Results From Suzuka 8 Hours

Elliot Strong
by Elliot Strong
From Honda Racing Information:

Suzuka 8 Hours- Suzuka, Japan; August 4, 2002

Weather, hot and humid, slight rain fall in final hour; temperature, 32'C;humidity, 65%; track conditions, good; crowd, 72,000.

Edwards and Kato Victorious at Suzuka 8 Hours 25th Anniversary for Cabin Honda

The American - Japanese combination of Colin Edwards and Daijiro Kato racedto a superb victory at the 25th running of the Suzuka 8 Hours, held atmagnificent Japanese circuit today. Edwards and Kato brought home theirVTR1000SP-W twin cylinder Honda ahead of their Cabin Honda team-matesTadayuki Okada and Makoto Tamada. The Sakurai Honda team of Alex Barros andYuichi Takeda completed a magical Honda 1-2-3 with a fine third placefinish. All three teams completed 219 laps, a new race record.

Honda have now won the event for six successive years, 17 times in the25-years it has been held. It was Edwards' third victory in the Japaneseclassic, the second for Kato. Brazilian Barros gave Honda a clean sweep ofrace honours by setting the fastest lap of the race as he battled to closeon the leaders.

At the end of the grueling race Kato said: "I was riding longer today thanthe previous 8-hour races I've done but I was not as tired as I expected.However, when it started to rain during the final session I was anxious,because it was my first night race and the track condition was unstable. Ichecked the difference with Tamada on my pit board and controlled the pace.I am really happy that we won the race."

Team-mate Edwards was a very relieved man as Kato swept across thefinishing line to score their record breaking win. The Texan said: "Thiswin is more special than my two previous 8-hour wins, because we had adrama at the last stage. When it started to rain, I said to myself, 'I willgive ten years of my life, so please don't rain harder.' I was ready in thepit with my leather suits on, so that in case it rained harder, I couldride again. But rain stopped after few laps and Daijiro rode brilliantly. Iwant to thank him for the win."

The top three Honda's to finish had also dominated the Superpole qualifyingsession but it was Barros who started from pole for Sakurai Honda. Edwardswas second with Okada third. Akira Ryo (Suzuki) was fourth fastest, andlooked more than capable of causing and upset, should the VTR's falter atany time during the 8 hours.

"Team Manager Koji Koyano was full of praise for the way his riders hadhandled a tricky race.When it started to rain during the final stage, I was worried because thetrack condition was unstable. But the advantage we had before that workedout. Both the riders were brilliant today."

As the race got underway in scorching temperatures and high humidity it wasRyo who grabbed the lead from the Le Mans style start, heading the twoCabin Honda's, in the hands of lead off riders Tamada and Kato. The secondSuzuki, ridden by Keiichi Kitagawa, held fourth place from Yuichi Takeda,who had chosen to use different tires than the Cabin Honda riders.

Once the race pace for the first hour was established Tamada hit the frontwith Ryo in his wheel tracks, Kato in close attendance. But Kato setfastest lap of the session soon afterwards to relegate Ryo to third.Kitagawa slid off the second Suzuki mid-session elevating Takeda to fourthplace.

Kato handed team-mate Edwards the lead at the first changeover, exiting thepit ahead of Ryo and Okada. The heat and humidity was now intense and wasmatched by the action out on the track. The top three teams locked in afierce, no quarter asked or given duel.

At the three-hour mark the top three teams were still running in closeattendance, Kato, leading Ryo and Tamada. The Sakurai Honda of Barros andTakeda was now almost a lap down on the top three but they were clawingtheir way back into contention as the race progressed. They were back in achallenging after five hours and closing the gap on the leading trio, ledby the Edwards/Kato from Ryo/Kagayama and Okada/Tamada combinations.

After the changeovers around three-quarters race distance the Honda's wereto have the race to themselves, Kagayama touring back to the pits to retirethe stricken #7 factory Suzuki. Edwards and Kato had opened a one-minutelead over Okada/Tamada at this stage, Barros/Takeda closer to second place.

Into the final stages Edwards handed Kato a comfortable one minute lead atthe final change over, Barros inheriting an almost impossible two minutedeficit on the leaders from team-mate Takeda. The often unpredictableSuzuka weather brought late drama to the race. As darkness fell a suddenrain shower gave Kato's challengers increased confidence. Both Tamada andBarros began to eat into his lead but Kato, who had never raced in darknessat Suzuka, held his nerve and was rewarded when the light rain abated after10 minutes and the track began to dry.

