The Suzuka 8 Hours: An Intense History
The 2019-2020 FIM Endurance World Championship Round 3, the 43rd "Coca-Cola" Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Race
Suzuka Circuit and MotorcyclesSince its first holding in 1978 until this day, the Suzuka 8 Hours has been the scene a lot of dramatic racing that has brought great excitement to the fans and enabled the event to win tremendous support, both in Japan and abroad. Suzuka Circuit, the stage of this endurance race, is known all over the world as the host circuit for the F1 World Championship, Grand Prix of Japan. However, it must be remembered that motorcycles have always been welcome on the track: only two months after its inauguration in September 1962, the first motorcycle competition was held there. And in November 1963, the circuit was already hosting an FIM Road Racing World Championship race. The Grand Prix of Japan was then held at Suzuka for three years in succession. It resumed again in 1987 and continued to be held until 2003, after which the Grand Prix of Japan moved its stage to Twin Ring Motegi. The Suzuka Circuit still hosts various motorcycle road race competitions, such as national championship events and amateur races. Riding on this legendary track is a dream for many competitors.
Suzuka 8 Hours and the Grand PrixLike the 8 Hours, the Grand Prix of Japan is a very popular event among Japanese motorcycle racing enthusiasts. It goes without saying that the biggest differences between these two disciplines are the distance covered and the duration of the competition. For the 8 Hours, as the name suggests, the results will be based on the order in which the motorcycles cross the finish line and the number of laps completed during 8 hours. However, the Grand Prix is normally contested over a fixed number of laps with a distance of approximately 100 km and a duration of approximately 45 minutes. The motorcycles are also completely different.
The motorcycles of the 8 Hours, that is to say the machines of the Formula EWC, are based on road-going production bikes, while those of MotoGP™ are purpose-built racing machines conceived for use in sprint races, with the assumption that there will not be any pit work during the race, such as refueling or tire changes, and having no headlight.
However, many GP riders and World Champions have participated in the Suzuka 8 Hours so far, and there have been riders who went on to be successful in the World Grand Prix after showing brilliant performance in the Suzuka 8 Hours.
World GP champions at the 8 HoursEddie Lawson, four times GP500 World Champion (1984, 86, 88 and 89), took part in the 8 Hours for three different manufacturers: Kawasaki (1980), Yamaha (1990, 1994) and Honda (1993). He won the race in 1990 with Tadahiko Taira on a Yamaha YZF750. Wayne Gardner showed his speed from his first participation in the 8 Hours in 1981 by taking pole position on a Moriwaki Monster (retired from the race after a crash). Two years later, Gardner made his debut in the GP500 World Championship and won a title on a Honda in 1987. It is an understatement to say that the Australian was a regular at the Japanese summer event: he was on the starting grid 10 times and won 4 times. Michael Doohan, who won five consecutive titles in the GP500 World Championship (1994 -1998), took part in the 8 Hours six times between 1987 and 1993 with success in 1991 on a Honda RVF 750 and paired with his compatriot Wayne Gardner. Kenny Roberts and Wayne Rainey, both won three consecutive GP500 world championship titles (1978, 79 and 80 for Roberts and 1990, 91 and 92 for Rainey) and also competed in the 8 Hours. Roberts grabbed pole position for his first appearance in 1985 on a Yamaha FZR 750. He sat in the lead until mechanical problems occurred on his bike with 30 minutes to go in the race. Roberts participated in the 8 Hours of the following year but could not finish the race. Rainey gave a superb performance in his first participation in the 8 Hours in 1988. After having won pole position on a Yamaha YZF750, he rode consistently with teammate Kevin Magee to get the victory for the team. Rainy took part in the 8 Hours in the following year with Magee but retired from the race due to mechanical problems. Freddie Spencer, a regular opponent of Lawson and Roberts in GP500, also participated in the 8 Hours in 1980 and 1994. Spencer remains the only rider who was crowned World Champion in GP250 and GP500 in the same year (1985). The star Valentino Rossi, seven times world champion in the premier category, participated in the 8 Hours in 2000 and 2001. He won the race in his second attempt with Colin Edwards on a Honda VTR 1000SPW.
As for participation by a Grand Prix premier class World Champion in the 8 Hours, Casey Stoner, the 2007 MotoGP™ World Champion, was the last one to take part in 2015.
Winningest rider in the 8 HoursToru Ukawa is a five-time winner of the Suzuka 8 Hours, the record for the most 8 Hours victories. Since his first participation in 1994, Ukawa has won five times in the 8 Hours until 2005 (97, 98, 00, 04, 05). Ukawa made his debut in the premier class of the World Championship in 2001 (500cc), and won the South African GP in 2002 (MotoGP™) and finished the World Championship ranked 3rd in the same year. Ukawa, who has long been racing as a Honda works rider, won the All-Japan Road Race Championship GP250 class title in 1993 and 1994 before moving to the World Championship Road Racing 250 in 1996.
Races with the smallest difference between the winner and the secondAlthough the Suzuka 8 Hours is an endurance race, it is not uncommon for it to be seen a race development with a high pace as if it is a sprint race, and the battle for the victory to continue until the checkered flag is shown.
The smallest difference between the winner and the second place is only 0.28 of a second and surprisingly, this happened in 1982 and 1994. The race in 1982 had to have its race time reduced to 6 hours due to the impact of a typhoon. The main contenders, including teams entered from foreign countries, retired one after another due to crashes and technical problems, leaving Shigeo Iijima and Shinji Hagiwara on the Honda CB900F to win for the first time. It was a first for a Japanese team.
The race in 1994 had its first red flag due to multiple crashes that occurred in the leading group at the 200R curve, approximately 30 minutes after the start. After the green flag restarted the race, spectators were kept entertained by a series of close battles between the team of Doug Polen and Aaron Sulght on the Honda RVF/RC45 and Scott Russell and Terry Rymer on the Kawasaki ZXR750R, and Honda pair finished 0.288 seconds ahead of Kawasaki riders.
On the contrary, the largest ever difference between the winner and the second place was 4 laps. This was the case in 1978 and 2012.