Carlos Checa and Ryuichi Kiyonari won the 31st Suzuka 8 Hours on Sunday. The win was Checa’s first in two attempts, Kiyonari’s second in eight attempts, and together, Honda’s 22nd in the prestigious 8 Hours.
The pair dominated the race from the start aboard their HRC Dream Racing Honda and led 207 of 214 laps, but had plenty of drama along the way.
First came a brief and local thunderstorm that left some parts of the track soaking wet, some damp, and some dry. Then a stop-and-go renalty was called that allowed the second place team to unlap themselves and get back into the race, and finally, the front brakes became spent with a full hour left to go.
“I am so happy we won today,” said Kiyonari. “I was really nervous during the last hour watching Carlos riding. Already the front brake problem was there during my last stint. I was scared to watch sparks when Carlos braked.”
“Usually, when you have a big margin like today, you can relax more,” said Checa. “But today, I had no front brake during my last stint. I only had engine brake and rear brake so I was really nervous.”
Second place went to Yoshimura Suzuki riders Daisaku Sakai and Atsushi Watanabe who finished on the lead lap but one minute and 18.9 seconds behind.
“We couldn’t get on the podium last year, and we were not satisfied,” said Watanabe, the current All Japan superbike champion. “ That’s why I pushed harder in the national series last year: I was looking for a win in the 8 Hours. I want to win next year.”
“Last year we finished behind the other Yoshimura team,” said Sakai. “This year I wanted to be the first Yoshimura team. I was looking to win this year, but I am satisfied with second place. But still, I wanted to win.
"Checa and Kiyonari are two of the top riders in the world and their Honda was very fast. It was going to be tough to beat them. Thus I have to be satisfied with second place.”
Third place went to HARC-PRO Honda riders Yoshiteru Konishi and Takumi Takahashi with 210 laps. Takahashi was a last minute replacement after rider Takashi Yasuda crashed on Friday and broke his thumb.
“Everything was going well until we tested with other teams before the 8 Hours and I saw there was a big gap in performance between our bike and the other Hondas,” said Konishi, the All Japan 600 Supersport for the last two years.
“Thus I am very satisfied that we made it to the podium. This was all the more we could have from our bike today. Our team support was very good today.”
“I thought I had no chance to race the 8 Hours this year,” said Takahashi. “I tried not to make any mistakes in the race so I could stay with this team. I was thinking before the race that I would be satisfied with a top ten finish. Finishing in third place really surprised me.”
Yoshimura Suzuki riders and defending event champions Kosuke Akiyoshi and Yukio Kagayama finished fourth. Both riders fell during the race in their frustrated attempt to catch the quick Honda of Checa and Kiyonari.
Again this year, Bridgestone tires proved superior and claimed the first four positions. The fifth place factory Yamaha of Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Yuki Sato used Dunlop tires and they impressed during practice and qualifying. But in the race they had their hands full with the better private Honda teams.
There were a total of four full-factory Honda Racing Corpiration bikes built especially for the 8 Hours, but only Checa and Kiyonari were able to stay aboard their without falling.
On lap 69 FCC Technical Sports Racing’s and pole-sitter Shinichi Ito crashed his HRC-built Honda in the first chicane while overtaking a slower bike on lap 69, and Sakurai Honda rider and Lean Haslam’s teammate Chojun Kameya crashed his in the second chicane.
On lap 135 Jonathan Rea crashed his HRC-built Honda in Spoon Curve while in third place.
The top World Endurance team was Yamaha Austria Racing Team of Igor Jerman, Steve Martin, and Steve Plater who finished in 11th place.
The reigning World Endurance champions and points leader Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT) finished 14th after having to stop to replace the alternator. They continue to lead the championship with 55 points, 20 more than their nearest rivals in the series, SERT 2, who did not compete in the 8 Hours.
1. C.Checa/ R.Kiyonari, Honda, 214 laps
2. A.Watanabe/ D.Sakai, Suzuki, 214
3. T.Takahashi/Y.Konishi, Honda 210 laps
4. Y.Kagayama/K.Akiyoshi, Suzuki, 209 laps
5. Y.Sato/K.Nakasuga, Yamaha, 209 laps
6. C.Crutchlow/T.Yamaguchi, Honda, 208 laps
7. Y.Konno/K.Teramoto, Suzuki, 207 laps
8. Y.Hatano/H.Ogata, Suzuki, 205 laps
9. L.Haslam/C.Kameya, Honda, 205 laps
10. K.Tsuda/J.Brookes, Honda, 204 laps