He ran out a clear winner by 25 seconds, Barros crossing the line an equaldistance behind Tamada.

The ever-cheerful Tamada was not too disappointed with his race. The AllJapan Superbike star said: "During the first session, I was racing withDaijiro (my good friend) and it was great fun. When Daijiro went into thepit one lap before me, I waved " bye-bye, see you soon" to him. But afterthat I didn't have a chance to race with him and I felt sad. In the laterstage, there was a big difference between us and I knew something musthappen to close the gap, and I was hoping for the rain. But it rained foronly a brief period and I couldn't catch up, although I tried very hard.However, this was my first full 8-hour race ride and I gained goodexperience. I learned a lot from Okada San and that is the greatest resultfor me."

Okada was not as happy as his team-mate: "My pace was good till the lastsession, but was a little slow during my last ride so I said sorry toMakoto during the last pit-stop. Although we couldn't catch up the winner,Makoto was riding aggressively and I am happy with the result. Dunlopprepared us good tires and I want to thank them. This race was a goodlesson for me and if I have a chance again, I would like to take part inthe 8-hour race," commented Okada.Team Manager Kazuhiko Yamano had hoped for more from his team: He said ofthe team performance, "Although I am a little disappointed, because wewanted to win, I think Tamada and Okada tried their best and we did a goodrace. Before the last session, I told Tamada to keep going without cominginto the pit even if it rained. He pushed hard under the unstable conditionand closed the gap."

Koji Nakajima, General manager for the HRC factory team at the 8-hours, wasdelighted with the result. Nakajima said: "A 1-2 finish today wasfantastic. 6-pit stop tactics worked out and the fuel consumption rate wasbetter than we had expected. Tamada and Barros were catching up at thelater stage, but the advantage of the team worked out. Kato was cool andclever, although it was his first night race. Today, the lap times wereslower than we expected. But we are happy that the new record of 219 laps(previous record 217 laps, set last year) has been established."

"Above all, the riders who helped us to materialize the plan did a greatjob. The technologies we proved today will be adopted to other racingmachines and production models. As you know, one of the main aims of Hondato do racing is to gain technologies." The General Manager concluded.

Wataru Yoshikawa and Takeshi Tsujimura finished fourth for Team YSP RacingYamaha, two laps behind Edwards and Kato and three laps clear of theChallenger Yamaha team of Norihiko Fujiwara and Tekkyu Kayou in fifth. TheWeider Honda Automotive pairing of Osamu Deguchi and Hiroki Noda broughttheir VTR1000SP-2 Honda home in sixth place.

The Zongshen Suzuki World Endurance Championship regulars filled seventhand eighth places, nine laps down on the winning Honda's. Stephane Mertensand Warwick Nowland leading home team-mates Igor Jerman and Bruno Bonhuil.

Results:

1. Daijiro Kato - Colin Edwards J/USA Cabin Honda 219 laps2. Makoto Tamada - Tadayuki Okada J/J Cabin Honda 2193. Alex Barros - Yuichi Takeda Bra/J Sakurai Honda 2194. Wataru Yoshikawa - Takeshi Tsujimura J/J Yamaha 2175. Norihiko Fujiwara - Tekkyu Kayou J/J Yamaha 2146. Osamu Deguchi - Hiroki Noda J/J Weider Honda 2117.Stephane Mertens - Warwick Nowland B/AUS 2108.Bruno Bonhuil - Igor Jerman F/Slo Suzuki9. Makoto Tokinaga - Yasuhiko Sato J/J Yamaha 21010. Adam Ferguson - Steve Szoke AUS/AUS Suzuki 21011. Akira Tamitsuji - Yoshihiro Konno J/J Suzuki 20912. Yosinomi Takahashi - Naomichi Nakai J/J Kawasaki 20813. Hiroaki Kawase - Takatoshi Onishi J/J Suzuki 20814. Mitsuo Saito - Takahiro Fukami J/J Yamaha 20715. Yoshiyuki Sugai - Tomohiko Kawakami J/J CBR954RR Honda 207Fastest lap: Barros 2m 07.844s = 163.92km/h.
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