| Honda Preview Suzuka 8 Hours - Suzuka Circuit, Japan, August 4, 2002:. |
The 25th edition of the Suzuka 8 Hours Word Championship Endurance race takes place at the fabled 5.821km grand prix circuit that bears the name of the industrial city where it is located, close to Nagoya. The race is the single most important two-wheel event on the Japanese racing calendar, and has a significant bearing on sales of large capacity motorcycle. The event bears little resemblance to a traditional endurance race, in fact it's more akin to an eight-hour grand prix.
Honda have the most enviable of record of success in the classic event, having won no less than sixteen of the 24 races run to date.
HRC have prepared two VTR1000SP-W's to run in Cabin Honda colours. Tohru Ukawa and Daijiro Kato, the partnership that won the race for Cabin Honda in 2000, will race the 'Lucky' number 11 machine. Number 11 has adorned several Suzuka 8 Hour winning Honda machines, including the victorious VTR1000SP-W of last year's successful combination of Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards.
MotoGP riders Ukawa and Kato both arrived at Suzuka carrying injuries but both men will race. Ukawa is recovering from a broken bone in his right foot, a legacy of his bone-crunching high speed crash at Donington Park, three weeks go. Kato was brought down in a three-rider crash at the Sachsenring last weekend, sustaining a badly bruised thigh and wrist. Doctors have assured reigning 250c World Champion Kato that he will be fit in time to contest the race on Sunday.
Three-time race winner Tohru Ukawa said: "I have won the 8- hour race three times in the past (97,98,00), so I want to win the fourth this year. Daijiro is a rival in MotoGP but that is good for the 8-hour race, as we are both fast riders. The hardest part of the race is to pass the backmarkers. They are sometimes 10-20 seconds slower and I have crashed passing a backmarker in the past. For the GPs, if you can't win, you can think I will try to win the next race. But for the 8-hour race, the next race means next year. So we have to win this year or you have to wait another whole year."
Team-mate Daijiro Kato echoed Ukawa's sentiments: "I have been riding with Ukawa San for the last three year's so there is no problem for us. The 8-hour race is a long and tiring race so if you win you can feel your efforts have been rewarded. I've tested the bike twice, using last year's settings the first time, and Colin Edwards' settings the second time. I see no problem between the two types, I had a good feeling on the bike using both. This is my eighth 8-hour race and my physical condition is better than when I did my first 8-hour race in 1994. I want to win this race before I go back to the MotoGP in Brno."
Ukawa and Kato will have the most illustrious of riders acting as their reserve on Sunday. None other than Honda's World Superbike Championship Kingpin Colin Edwards will be on hand in case of any problems befalling the team. American Edwards was on Superbike duty last weekend displaying all his considerable talent while racing to a brilliant double victory at the European round of the series, held at Brands Hatch, England.
"I'm in good shape after Brands. The bike was great on Sunday and I know from testing that the 8 hours VTR1000SP-W is running really well. I'm down as reserve rider but I'm more than ready to race on Sunday, if I have to." Commented an ebullient Edwards.
The team will race with Mr K. Oyano as Team Manager. "I think our team is the strongest team in the field as both our riders are MotoGP riders. Our goal is not only to win the race but also to set a new record. Till now the record is 217 laps which was made last year, with the safety cars on the course. If there were no safety cars, it would have been 219 laps. So we can do over 220 laps this year."
Makoto Tamada and Tadayuki Okada race the second Cabin Honda, running number 33. Okada, now in semi-retirement, has two 8-hours race wins to his credit. He won in 1999, with Alex Barros as partner, and in 1995, when he shared an RC45 with Aaron Slight. The popular, former All Japan 250cc Champion, and six-time grand prix winner, is now the HRC All Japan Superbike team manager, with the prime task of guiding Tamada to the 2002 Superbike crown.
Tadayuki Okada is happy with his decision to race on Sunday. He said: "I have continues to train myself since I retired at the end of the last season, so it will be no problem for me to do the 8-hour race again this year. Actually I am really looking forward to it. I am the manager of the All Japan team and usually take care of Tamada and I know him very well so we are a really good team. Tamada is a true hungry rider, desperate for a win, which is quite rare nowadays and I like his way of racing. The hardest part of the 8-hour race is the second run. During this period the temperature is highest and is really tiring. The third run is the crucial part, during when we have to decide what to do to win the race. The fourth is not so hard as the temperature cools down. I have won the race twice in the past, '96 and '99 and I want to be on the top step of the podium again this year. It's a splendid feeling to hear so many fans calling your name."
Tamada has a habit of rising to the occasion in big events. The 25-year old has scored three wins and a second place from four starts in the Japanese round of the World Superbike Championship, over the last two years. Tamada was reserve rider to Ukawa and Kato in 2001, when they finished fourth.
