"Suzuka is something that's been calling my name for quite a while" was how Bradley Smith explained why he's decided to take on the challenge of the fabled 8 Hours race this year. The Tech3 Yamaha rider will team up with his MotoGP teammate, Pol Espargaro, as Yamaha attempts to win the race for the first time in almost 20 years.
There had been plenty of speculation that Smith could race at Suzuka this year, MCN spoke to him about it in April, but the decision to pair Smith and Espargaro with Katsuaki Nakasuga gives Yamaha their strongest team in years. The Japanese manufacturer has been soundly beaten by Honda and Suzuki since their 1996 victory and with a new R1 they've taken on the challenge seriously this year.
"We were approached and we sat down with Yamaha," said Smith as he explained how the opportunity came about. "They said that they had an interest in participating in the 8 Hours and they wanted to know if I'd like to do it. At the point that I said yes I wasn't sure who'd be my teammates, other than Nagasuka, and obviously Pol had the same request. Once Yamaha knew that we were both interested we were told that we'd be teammates for Suzuka as well with Nagasuka as the third guy. It's all happened very quickly."
Suzuka is one of the most challenging races that a rider has. The heat and humidity are crippling in Japan at that time of year but for Smith the challenges of racing in those conditions was one of the factors that drew him to the race.
"I've wanted to do it for quite a while because everyone has been telling me how great a track Suzuka is and I've known that it's unlikely that I'll get to ride a MotoGP there so that was a factor and secondly the difficultly of Suzuka interested me too. Everyone always says how hard it is physically and the challenges of the race so that caught my eye. I don't know why there hasn't been many MotoGP riders doing it over the last few years, the season has gotten longer and more demanding so that's a factor, but it seems like a good event and I'm excited to go there."
Last year Broc Parkes was the lone MotoGP rider to take part in the race but with Smith, Espargaro and a returning Casey Stoner interest in the race will be high this year and it's something that Smith thinks could help ignite interest in the race once again.
"I think that maybe because me, Pol, Casey and van der Mark are doing it could help rekindle the interest in the 8 Hours from some more MotoGP riders."
The Tech3 riders will get their first taste of the track and the bike in a couple of weeks after the Dutch TT at Assen. Both will fly out to the Far East for the first official test of the 8 Hours. The second test comes after the German GP and smith is confident that it shouldn't hamper his MotoGP efforts.
"I haven't ridden the R1 yet, I rode the 2013 model, so I'm excited to ride it for the first time. I've spoken to the American riders about it and Broc [Parkes] from BSB and a little bit to Valentino about the bike. I'm looking forward to getting on it and seeing what they're talking about!"