Suzuki keen to make podium return
Nine Suzukis will be lining up on the Suzuka 8 Hours grid, and some of them are openly targeting a podium finish.
The list of Japanese squads confirmed for the Suzuka 8 Hours includes the two Suzuki front-runners Yoshimura Suzuki Motul Racing and Team Kagayama.
Factory team Yoshimura Suzuki Motul Racing has claimed four wins at Suzuka: at the inaugural race in 1978, again in 1980 and, more recently, in 2007 and 2009. A regular podium finisher, Yoshimura Suzuki Motul Racing will once again field Takuya Tsuda, a stalwart of the team since 2013, and Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, the 2014 FIM Superbike world champion and a MotoGP test rider for Suzuki. This year they’ll be teaming up with either British Superbike racer Bradley Ray or Kasuki Watanabe to target a podium. Last year, the Suzuki #12 managed a superb climb back up to 7th place after crashing out in the early stages of the race.
Kagayama-Schwantz duo make their return
Created in 2013 by Yoshimura Suzuki Motul Racing’s former star rider Yukio Kagayama, Team Kagayama quickly became a key player at the Suzuka 8 Hours. Yukio claimed the podium’s third step for Team Kagayama alongside Kevin Schwantz and Noriyuki Haga at the squad’s Suzuka debut in 2013. He repeated the feat in 2014 with Noriyuki Haga and Dominique Aegerter, and in 2015 with Haga and Ryuichi Kiyonari. Having slipped back somewhat in the last two years (a 6th and 17th-place finish respectively), this year Yukio Kagayama will be riding the Suzuki #71 with Naomichi Uramoto and American Moto2 rider Joe Roberts, who is racing at Suzuka for the first time. Kevin Schwantz is back as team manager. Team Kagayama is the only one of the Japanese teams to be using Dunlop tyres.
Tommy Bridewell and Josh Waters on the grid
Another Suzuki-mounted Japanese team worth keeping an eye on is S-Pulse Dream Racing, whose team owner Hideyuki Ogata has recruited Tommy Bridewell. The British Superbike racer has raced the Suzuka 8 Hours on two occasions, finishing 10th with YART Yamaha in 2014. MotoMap Supply is another team to watch out for. Their line-up comprising Yoshihiro Konno, three-time Australian Superbike champion Josh Waters, and former MotoGP racer Nobuatsu Aoki finished 9th at Suzuka last year.
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team will also be lining up alongside all the Japanese Suzuki teams. Vincent Philippe, Etienne Masson and Gregg Black are determined to wind up their problematic 2017-2018 season on a positive note in Japan.
Another European Suzuki-mounted team at Suzuka, Team R2CL, will be fielding a line-up comprising South African Superbike champion Clinton Seller and Australian racers Aaron Morris and Billy McConnell.