Tamada said of Sunday's race: "I think there is a good chance for us to win this year. Our team is in a good mood and I trust Okada San 100% as a rider and also as my manager for the All Japan Team. We have been doing hard physical training for the race so I feel comfortable for the race. I don't feel any pressure for the race, although people are talking about Honda's sixth win in a row or Cabin's three in a row. I have never had pressure before a race during my carrier. The main rival for us will be the other Cabin Honda but I am more eager when the rival is strong."
HRC test rider Shinichi Itoh will act as reserve rider to Okada and Tamada. Near veteran Itoh, who has been heavily involved with the development of the Honda RC211V five-cylinder MotoGP machine, is no stranger to the 8-hours. He won the race twice, in 1997-98, racing with Tohru Ukawa. If called upon Itoh has the race pace to equal his team partners, as he showed while coming home fourth at the Japanese MotoGP race, run at Suzuka in April last.
Team Manager Mr K. Yamano is in confident mood: "We are really in good mood for the race. Our teamwork is perfect. We have been doing pit-work training since March so there will be no mistakes during the pit-work. Okada is really experienced and talented and that is the strong part of our team. For the 8-hour race, the most difficult part is the machine set-up between two riders, but Okada can ride the machine with Tamada's set-up. Therefore there will be no unnecessary compromise. We are really looking forward to the win."
Sakurai Honda will field two HRC supported teams running VTR1000SP-W's. The Brazilian - Japanese combination of Alex Barros and Yuichi Takeda will race together for the first time on Sunday.
Barros has an enviable record at the 8-hours. Winner, with Okada, in 1999, the same pairing finished a very close second last year. Barros also raced to second place in 1998, sharing an RC45 with Spaniard Sete Gibernau.
Barros was in buoyant mood when arrived at Suzuka. He is in top form, despite a crash at the recent German GP, and currently holds fourth place in the MotoGP Championship. The best two-stroke rider in the four-stroke dominated series.
The Brazilian said. "I'm looking forward to the race. I love the atmosphere of the whole event, and the fans are great. I won the 8 hours in '99, together with Tady (Okada), and it's an unbelievable feeling to win such a great race. We got second last year, and, but for a couple of mistakes, could have won it. We were only 14 seconds behind at the finish. This year I'm riding the Team Sakurai Honda VTR1000SP-W, together with Yuichi Takeda. He's fast at Suzuka, so we should have a good race."
Takeda, who races for Team Sakurai in the All Japan Superbike Championship, has finished sixth at the 8-Hours in each of the past seasons. Last year partnering Tetsuya Yamaguchi on the Team Sakurai VTR1000SP, the year before with Yukio Nukumi, on a Yamaha.
"I am really excited to race with Alex Barros. He has won the race in 99 and was the second in 97 '98 and last year. So he knows 8-hr race very well. We have to have a final set up of the machine during the race weekend but I think we can find a good set-up. Michelin tyres are also very good and I think we are in a good position to win the race." Said Takeda.
Yukio Nukumi has also been enlisted to race for Team Sakurai at Suzuka. Now 30-years old, Nukumi is a nine-year 8-Hour veteran, with his sixth place, partnering Noriyasu Numata, in the 2000 race his best yet. Nukumi is teamed with former All Japan 250cc Champion Shinichi Nakatomi for the event. Nakatomi is starting in the 8-Hours for the fifth time. His best result fourth in 2000, riding with Takeda.
The Honda teams will start as favourites to retain their 8-Hour crown, extending their winning streak to an incredible six consecutive victories in the grueling, energy sapping event. However, they face stiff opposition from opposing factory teams. Chief among them will be the number one combinations from Yamaha and Suzuki.
Yamaha field the fast and reliable duo of Wataru Yoshikawa and Takeshi Tsujimura on their YZR - R7. While Suzuki look to the talents of Akira Ryo and Yukio Kagayama, on a GSX - 750. The partnership finished third in the race last year, second in 2000. Both men are in sparkling form honing their skills in recent GP races while riding Suzuki's GSV-R MotoGP machine. They will be on hand to capitalise on any slip by the VTR1000SP-W's.
Honda Teams 2002 Suzuka 8 Hours: No 11: Team Cabin Honda Tohru Ukawa - Daijiro Kato. Reserve Colin Edwards. No 33: Team Cabin Honda Tadayuki Okada - Makoto Tamada. Reserve Shinichi Itoh.
No 71: Team Sakurai Honda Alex Barros - Yuichi Takeda. Reserve tba. No 95: Yukio Nukumi - Shinichi Nakatomi. Reserve tba.
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