Honda Previews Suzuka 8 Hours

Elliot Strong
by Elliot Strong
Preview Suzuka 8 Hours - Suzuka Circuit, Japan, August 4, 2002:

Honda Aim for Sixth Consecutive Victory at Suzuka 8 Hours 25th AnniversaryRace

The 25th edition of the Suzuka 8 Hours Word Championship Endurance racetakes place at the fabled 5.821km (3.64 miles) grand prix circuit that bears the name ofthe industrial city where it is located, close to Nagoya. The race is thesingle most important two-wheel event on the Japanese racing calendar, andhas a significant bearing on sales of large capacity motorcycle. The eventbears little resemblance to a traditional endurance race, in fact it's moreakin 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-Ws to run in Cabin Honda colors. TohruUkawa and Daijiro Kato, the partnership that won the race for Cabin Hondain 2000, will race the 'Lucky' number 11 machine. Number 11 has adornedseveral Suzuka 8 Hour winning Honda machines, including the victoriousVTR1000SP-W of last year's successful combination of Valentino Rossi andColin Edwards.

MotoGP riders Ukawa and Kato both arrived at Suzuka carrying injuries butboth men will race. Ukawa is recovering from a broken bone in his rightfoot, 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 theSachsenring last weekend, sustaining a badly bruised thigh and wrist.Doctors have assured reigning 250c World Champion Kato that he will be fitin time to contest the race on Sunday.

Three-time race winner Tohru Ukawa said: "I have won the 8- hour race threetimes 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 weare both fast riders. The hardest part of the race is to pass thebackmarkers. They are sometimes 10-20 seconds slower and I have crashedpassing a backmarker in the past. For the GPs, if you can't win, you canthink I will try to win the next race. But for the 8-hour race, the nextrace means next year. So we have to win this year or you have to waitanother whole year."

Team-mate Daijiro Kato echoed Ukawa's sentiments: "I have been riding withUkawa San for the last three year's so there is no problem for us. The8-hour race is a long and tiring race so if you win you can feel yourefforts have been rewarded. I've tested the bike twice, using last year'ssettings the first time, and Colin Edwards' settings the second time. I seeno problem between the two types, I had a good feeling on the bike usingboth. This is my eighth 8-hour race and my physical condition is betterthan when I did my first 8-hour race in 1994. I want to win this racebefore I go back to the MotoGP in Brno."

Ukawa and Kato will have the most illustrious of riders acting as theirreserve on Sunday. None other than Honda's World Superbike ChampionshipKingpin Colin Edwards will be on hand in case of any problems befalling theteam. American Edwards was on Superbike duty last weekend displaying allhis considerable talent while racing to a brilliant double victory at theEuropean round of the series, held at Brands Hatch, England.

"I'm in good shape after Brands. The bike was great on Sunday and I knowfrom testing that the 8 hours VTR1000SP-W is running really well. I'm downas 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 isthe strongest team in the field as both our riders are MotoGP riders. Ourgoal is not only to win the race but also toset 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 wouldhave been 219 laps. So we can do over 220 laps this year."

Makoto Tamada and Tadayuki Okada race the second Cabin Honda, runningnumber 33. Okada, now in semi-retirement, has two 8-hours race wins to hiscredit. He won in 1999, with Alex Barros as partner, and in 1995, when heshared an RC45 with Aaron Slight. The popular, former All Japan 250ccChampion, and six-time grand prix winner, is now the HRC All JapanSuperbike team manager, with the prime task of guiding Tamada to the 2002Superbike crown.

Tadayuki Okada is happy with his decision to race on Sunday. He said: "Ihave continues to train myself since I retired at the end of the lastseason, so it will be no problem for me to do the 8-hour race again thisyear. Actually I am really looking forward to it. I am the manager of theAll Japan team and usually take care of Tamada and I know him very well sowe are a really good team. Tamada is a true hungry rider, desperate for awin, which is quite rare nowadays and I like his way of racing. The hardestpart of the 8-hour race is the second run. During this period thetemperature is highest and is really tiring. The third run is the crucialpart, during when we have to decide what to do to win the race. The fourthis not so hard as the temperature cools down. I have won the race twice inthe past, '96 and '99 and I want to be on the top step of the podium againthis year. It's a splendid feeling to hear so many fans calling yourname."

