2022 Suzuka 8 Hours | WorldSBK champions defend, Lecuona debuts, farewell Suzuki? | Superbikes of the world

Wait, wait, listen to me.

So yes the Isle of Man TT. MotoGP at Phillip Island. Everything on two wheels in Assen. These are undoubtedly massive events that can lay claim to being the biggest and best motorcycle festival in the world.

But if your sample selection included some of the most important people in the motorcycle industry – particularly the recruiters and licensees in charge of Japan’s “big four” manufacturers of Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki – then the Suzukas 8 Hours is the one they all want to win.

It’s a race that returns this weekend for the first time since 2019 and it could well prove to be the most important in its history as it could be the last time the aforementioned foursome meet after it was announced that Suzuki withdraws from motorsport. end of 2022.

As they say, opinions are like assholes – everyone has one – but the Suzuka 8 Hours is more important than you think… here’s why.

The “big four” manufacturers say so

This aforementioned bold claim is not simply mine; it is the affirmation of the big four Japanese manufacturers – Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki – who have made this race the archetype of the correlation with the motto “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”.

While MotoGP is the standard of engineering excellence, the Suzuka 8 Hours is a direct grudge match between the four Japanese manufacturers in a race that demonstrates the key values ​​of its culture: efficiency, reliability and teamwork.

With that in mind, Honda is the firm to blame him the most with a remarkable 27 wins from 42 attempts, followed by Yamaha in eight, Suzuki in five and Kawasaki in two.

Of course, as a World Endurance Championship round, it’s not just CBR1000RRs, GSX-R1000s, R1s and ZX-10Rs.

For 2022, a lone Ducati prepared in Japan will compete alongside a handful of BMW entrants, while the German manufacturer will also enter for the first time with factory support.

It is also an important offer, because if BMW causes the surprise and wins, it would be the first time that a foreign manufacturer has triumphed at the 8 Hours of Suzuka since its inauguration in 1978.

Motorcycle royalty assists…those who matter

Forget Valentino Rossi or Casey Stoner, the Suzuka 8 Hours sees the highest concentration of big wigs, big cheeses or big bosses, whatever you want to call them.

Riders say they are often spooked to see CEOs and other very high-ranking business leaders crammed into garages, the combined might of their finances, influence and passion adding to the pressure of performance.

On the other hand, victory in such an intense arena has the potential to earn you a job for life. It’s no exaggeration – bring honor, you will be rewarded endlessly.

However, this year’s race has added significance as it could be the last time all four companies field a factory-backed entry with Suzuki’s decision to leave EWC (and MotoGP) leaving it without its double. World championship winning SERT effort for 2023.

Private teams will likely fill the void in the near term, but if Suzuki doesn’t replace the GSX-R1000 as has been speculated, it would be the end of an era…

Being the best does not make the winner

As the 1980s and early 2000s when an influx of top GP riders swelled the ranks to fight gave way to fewer headline-grabbing entries with a MotoGP pedigree, this was arguably an advantage as the action leveled the playing field.

That’s not to say the current roster is any less capable in direct combat, but let’s say the factory support isn’t as evenly spread among the masses when you have a publicity appearance from a Valentino Rossi, who has won in 2001, dominating attention.

Either way, there are so many factors beyond fast laps that see victory. While the Suzuka 8 Hours looks like a breeze compared to the other three 24-hour races on the calendar, the shorter distance arguably creates a greater challenge by mixing sprint-style pace with consistency and reliability.

It also puts more emphasis on pit crews back in the box to turn things around quickly. If you lack any of these factors, victory will be difficult. More than any other race, it’s a team sport.

It is one of the last major specialized meetings

Along with the TT, the Suzuka 8 Hours is an event where being a globally recognized famous rider doesn’t naturally translate to being the favorite here. In fact, there’s never really been a favorite with the words “anything can happen”, a frequently used mantra.

At its peak, the Suzuka 8 Hours featured the largest Superbike grid in the world, combining totally different talents and skills. WorldSBK regulars can rely on their sprinting style to activate it in qualifying for example, EWC regulars will be the most adept when it comes to maximizing a package over a distance – also pit stops – and All-Japan Superbike riders have the precision to know every Suzuka millimeter

Remember when Japanese riders were rushing for wildcards and dominating in WorldSBK? It’s the modern equivalent, but the reverse…

It features the WorldSBK champions

Kawasaki has – or at least “had” – a pretty dismal record at the Suzuka 8 Hours. Before the 2019 Suzuka 8 Hours you had to go all the way back to 1993 when Kawasaki last lifted the winners trophy, a startling stat considering it has pretty much dominated the Superbike scene in recent times. years.

