There is no other motorcycle race like the Suzuka 8-Hour. Like the Isle of Man TT, the Bol d’Or and the Daytona 200 it is one of bike racing’s classics, a standout event that has a flavour and an atmosphere all of its own.
The bikes are more special than anything you’ve ever seen, wherever you’ve been. The Japanese factories put more effort into this one race than they put into any other single race, even a MotoGP round. This is the one event they want to win more than any other, not only because it has a major impact on Japanese bike sales but because it’s a huge matter of pride. Win Suzuka and you’ve made the other factories look silly.
Consider the case of this year’s winner. Yamaha’s 8-Hour R1 is jaw-dropping trick, a no-expense-spared special, created with ultimate love and care by Yamaha’s race department. Bradley Smith, who rode it to victory last year, said it felt just like his M1 MotoGP bike. It was certainly much, much more special than the R1 Yamaha run in World Superbikes, because the WSB crown sits way, way below the 8-Hour in the factories’ list of priorities.
Don’t believe it? Take a closer look at the big factory contenders and you may change your mind.
MuSASHi HARC-PRO Racing Honda Fireblade
Riders: Nicky Hayden, Michael van der Mark, Takumi Takahashi
Grid position: 5th
Race position: DNF
The mood was as low as you can imagine in the HARC-PRO garage when Nicky Hayden pulled out of Honda’s home race with engine problems. This may well be the best Blade in the world but that doesn’t mean the team aren’t eagerly awaiting the chance to fight back next year with a hot new Blade.
The tank was the biggest difference to the Honda WSB machine according to Nicky Hayden. The former MotoGP champion admitted that it took him a long time to get used to the higher and heavier tank.
Built and prepared by Nissin, the system includes quick release calipers that allow the team to simply replace the entire unit instead of having to replace pads during the race.
Echoing the original FireBlade, the Honda’s fairing is drilled to aid ventilation in the fearsome heat of Suzuka. Not as hot as past races this year, air and track temperatures nonetheless peaked at 38˚C and 60˚C at their hottest.
Team Green Kawasaki ZX-10R
Riders: Leon Haslam, Akira Yanagawa, Kazumi Watanabe
Grid position: 3rd
Race position: 2nd
Back with a full-factory affair in 2016 to celebrate the launch of a new ZX-10R, Kawasaki proved just how competitive the new bike is by taking the fight to old hands Yoshimura Suzuki and winning. Still with a lot of potential, according to Leon Haslam, they’ll be back next year and will be looking to steal Yamaha’s crown.
It’s a common admission that you need to be on Bridgestones to win at Suzuka, with the Japanese firm pulling out all the stops for their home race. Tyres are basically the same spec as last year’s MotoGP rubber, with soft-as-butter specials for Superpole.
A beautiful custom piece built specifically for the project by Kawasaki Racing and not available anywhere else, it’s as much work of art as functional piece of equipment.
Still far from a finished article according to Haslam, the engine spec was fast enough for the Brit to set the third fastest time of the week and take second in the race. An impressive performance.
Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000
Riders: Josh Brookes, Nori Haga, Takuya Tsuda
Grid position: 2nd
Race position: 3rd
Lining up a strong squad on a bike run by the most iconic of the Japanese tuning houses, Yoshimura once again proved that despite the age of the GSX-R, it’s not all about top speed at Suzuka. Running a slick operation that saw them not put a foot wrong all race, they added yet another podium finish to their impressive record at the 8-Hour.
The Suzuki is basically a rolling aftermarket catalogue for Yoshimura, and as a result you can buy a very similar exhaust system for your own road bike.
Standard on most race bikes these days, the Yoshi machine is nonetheless dripping in carbon fibre for weight saving. Everything from fairings to crash protection adds up to kilos saved.
As a non-factory team, Yoshimura are in a position to use what they want – and they’ve chosen a slipper clutch from Honda rivals FCC TSR to replace the standard part.
Cool and calculated
Much bigger than standard, and absolutely crucial to keep engine temperatures from going through the roof in 50˚C air and 90% humidity.
Monster Yamaha Factory Racing YZF-R1M
Riders: Pol Espargaró, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Alex Lowes
Grid position: 1st
Race position: 1st
The bike to beat going into this year’s event – and looking unstoppable from the first day of practice – the race-winning machine is closer to a MotoGP machine than a WSB bike. With World Superbike rider Alex Lowes joining last year’s winners Pol Espargaró and Katsuyuki Nakasuga, the Yamaha squad did exactly what they threatened to do before the race and romped to an emphatic win.
Top suspension team
Built by KYB, probably the most famous suspension builder you’ve never heard of (and supplier of OEM parts to many Japanese manufacturers). They might not be well known for their racing, but there’s more suspension techs on hand than some teams have mechanics for Suzuka.
Famously described by Bradley Smith in 2015 as closer to his M1 MotoGP machine than that of any R1 he’d ridden, the team still made significant improvements for 2016, including an extra 10% fuel efficiency that handed them a huge advantage.
The R1 might have attracted abuse for its bug-eyed look – but the headlight positioning came into its own during the race, with the offset lights doing an excellent job of throwing light around a bend.
Putting their faith in the British, Yamaha went to Hertfordshire-based GB Racing for their crash protection equipment – which thankfully for them, didn’t get tested out in the race.