Yoshimura’s Sakai converts pole into a healthy lead, helped by three slower teams getting off the line sooner than the fastest Hondas.
Musashi Honda’s Takahashi and F.C.C. TSR Honda’s Akiyoshi pass the slower bikes on the back straight on the second lap and have the speedy Suzuki in their sights, four seconds up the track.
The next time around Akiyoshi overtakes Takahashi on the back straight, and Keihin Kohara’s Ito does the same on the slower bikes in front of him to move into fourth.
Over the next five laps Akiyoshi closes in on Sakai, with Takahashi and Ito trailing off.
A backmarker in Turn 1 holds up Sakai on the start of lap 9, and Akiyoshi swoops around to take the lead.
Sakai gives the backmarker a not-so-friendly wave and puts his head down to catch Akiyoshi.
Akiyoshi creeps out ahead of Sakai by a second over the next two laps while Ito rides around Takahashi to move up to third. Lap 13 proves unlucky to Sakai with a slow crash at the hairpin.
Fortunately the Suzuki doesn’t even pick up a scratch and Sakai rejoins the race in fourth, 24 seconds behind leader Akiyoshi.
On lap 24, 54 minutes after the start, Akiyoshi is shown the stop-and-go board from course officials for passing under a waving yellow flag. Akiyoshi pits on the following lap, leaving teammate Jonathan Rea to serve the penalty.
Rea serves the penalty after completing his out lap and Musashi Honda’s Kiyonari takes over the lead.
Keihin Kohara’s Tamada inherits second and Yoshimura Suzuki’s Kagayama goes up to third. On the following lap Rea pits yet again to serve a second stop-and-go penalty, as Akiyoshi made two waving yellow flag violations.
Rea re-joins the race in tenth, one minute and 49 seconds behind leader Kiyonari. Just when things couldn’t get much worse, Rea collides into a backmarker while braking for the long left-hand Spoon Curve.
Rea and the backmarker roll over each other in the gravel. Rea picks up the dusty and dinged-up Honda and heads straight to the pits.
To rub salt in the wound, Rea’s crew drops the bike while pushing it into the garage. Rea returns to the race four laps down in 41st place. Undeterred, Rea immediately sets the fastest lap of the race at that point, two minutes and 8.794 seconds, on lap 32 while the leaders run a relaxed two minutes and 11 seconds.
On lap 41 Kagayama finishes erasing Kehin Kohara rider Tamada’s five second advantage and powers past at the end of the S-curves.
On camera Tamada’s helmet snaps down in disbelief after Kagayama goes by, as if he just said. “darn!,” to himself - or perhaps worse.
Tamada mounts no counter attack and lets Kagayama go after Kiyonari, now eight seconds ahead.
Over the next ten laps Kagayama reduces Kiyonari’s lead to a second and then pits on lap 52.
Wheel swapping and refueling completes in 13.9 seconds. Kiyonari pits on the following lap and the same work takes 15.3 seconds. It’s all even.
The third hour begins with the twin tail pipe Yoshimura Suzuki rocketing down the front straight with Nobuatsu Aoki at the controls and Kiyonari’s teammate Takahashi exiting the pits to start lap 54.
Takahashi takes the outside line around a backmarker in Turn 1, and Aoki takes the outside line around Takahashi to dramatically grab the lead.
Aoki builds a two second lead over the next two laps, but then Takahashi ups the pace and brings himself up to Aoki.
At the end of lap 62 Aoki’s lead is just 0.167 seconds and a passing attempt is expected on the following lap.
Aoki gets a break from a backmarker going into Spoon Curve and Takahashi drops back almost a full second.
Takahashi is in position for another passing attempt on lap 65, but, again, a backmarker gets in Takahashi’s way and Aoki squirts ahead.
On the following lap Takahashi attacks early and is right on Aoki’s rear wheel in the long, sweeping Dunlop Curve. Two backmarkers generously move out of both riders paths at the Hairpin, but another pair only show generosity to Aoki at the chicane before Spoon Curve.
Takahashi closes up on Aoki on lap 70, yet again, a backmarker gets in the way at the Casio Triangle.
Takahashi calls off the fight and allows Aoki five seconds.
The two rivals pit together at the end of lap 81 and Yoshimura’s Sakai exits the pits seven seconds ahead of Musashi Honda’s Kiyonari.
Both riders wasted no time getting their lap times in the two minutes, nine second range, with Kiyonari the quicker of the two.
After fourteen laps Kiyonari was ready to eat Sakai, but fourth place Takashi Yasuda, a former rider for Kiyonari’s team and now on the Plot Faro Panthera Suzuki, held up Kiyonari from the chicane after the Hairpin all the way to Spoon Curve.
The move only gave Sakai an extra lap in the lead: at Spoon Curve on the time time around Kiyonari dove to the inside of Sakai, ran all the way to the edge of the track to cut-off the counter-pass, and shot off.
Kiyonari builds a five second lead in the final minutes of the hour. Then, surprise: Sakai crashes in Turn 2.
Other than a scuffed up fairing the bike is still raceable, and Sakai cruises around back to the pits. Kagayama takes over.
Takahasi takes over from Kiyonari on lap 108, exactly at half-distance. With a lead of a minute and a half over second-place Ito, the race is Takahashi’s and Kiyonari’s to lose.
Sakai’s crash cost Yoshimura Suzuki just one place in the order, but a minute and 45 seconds of time. But ten laps later Kagayama pits and parks the bike in the garage.
The team furiously makes repairs and rejoin the race in ninth place, five laps down. A chance at even a podium finish looks remote at this point, as the F.C.C. TSR Honda has advanced all the way to sixth place credit to lap times consistently two to three seconds lower than the leaders.
On lap 127 Akiyoshi passes Takahashi on the front straight and gestures the leader to get behind. Takahashi complies. The lap deficit reduces from four to three, with three and a quarter hours left to race.
At the pace Akiyoshi and Rea are riding, they can catch third place Plot Faro Panthera Suzuki in an hour and make it an all Honda podium.
Kiyonari is ahead by almost a lap and Tamada looks content to finish in second. Rea takes over from Akiyoshi and joins the race in fifth place.
Eighteen laps later Rea overtakes the fourth-place Team Plus One Honda in the S-Curves with seven minutes left in the hour.
Tamada’s leisurely pace allows Kiyonari to catch and lap the second-place Honda right before it is time to pit again.
Right at the end of the hour, on cue, Rea passes the third-place Suzuki to make the podium, barring any mistakes.
Ito unlaps the team by overtaking Takahashi. Unremarkable lap times results in an unremarkable hour. No change in the top seven positions over the hour.
With 42 minutes left to go, Rea catches Kiyonari at Spoon Curve at powers past on the back straight.
The lap deficit reduces to two. With 33 minutes to go Rea catches Tamada in the S-curves, makes a pass attempt the long way around Dunlop curve, and finishes it off at Degner 1.
It is not a pass for position; however, Rea is still (almost) a lap behind Tamada.
With a half-hour left Kiyonari comes in for a splash and go to avoid running out of fuel.
Tamada pits for a splash and go with five minutes left. Ito goes out in perhaps his final Suzuka 8 Hours ride, to strong applause from the grandstand.