Having failed to weave its international riders with its national teams, Kawasaki caused a stir by simply using its best asset – the seven-time Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK title – and shifting all the effort to Japan.

It proved a masterstroke with Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam picking up a stunning win, albeit in controversial circumstances when the Ulsterman crashed in the final minutes on oil expended by an expiring Suzuki.

Yamaha were initially voted the winner before an appeal from Kawasaki – arguing the race should be counted until the final completed lap as it crashed following problems from another bike – saw the decision cancelled. It meant it was the first effort to win the Suzuka 8 Hours without a Japanese driver since Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards in 2001.

It should be noted here that the team also included Toprak Razgatlioglu, then under contract with Kawasaki, after being added to the lineup late and overflown. However, the Turk didn’t do a single lap over the weekend after it was decided that his more erratic styling on the ZX-10RR wasn’t conducive to endurance racing, which explains his rather muted expression in the photo above.

Fair assessment or not, the decision had major implications for Kawasaki with Razgatlioglu and his manager Kenan Sofuoglu – who called the snub an insult to his rider – quickly rejecting the offer of a KRT WorldSBK factory race in 2020. in favor of a switch to Yamaha.

The rest, as they say, is recent history…

Fast forward to today and KRT are back to defend their title with a stellar rider line-up featuring Rea, Haslam – back in the fold after returning to Kawasaki machines at BSB – and Alex Lowes, the Brit already three times Suzuka 8 Hours winner with Yamaha, he is now aiming for a fourth with Kawasaki.

Oddly enough, considering the KRT affair, Razgatlioglu will not participate as there is no Yamaha Factory Racing commitment this time. The pop-up team has been a force in the Suzuka 8 Hours, taking multiple wins with formidable rosters including its top WorldSBK riders and occasional MotoGP riders like Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, as well as the irresistible ten-time All- Japan Superbike Champion Katsuyuki Nakasuga.

However, the absence of Yamaha Factory Racing Team – or Nakasuga for that matter – this year means that it will fall to the EWC YART (Yamaha Austria Racing Team) to fill the void.

Elsewhere, the HRC Honda team will attempt to “do a KRT” with its own WorldSBK effort, which includes former MotoGP rider Iker Lecuona. [above] makes its debut at the Suzuka 8 Hours. In fact, Honda is going full throttle for Suzuka with 16 entries, including the EWC FCC TSR effort and Southeast Asia-based Honda Dream Racing team.

The pure mystic

While the internet, multi-channel television and social media have removed the barriers that would prevent anyone from achieving all possible weather, boarding or crashing with just a few clicks of a mouse, there remains a sense of “mystique”. ‘ about the Suzuka 8 Hours which dates back to the 90s when Japanese motorsport was very cut off from the wider world.

Indeed, whether it was because local reporting was in kanji or a grid of 90% unknown names among 10% global favorites limited publications’ desire to spend time attending or translating to push it to l n a global scale, the Suzuka 8 Hour was often a footnote in magazines printed days later.

And yet, this was a race attracting GP stars and 130,000 spectators each year. Not only that, these viewers are passionate.

Anyone who has ever attended or taken part in a motorsport event in Japan will know that it is an experience that is both difficult to explain and unforgettable in equal measure.

The Japanese love their motorsport – as evidenced by the constantly packed pits at Suzuka or Motegi during F1 and MotoGP – but with fewer local heroes to cheer on in both series, the Suzuka 8 Hours has instead become the highlight annual event for motorsport fans to see big names. and root for their domestic hopes.

Plus, it’s been 16 years since Japan hosted a WorldSBK race (and we’re still puzzled as to why it hasn’t returned) and given the huge influence the nation has on the motorcycle industry as a whole, it should be given the dues it deserves.

And, of course, the Suzuka Circuit itself is considered one of the most raced tracks in the world with iconic corners like Degner, S-Curves and – most famous of all – 130R.

In short, if you haven’t already, place it somewhere near the top. Even if it’s just to meet this cute little guy…

About Lillian Coomer

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