Tamada has a habit of rising to the occasion in big events. The 25-year oldhas scored three wins and a second place from four starts in the Japaneseround of the World Superbike Championship, over the last two years. Tamadawas 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 winthis year. Our team is in a good mood and I trust Okada San 100% as a riderand also as my manager for the All Japan Team. We have been doing hardphysical training for the race so I feel comfortable for the race. I don'tfeelany pressure for the race, although people are talking aboutHonda's sixth win in a row or Cabin's three in a row. I havenever had pressure before a race during my carrier. The main rival for uswill be the other Cabin Honda but I am more eager when the rival isstrong."

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 ofthe Honda RC211V five-cylinder MotoGP machine, is no stranger to the8-hours. He won the race twice, in 1997-98, racing with Tohru Ukawa. Ifcalled upon Itoh has the race pace to equal his team partners, as he showedwhile coming home fourth at the Japanese MotoGP race, run at Suzuka inApril last.

Team Manager Mr K. Yamano is in confident mood: "We are really in goodmood for the race. Our teamwork is perfect. We have been doing pit-worktraining 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 ourteam.For the 8-hour race, the most difficult part is the machine set-up betweentwo riders,but Okada can ride the machine with Tamada's set-up. Therefore there will be nounnecessary compromise. We are really looking forward to the win."

Sakurai Honda will field two HRC supported teams running VTR1000SP-W's. TheBrazilian - Japanese combination of Alex Barros and Yuichi Takeda will racetogether 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 racedto 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 placein the MotoGP Championship. The best two-stroke rider in the four-strokedominated series.

The Brazilian said. "I'm looking forward to the race. I love the atmosphereof 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 agreat 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 yearI'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 yearpartnering Tetsuya Yamaguchi on the Team Sakurai VTR1000SP, the year beforewith Yukio Nukumi, on a Yamaha.

"I am really excited to race with Alex Barros. He has won the race in 99and was the second in 97 '98 and last year. So he knows 8-hr race verywell. We have to have a final set up of the machine during the race weekendbut I think we can find a good set-up. Michelin tyres are also very goodand 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. Now30-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 teamedwith former All Japan 250cc Champion Shinichi Nakatomi for the event.Nakatomi is starting in the 8-Hours for the fifth time. His best resultfourth 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 victoriesin the grueling, energy sapping event. However, they face stiff oppositionfrom opposing factory teams. Chief among them will be the number onecombinations from Yamaha and Suzuki.

Yamaha field the fast and reliable duo of Wataru Yoshikawa and TakeshiTsujimura on their YZF-R7. While Suzuki look to the talents of Akira Ryoand Yukio Kagayama, on a GSX-R750. The partnership finished third in therace last year, second in 2000. Both men are in sparkling form honingtheir 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 ShinichiItoh.No 71: Team Sakurai Honda Alex Barros - Yuichi Takeda. Reserve tba.No 95: Yukio Nukumi - Shinichi Nakatomi. Reserve tba. Live Internet coverage

"Coca Cola" Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road RaceHosted on the Internet Broadband-compatible, 6-channel Multi-Player System8-Hour Complete Internet Streaming Live CoverageWorld's First complete live coverage of a Motorcycle Endurance Race.

Content: "Coca Cola" Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race
Date/Time: 11:00~20:00(subject to change), Sunday 4th August 2002 (Japanese time)
Special Sponsor: Honda Motor Co., Ltd.
Technical/Distribution Support: J. Stream/Trans Cosmos Co. Ltd.

Suzuka Circuit will provide free complete live coverage (live streamingimage) of the "Coca Cola Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race" on the 4th ofAugust via the internet-broadband compatible-6 channel multi-player (Themost advanced internet streaming media technology). An unprecedentedattempt in the history of the motorcycle endurance racing.The compilation of broadband technologies with feeds from fixed monitorcameras around the track will allow viewers in their homes to access toSuzuka 8 Hours with its features including the lap time data. (Note thatsome images from the fixed cameras become dimmer at night after 18:30.)

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