Honda Suzuka 8 Hr. Preview

From a press release issued by Honda Racing:

Suzuka 8 Hours. Suzuka, Japan August 3, 2003.

Honda Chasing Magic Seventh Consecutive Suzuka 8 Hour Victory

Honda teams and riders go into the 26th running of the Suzuka 8 Hours chasing their seventh consecutive victory in the race, Japan's premier motorcycle event. The Honda assault will be spearheaded by the two Seven Stars Honda teams, both equipped with the latest version of the VTR1000SP-W.

Grand prix stars Nicky Hayden, the reigning AMA Superbike Champion and Ryuichi Kiyonari, the All Japan Supersport Champion, will race with number? While Tohru Ukawa, a three-time winner of the race, will be partnered by Hitoyasu Izutsu, racing with the sole intention of giving Honda their 18th victory in 26 starts in the prestigious race.

Ukawa is a man with a special mission, a victory on Sunday will see him equal Wayne Gardner's record of four 8-hour victories. He missed the race in 2002 due to a broken ankle sustained in a crash at the British GP, at Donington Park. He crashed at the same event two weeks ago but this time emerged with a gashed elbow and heavy bruising, not serious enough to prevent him racing at the German GP, or Suzuka.

It will be Izutsu's first 8-hours with HRC prepared machinery but he has a good record at Suzuka and will match Ukawa's speed and determination in the race. His best result so far was in 1999, when he partnered Akira Yanagawa to third place.

Hayden is making his eight-hour debut but the young American has already tested the VTR he will race on Sunday, an up-dated version of the machine that carried him to the US Superbike title in 2002. Kiyonari has virtually no experience on a big twin VTR1000SP-W. His sole All Japan Superbike Championship appearance was aboard a CBR954RR Honda, a wet race at Aida last season, which he won handsomely. The partnership will be aiming to emulate the US - Japanese combination of Edwards and Kato who took the win in 2002.

Fuel consumption is a vital element in race strategy and HRC Team manager Nobuo Ohno will work with a six-stop race plan. The VTR had previously run a seven-stop race plan but the six-stop strategy was successful in 2002 and the HRC teams will go to the start with the intention of repeating that performance. However, Ohno has prepared contingency plans in the event of accidents, inclement weather, and the intervention of the pace car disrupting his plans.

The Sakurai Honda team will also race VTR1000SP-W machines in the Japanese classic. Double 8-hour victor Tadayuki Okada, who is teamed with Chozum Kameya, will lead the two-team entry.

Kameya's participation is particularly poignant as he is a cousin of the late Daijiro Kato, who died of injuries incurred in a crash at the grand prix held at Suzuka in April of this year. The Okada - Kameya combination will race with Kato's number 74 plate in a tribute to the 2002 World 250cc Champion. Kato carried number 74 throughout his illustrious grand prix career.

The second Sakurai Honda will be in the capable hands of Yukio Nukumi and Manabu Kamata, both experienced 8-hour campaigners. Few riders know the VTR1000SP-W better than Kamata, while not racing Kamata works as test rider for HRC and has undertaken hours of development work on the big twin he will race on Sunday. Partner Nukumi, now 31-years old, contests his 10th Suzuka 8 Hours.

The four teams competing with factory prepared VTR1000SP-W's will have to be at their very best to withstand the challenged of several fast, reliable Honda teams in the field. Chief among them former grand prix riders Takeshi Tsujimura and Shinichi Ito, near veterans but still very fast particularly at Suzuka. The two seasoned campaigners will race a CBR954RR F.C.C TSR for the Zip - FM team.

Former two-time 125cc World Champion Haruchika Aoki is teamed with Osamu Deguchi for team Weider Honda Gakuen, while Tatuya Yamaguchi is paired with Yuki Takahashi, so impressive on his way to third at the 250cc Pacific GP at Motegi last year, on a 555 Honda. Both squads equipped with CBR954RRs.

The circuit has been changed slightly for the 8-hours, the chicane reverting to near pre-grand prix lay out.

Honda rider quotes:
Nicky Hayden: "I'm really excited about racing the 8 hours, it will be the first time for me. As a kid you read about your heroes racing the 8 hours and hope you will take part one day. I like the idea of the pit stops, race strategy, and racing at night, sounds pretty cool. The only pit stop race I've done is Daytona, but this is a whole lot different I'm sure. The race is really important to Honda so I want to do well.

