C. TSR team of Jonathan Rea, Kosuke Akiyoshi and Lorenzo Zanetti, the Honda Endurance Team of Frenchmen Julien da Costa, Sebastien Gimbert and Freddie Foray
In addition to the 22 Honda teams, rival Japanese manufacturers make up all but 11 of the 71-strong entry list – 15 Suzukis, 13 Kawasakis and 10 Yamahas. Six BMWs, three Ducatis and two KTMs and European flavor to the Japanese battle.
Honda will face off against a number of worthy rivals, including the Suzuki teams of reigning World Endurance Champions SERT with Anthony Delhalle and Erwan Nigon, and Damian Cudlin taking the place of injured team regular Vincent Philippe; fellow championship regulars Team R2CL will have Gareth Jones, Gwen Giabbani and Mathieu Lagrive racing a similar Suzuki GSX-R1000; Yoshimura Suzuki have a strong international line-up with Takuya Tsuda, Josh Waters and ex-MotoGP star Randy de Puniet; while Legend of Yoshimura Suzuki has the returning multi-GP winner and 500cc World Champion Kevin Schwantz, with ex-GP rider Nobuatsu Aoki and Satoshi Tsujimoto.
Yamaha’s strongest challenge is expected from championship regulars David Checa, Kenny Foray and Mathieu Gines (Yamaha Racing GMT), as well as
Wayne Maxwell, Rick Olson and Tommy Bridewell (PI Monster Energy Yamaha). Kawasaki has a lineup of international experience in Akira Yanagawa,
Kazuki Watanabe and Katsuaki Fujiwara (Team Green).
The race starts at 11:30 a.m. local time and finishes at 7:30 p.m.