What’s at stake for the FIM EWC at Suzuka
64 teams are expected to compete in the Suzuka 8 Hours Grand Finale on 29 July. Japanese factory bikes and privateer teams will line up alongside 9 of the leading 2017-2018 FIM EWC permanent squads.
The Japanese teams are already jostling for position, having announced top-notch line-ups all aiming for the Suzuka 8 Hours win. Nine of the permanent squads racing the entire championship will also be on the starting grid, not just to claim a podium spot but also to defend their place in the 2017-2018 FIM EWC standings at the last race of the season: the Suzuka 8 Hours Grand Finale.
The most closely watched of these teams is F.C.C. TSR Honda France, the current leader of the provisional standings after two wins this season at the 24 Heures Motos and the 8 Hours of Oschersleben. F.C.C. TSR Honda France are the first-ever Japanese team with a real shot at the endurance world title, and they’ll be playing this final round at home. Having already notched up three prior Suzuka 8 Hours wins and finished 3rd last year in Japan, the Honda #5 with Freddy Foray, Josh Hook and Alan Techer in the saddle will of course be aiming for the top step of the Suzuka podium, but their main goal is to wrest the world title from GMT94 Yamaha.
The quest for top spot on the championship podium
The French Yamaha team – the reigning FIM EWC champions – will be defending their title with the same rider trio who finished 11th at Suzuka last year: David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Mike Di Meglio. GMT94 Yamaha started the season with a win at the Bol d’Or and are determined to close the 10-point gap separating them from F.C.C. TSR Honda France in the provisional standings at Suzuka.
Honda Endurance Racing, currently sitting in 3rd position 37 points behind the leader, also have a real chance to shine. However, they will have to do without Gregory Leblanc, who has sustained a back injury while riding. The British Honda squad need to find a top-level teammate for Sébastien Gimbert and Erwan Nigon.
A BMW duel in the offing
Two BMWs are neck and neck in the championship standings: Mercury Racing and NRT48. Czech team Mercury Racing, who finished 47th at the Suzuka 8 Hours last year, have yet to announce their line-up. It is unsure whether Karel Hanika will race with his broken collarbone. German squad NRT48 are fielding a line-up comprising Kenny Foray, Peter Hickman and Julien Da Costa: a first for them. Their goal is to close the 2-point gap separating them from Mercury Racing and make it into the Top 5 to be the best BMW team of the 2017-2018 FIM EWC.
Hoping to end on a positive note
After being dogged by braking problems all season, Suzuki Endurance Racing Team will be going all out to climb back up the championship standings, so it will be worth watching how Vincent Philippe, Etienne Masson and Gregg Black fare on the Suzuki #2. The French team have 15 world titles to their credit. They finished at the foot of the Suzuka podium in 2015 and 2013 and feature on the roster of winners, having won the Suzuka 8 Hours in 1983.
Another squad keen to wind up the season with a good result are Bolliger Team Switzerland (Roman Stamm, Robin Mulhauser and Sébastien Suchet). The all-Swiss team have regularly been among the Top 15 at the finish of the Suzuka 8 Hours.
YART Yamaha seeking to pull off a coup
Currently 13th in the championship standings after scoring zero points at two races (the Bol d’Or and the 24 Heures Motos), YART Yamaha are looking to pull off a coup at Suzuka. The Austrian team placed 5th last year and 4th in 2016, and riders Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz and Takuya Fujita aim to be among the leading pack. Like Yamaha Factory Racing Team, YART Yamaha’s sole aim is the Suzuka win.
Motobox Kremer Racing, currently 18th in the championship standings, is no stranger to the Suzuka 8 Hours. The German privateer team has competed at Suzuka since 2013 and finished the race every year in 27th to 30th place.
Some of these teams will be at the test sessions on the Suzuka circuit on 5-6 July and 10-12 July. The official tests for the 41st Suzuka 8 Hours get underway on 27 July.