"After the GP at Assen we tested the bike at Suzuka, it was the first time I rode a RC51 (VTR) since last August, this bike is pretty much the same as my US Superbike was last year. I'm racing with Kiyo San (Ryuichi Kiyonari) so we tried each other's bikes at the test, but only in the rain. We're pretty close on set up, and we both use similar riding positions so I think we will have no problems riding together. The VTR is a good package for this kind of race and race track.

"It's a long race but I like the track, doing a lot of laps will help with other races at Suzuka. There seems to be a lot of traffic to get passed in the race, which will be interesting. I'm looking forward to the experience."

Ryuichi Kiyonari: "This will be my third Suzuka 8 Hours and my first on a VTR, I raced a CBR last time out, in 2001. We broke the engine after my first session so I hope this time to have a good result. Although I have not much experience at the 8 hours I have raced many times at Suzuka circuit, I started my road race career there in 1991, at the 'Suzuka Racing School.' I've also raced the Suzuka 4 Hours, I like the track and I think I will enjoy racing the VTR on Sunday.

"We tested for two days after Assen and the bike was really good, perfect for Suzuka. I'm riding with Nicky (Hayden) and we are close on set up and riding position, so we have no problems with that. We will be the 'VTR Rookies' at Suzuka."

Tohru Ukawa: "This year I'm racing with Izutsu San, for the first time. He's a good rider, fast. We used to race against each other before I started GP racing. He's a good guy - we will do well, of that I'm sure. In the test after Assen our machine set up was almost the same, and our lap times were also very close, so I'm confident we will be fast.

"We start practice on Wednesday on the revised track, the chicane has been changed again it's back to almost the old lay out. Fuel consumption is important to Honda and last year the teams ran the race with only six pit stops, instead of seven. They hope to use the same strategy this year.

"Last year I didn't race the 8-hours, I broke my ankle at Donington Park and was not fit enough to race. I did the same thing this year but only cut my elbow and bruised my arm. The arm is OK now, I have full movement so I think it will not be a problem for Suzuka.

"I'm not thinking about equalling Wayne Gardner's record of four wins, if I win the race the record will come naturally. The race is a one off, a podium place has no meaning, only a win matters in the 8-hours."

Izutsu's best result so far was in 1999, when he partnered Akira Yanagawa to third place.

Hitoyasu Izutsu: "This is my first 8hr race on Honda and am really looking forward to it. When I was riding Kawasaki, Honda was a high barrier but I wanted to beat Honda. Now I am in the Honda camp and all the circumstances are ready for me to win the race. I want to win the race and I am quite confident about it as my partner is the experienced Ukawa, and the machine I will be riding is the same as the last year’s winning machine. As we are doing 6 pit stops, Ukawa will be riding longer than me. Our goal is to mark 220 laps ( previous record 219 laps last year). I have marked 2:08s during the test but the race time will be around 2:9-10. We will not try hard to get the pole position as the pole-sitter hasn’t won the race past ten years or so. Our main aim is to win the race and not to get the pole-position."

Tadayuki Okada: "I requested to race the 8-hours this year, I get too much stress just watching races, it's a completely different life. I enjoy the fun of racing. I will race with Chozun Kameya, a cousin of Daijiro (Kato), and we will race with number 74. I choose number 74 for the race, it will give me strength, 'Daichan' was like one of my own family. I am happy to accept the responsibility of racing with the 74 plate.

"Kameya San is a good rider, he's leading the national 250cc championship. He doesn't have much big bike experience but I am happy to race with him, his lap time at the Suzuka test was good. We will race with respect for 'Daichan' but we will be racing to win, that's all we will have in mind.

"I'm interested to race with the new Michelin MotoGP tyre. It was me and Colin (Edwards) who did a lot of the development work with the tyres but I have never raced with it. The character of the Michelin tyres in my time was that they took a little time to get warm but when they did the tyres were very good. This tyre warms very quickly. The VTR1000SP-W is much different to the RC211V but the tyre works well on the big twin. The VTR is much better now than when I last raced it, it handles better now, and maybe has a little more power."
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George Obradovich
George Obradovich

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