Former World Superbike champion Colin Edwards won the 2001 Suzuki Eight Hour endurance race when he was team-mates with Valentino Rossi for the second year running.
The previous year had been a mixture of fast paced racing and qualifying but ultimately Rossi crashed, got the bike back to the pits to be repaired but then Edwards crashed the Honda VTR1000SP-1 so heavily it couldn’t be rebuilt and the race was over.
It’s understood Rossi’s awe of the Suzuki Eight Hour race had been seriously damaged by the race in 2000 where the gruelling heat, humidity and the length of the race all conspired to make him vow 2001 was going to be the last time he ever raced at the Japanese track. He knew he had another year written into his Honda contract for 2001 but he was determined to win the race and thereby make it his last.
The build up to the 2001 event was taken extremely seriously by Honda and Edwards was repeatedly flown to Suzuka in order to test the Honda VTR1000 SP-1 factory Cabin-liveried bike; all the while he was also trying to retain the World Superbike title against the fierce competition from Ducati and Troy Bayliss.
It was noted at the time just how tired Edwards was looking towards the build-up to Suzuka and that it might even be hampering development of the Castrol Honda bike he was racing in WSB because Honda was so focussed on winning Suzuka.
Edwards explained to MCN: “The race in 2001 started all the way back in 2000. It was an exciting time for Honda as they had got me and Rossi together, the bike was new and we all knew we had a pretty good chance of winning. I spent the whole of the race in 2000 telling Valentino to slow down. He was just so, so fast and he didn’t seem to understand the endurance pace needed. In the end he crashed, I then crashed even bigger and the race was done.
“I knew before we set off for the race in 2001 that there was no doubt I was going to have to come back to Suzuka. I was racing for the factory Honda team in WSB and the Suzuka race was just something that I was expected to do. But I would say it was 99% accurate on Valentino’s part that he never wanted to go back to Suzuka after 2001. I could see Valentino was desperate to win so he never had to come back to Suzuka.
“We were leading going into the final hour and as we swapped riders in the pits Valentino looked at me with the look that said we have to win this because I never want to come back.”
The Suzuka 8 Hour race has a fearsome reputation for attrition of both bikes and riders as Edwards explains: “The heat and humidity are both big parts of what makes it such hard work but the biggest thing for the riders is the fact the set-up of the bike has to be a compromise to suit two riders who usually have completely different riding styles. The differences are small but add up to a lot in the end.
“In the end the race in 2001 was pretty smooth. Valentino had more experience at racing at Suzuka and while he was fast, he was slower than the year before. We knew we had the win if we kept it steady. In the end the team of Alex Barros and Tadayuki Okada made a small mistake in their pitstop for an oil top-up and that handed us another six seconds. Added to the fact Valentino had made up 30 or 40 seconds during his last hour and when I was handed the bike for the final hour, it was secure. I could see he was desperate to win so he didn’t have to come back ever again.
“The party that night was pretty good. We partied after the traditional Suzuka water fight in the pits where everyone gets involved. It was good fun. I don’t remember much of the rest of the night!”
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