Pata Honda WSBK star Leon Haslam and title leading WSS team-mate Michael van der Mark claimed victory in Sunday's Suzuka 8 Hours for the second year running.
Joined by Takumi Takahashi at the MuSashi Harc-Pro Honda team, the trio won a rain shortened race, which saw the start delayed by one hour. Further rain fell during the race and a number of crashes brought out the pace car no fewer than four times.
One of those crashes befell race leader Kosuke Akiyoshi of the FCC TSR squad, winner of the 2012 race with Haslam's team-mate Jonathan Rea.
Rea was again riding for the FCC team and it was the second year in succession that Rea has watched a team-mate crash out of a healthy lead at Suzuka - Ryuichi Kiyonari falling in 2013.
Remarkably, Akiyoshi managed to return his Fireblade to the pits, despite fracturing his femur in the crash. The FCC team managed to repair the machine and draft in another Pata Honda rider - VD Mark's team-mate Lorenzo Zanetti, reserve rider for the team. But the damage was done and the pair brought the bike home in 40th.
“It's difficult to know what to say apart from how disappointing this is,” said Rea. “Akiyoshi did an amazing job to get the bike back to the pits and that allowed us to get out again but we knew there wasn't much we could do. But, as I said earlier: 'You win if you can, lose if you must, but you never quit'.”
Meanwhile, VD Mark had passed Yoshimura Suzuki's Randy de Puniet to take second place at around half race distance - which then became first place when Akiyoshi crashed out.
The team's lead was one minute by the time his team-mate Takahashi took the chequered flag after just under seven hours of racing. VD Mark and Haslam thus celebrated their second successive win with Takahashi, for whom it was a third Suzuka 8 Hour victory.
“Usually I enjoy my riding but for this time I felt pressure not to crash or not to make any mistakes,” admitted Haslam. “The team did a fantastic job and the pit-stops were very neat and quick. Michael was super-fast and Takumi was Mr. Consistent in his stints! I was really nervous watching him at the end, but he made it for our second win in a row.”
VD Mark added: “Amazing feeling! I was ready for the third hour but it start raining and team decided to go with Takumi in the rain because he has more experience. The fourth hour was for me and I got faster and faster with a steady pace and rhythm. The bike worked perfect, the team did an amazing job. My last stint was at a really good pace and I could ride quite easily. To be here again in my second year is amazing feeling. We did it all together.”
Joining them on the podium were the Yoshimura Suzuki squad of de Puniet, Waters and Tsuda, plus third placed Team Kagayama (Kagayama, Haga and Aegerter).
Fresh from his debut BSB victory, Waters had tried his hardest to hunt-down the race leaders Musashi Harc-Pro in the final laps: “It was really crazy weather conditions; sunny and then heavy rain. It was totally unpredictable throughout the race, lots of Safety Cars but I am sure we did our best today.”
Kagayama felt that the safety cars had been the correct call.
"I am really happy with the great support from the fans we've had today and I would like to say thank you to the organisers for all their hard work and arrangement of safety cars to keep a high-level of safety for the sport," he said. "I planned to take Noriyuki to the podium and Dominique did a great job his first race here, and I'm pleased we invited him to join us. Thanks also to our great staff!”
WSBK legend Haga stated: "Before the race, I was told I'd only race one stint, so was a little disappointed, but it meant I could fully concentrate on my stint. I am very happy with my team mates' effort and that we got the podium. The atmosphere in the team is very nice, I really enjoyed it, so thanks to everyone."
The high profile Legend of Yoshimura Suzuki team, comprising Kevin Schwantz, Nobuatsu Aoki and Satoshi Tsujimoto retired after just a handful of laps.