Bradley Smith claimed the headlines this week with news of his Suzuka 8 Hours debut alongside his Tech3 teammate, Pol Espargaro, and both riders are looking forward to the challenge.
"It's something that I've wanted to do for a while and from when I signed with Yamaha I wanted to ride it and they always told me that I was on the list of riders," said Smith. "They said that they'd let me know when they were going to do it seriously and obviously this is an important year for Yamaha and they're going for the full factory effort and I've been invited into the factory team.I'll ride the R1 after Assen and that'll be the first test and then we'll have another test after Sachsenring. Both tests will be at Suzuka so it's just about getting prepped for that.
"A lot of it is very similar to MotoGP in terms of you find your pace and hold that pace for as long as you can. I imagine that the tyres can do the full hour and I can't imagine that with Bridgestone's support that it won't drop too much and we'll need to put me in a position physilogically that I don't drop. It's important not to attack too much but to keep the pace high in the race, it'll take time to get used to for sure and the fact that we'll need to have a bike that all three of us are happy with setup wise will take some time. We've got to see what our rivals are doing but it's a factory effort so I can't imagine it feeling too different to what we feel during a MotoGP weekend."
For Espargaro Suzuka wasn't a key race for him until this opportunity presented itself to him. The Spaniard admitted today that while brother always wanted to race at Suzuka he never had the desire to ride at the fabled 8 Hours until this opportunity presented itself.
"In the past Aleix said that it would be good to do an endurance race but I always said 'no' because I'm a race guy and I want to race for 40 mins at 100%," said Espargaro. "For sure I'll have to change my mentality but a lot of MotoGP riders have raced in Suzuka so I wanted to be part of this. When Yamaha asked me I was a little scarred because it's so different to what I normally do and I thought about how I would adapt my preparation, mentality and riding style for this race.
"A lot of riders have ridden this race and I want to be part of this history and this was a good opportunity to have a new experience. The race is during our holidays and while it's always good to train it's also important to rest on the holidays. But I thought about it and for Yamaha, for me, for my future I wanted to have this experience. Maybe this will be the only time that I can have this experience so I want to do it."
While it's fantastic to see MotoGP stars take on the challenge of the race their decision has shifted the spotlight to the riders who have turned down the chance to race it this year. Cal Cruthclow, who raced at the 8 Hours before his MotoGP career began, commented that he was asked to be paired with Casey Stoner for the race on a Fireblade but turned it down as it was too difficult to commit time to the race without it detracting from his MotoGP efforts.
"There was a possibility for me to go and race it with Casey but I said no," said Crutchlow. "I love the 8 Hours and I'd love to go and race it again but I won't do it while I'm racing in MotoGP. The schedule is too much because you have to go there and test twice while still concentrating on MotoGP. I honestly don't know why they're doing it. I really understand the prestige of the event and it's great for the manufacturers but the schedule is mayhem because there's a test, you race MotoGP, then test again before racing a MotoGP and then finally having the 8 hours. When you have 18 races and the tests you're permanently travelling and going to Suzuka three times isn't the done thing. I don't think that it's going to make them a better MotoGP rider so what's the benefit?
"It's a great decision by Yamaha, monster, the Suzuka organisers but I don't think it's a good decision for the riders because they don't have it in their contract. They'll be getting paid to do it but I'd concentrate on getting the result here and earning my bonus instead. In saying that ever since I've known Brad he's wanted to do the 8 Hours."
With Alex Lowes possibly racing for Suzuki in this year's addition there was an approach made to Sam Lowes to race alongside his brother but the Moto2 race winner felt it better to concentrate on his MotoGP aspirations rather than add another race to his calendar.