If “Italy felt like a whole other country” for Ian Rush imagine what the Liverpool legend would make of Japan! The Suzuka 8 Hours is an experience unlike another other. Even the esteemed editor of On Track Off Road has come undone by Suzuka after MotoGP races here with some my fellow contributors but that’s a story best left for Adam to tell!
Over the years my adventures have been well documented in the pages of On Track Off Road. I’ve flown into the wrong airport, I’ve missed flights, I’ve double booked hotels and I’ve arrived at rental car desks without an international drivers permit. To make it all worse I’ve lived in Japan when I was working as an engineer and really should know a lot more about what makes this country tick!
Amongst all that chaos and mistakes I’ve made on my to and from the 8 Hours I’ve always found a way to love this trip. This is a pilgrimage. It’s a race as spectacular in its own way as the Senior TT and one that has all the pomp and ceremony of the Daytona 500. What’s not to love about the 8 Hours? There’s a fantastic race track, exotic bikes and some of the best riders in the world.
This race is effectively one of the last great invitational events on the calendar. It might be the final round of the Endurance World Championship but that’s only a cover story. This is a hard-core, one night only party with last orders set firmly at 7.30pm. Lock the doors, lose your morals and do whatever it takes. That’s what makes the 8 Hours so special.
Why is the Suzuka 8 Hours dominated by Bridgestone tyres?During last year’s edition Michael Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli sat down to explain why nothing makes the competition sink like a ‘stone
Even the most talkative factory riders get tight lipped when the topic of tyres is raised. After taking nine tenths of a second off the unofficial lap record Jonathan Rea was asked to compare the feeling with Bridgestone tyres compared to the Pirelli rubber used in WorldSBK. The triple world champion sidestepped that landmine with customary ease by saying “they’re both very high performance tyres.”
There are however some outliers in the Suzuka paddock. Some riders are able and, most importantly, willing to talk on the record about the brands. Only a handful of riders have experience with both tyres, and Michelin MotoGP tyres, and even fewer have the freedom to speak about the contrasts. Both Michael Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli however have that experience of the three brands. Going back to the early days of Michelin’s return to MotoGP Laverty, then Aprilia’s MotoGP test rider, helped the French manufacturer define their initial batches of tyres.
Speaking about the contrast between the Bridgestone shod front runners at the Suzuka 8 Hours and bikes using Pirelli tyres, such as the BMW that the Northern Irishman raced 12 months ago, he offered his thoughts on the differences in riding styles that comes from the rubber underneath you.
Ego is a crucial part of the successful makeup of any world class racer. They need to have the belief that they are faster than everyone else on the grid. That they can do things that no-one else can. That they’re the man for the job. What happens though when you’re forced to check that ego at the garage door? Having that ability can be the difference between winning and losing in Endurance race.
Adapt and survive. It’s rule of law in the natural world but it’s also the only way to be successful in endurance racing. Being a team and working together is the key success at the Suzuka 8 Hours. If you’re Yamaha Factory Racing Team rider Michael van der Mark you know this better than most.
The Dutch star might be a four time Suzuka winner, a WorldSBK race winner and a World Supersport champion but he’s also cast in an unusual role in Japan; the outlier.
What is that makes Suzuka special? It’s the contrasts, the conditions and the unforgiving nature of this 3.6 miles of asphalt
“Suzuka is probably the best circuit in the world,” explains Jonathan Rea. “It’s got everything! It’s technical and its physical. It’s a complete test.” If this 3.6 miles circuit is good enough for a four times world champion to think so highly of it the Japanese venue must be special.
And it is. Suzuka is a never ending roller coaster and like all good coasters it has its peaks and troughs. The lap begins with the Suzuka Snake. A technical section of the lap that links the first seven corners. Make a mistake anywhere here and you’ve cost yourself the laptime. In the Top 10 Shootout this section separates the fast from the fastest. It’s so easy to run a metre offline in one corner and then be pushed an extra couple of metres off for the next corner.
When a monarch dies there is always a replacement waiting in the wings. The line of succession need to be clear otherwise a Kingdom can be left in peril. In WorldSBK when one season ends another begins immediately as WorldSBK commentator Steve English explains…
“What’s your plan for the off-season?” It’s an innocuous question until the realisation dawns that the new season has already begun for teams and riders. There is no off-season for teams and riders. Their goals are already shifted towards next season.
WorldSBK’s first group test of the 2020 season will take place in two weeks time at Motorland Aragon. From the moment the flight crates were packed at the Losail International Circuit and flown back to Europe from Qatar the wheels are set in motion to get those bikes ready to be put onto trucks and sent to Spain. The turnaround of a race team is always incredibly impressive