Suzuka 8 Hours | Flawless Honda wins, Kawasaki second despite Jonathan Rea crash

HRC Honda has powered to a dominant victory in the 2022 Suzuka 8 Hours after seeing off the threat of WorldSBK Champions Kawasaki to defeat its arch rivals by more than a lap
HRC Honda - Suzuka 8 Hours
HRC Honda - Suzuka 8 Hours

2022 Suzuka 8 Hours - Full Results

An absorbing race that went against pre-event predictions but went exactly to the formbook of the weekend, while Kawasaki arrived with a world class trio holding 8 Suzuka wins between them, they were humbled by HRC Honda's fresh generation line-up of rookies Tetsuta Nagashima and Iker Lecuona, together with the experienced Takumi Takahashi.

Dubbed something of a grudge match between two decorated teams representing two of motorcycling’s biggest powerhouses, while Honda hasn’t posed much of a challenge to Kawasaki on the WorldSBK stage, on home soil around its Suzuka Circuit, HRC Honda - unlike its rivals - didn't put a single wheel wrong.

Instead, it was Jonathan Rea that cracked first after crashing just before the half-way mark as he attempted to claw back ground lost during an earlier safety car period that split the HRC and KRT bikes into separate groups, costing the latter 50 seconds in the process.

Though Rea quickly remounted and continued on, an extended pit-stop next time around to check for damage ultimately led to KRT being lapped, a buffer the #33 bike maintained to the chequered flag.

KRT brought it home for second place, though it was fortunate to recover the position after benefiting from a torrid final hour for the YART Yamaha squad, which suffered a catalogue of issues during the final hour to drop it from second to seventh at the flag.

As such, SERT Suzuki picked up the final podium spot in a welcome change of fortune for the defending champions following myriad issues in the run up to the race.

The FCC TSR Honda team - which raced on with just two riders following the accident that saw Gino Rea airlifted to hospital with serious injuries - came home tenth after a race hampered by technical issues.

Start of the Suzuka 8 Hours
Start of the Suzuka 8 Hours

Honda: The fast and the fortunate

While the smart money coming into the event was certainly on Kawasaki having strengthened its 2019 winning pair of Rea and Leon Haslam with the addiiton of three-time winner Alex Lowes, come race day it was hard to look past HRC Honda, whose inspired selection of Takahashi, Lecuona and especially Nagashima - in his first major race outing for more than 18 months - had left rivals in awe.

While Nagashima stole the headlines with his record-breaking series of laps in practice and qualifying, all three riders put in stints that made the difference over the course of the eight hours.

While Nagashima was originally listed to start the race from pole position, it was Takahashi that instead took to the Honda first, the Japanese rider using his experience to stay calm when he was beaten into the first turns by a brilliant Josh Hook - up from fourth on the FCC TSR Honda - and Leon Haslam on the KRT Kawasaki.

With the top trio Indulging in some scrappy sprint-style racing initially to back them into the chasing pack again, it meant they were extraordinarily lucky to escape being caught up in a spectacular incident just behind them involving fourth and fifth place Naomichi Uramoto on the SDG Honda and Terusuke Sakumoto on the Astemo Honda, 

Triggered by Sakumoto losing the front of his Fireblade on the run up to the long Spoon left-handers, his errant bike smacked into the rear-quarter of Uramoto's sister Honda, sending him spiralling off track and into the barriers. Despite the violence of the crash - which destroyed both bikes just four minutes into the race - neither rider was hurt.

After a protracted safety car period, Gregg Black on the SERT Suzuki - having already surged from 22nd to fourth by the end of lap two - rallied to briefly take the lead, but after five laps it was Takahashi and Haslam pulling away in a clear 1-2. From here, Takahashi began to make his break, steadily eking out his advantage to his BSB counterpart over the first hour, ending his stint with ten seconds in hand.

Handing over to Nagashima and Rea respectively, it was a chance to see whether the WorldSBK Champion’s superior experience in the Superbike discipline would take the momentum out of the ex-Moto2 rider's record-breaking single lap form.

Instead, Nagashima remained quicker of the two, ending his stint having swelled HRC's lead to 21secs over KRT as Iker Lecuona and Alex Lowes took up the fight.

It was during this third hour stint, however, that the nature of the lead fight changed when a second Safety Car period - to extinguish a fiery Yamaha at the second Degner corner - led to Lecuona being picked up by one car and Lowes another.

With Lowes’ Safety Car slowing up to collect the remaining riders onto the back of its train, it allowed a vast gap to open between the two packs. As such, having been running 25secs apart before the Safety Car, by the end of the caution Lecuona's advantage had multiplied to 1m 14secs.

A swing of almost 50secs at a crucial stage in the race, with Lowes unable to match Lecuona’s pace when racing did get underway, KRT promptly switched up its running order to get Rea back on the ZX-10RR for the next stint.

Kawasaki Racing Team - KRT - Suzuka 8 Hours
Kawasaki Racing Team - KRT - Suzuka 8 Hours

Jonathan Rea loses win but lucky to continue after crash

Versus Takahashi, Rea did indeed begin making in-roads into the lead, but his momentum would make him somewhat ragged leading to a tip off that all but assured Honda of victory - here's the full story of his performance at the Suzuka 8 Hours.

With the threat from Kawasaki neutered by the Safety Car and Rea's crash while trying to recover time, when Nagashima was able to catch and lap Haslam during his second stint, HRC Honda's race became less about its performance and more about nursing the Fireblade to the end.

Consequently, with that long lap advantage over its nearest rivals, it was an untroubled run to the chequered flag, with Nagashima - in his first major race outing since the end of 2020 - given the honour of taking the bike across the line. 

Completing a much-desired win for the new CBR1000RR-R Fireblade, it swelled Honda’s all-time record of 28 wins in 43 Suzuka 8 Hours events, even if this was its first since 2014. 

A third win for Takahashi, Lecuona celebrated his first with a flawless ride to join Carlos Checa and Pol Espargaro as the third Spaniard to clinch the famed title.

However, of the trio, it was Nagashima who emerged as the event's surprise package. Having busied himself with commentator duties for Japanese TV since walking away from Moto2 at the end of the 2020 season, while Nagashima's performance bore all the hallmarks of a seasoned domestic rider, this was in fact his first time competing at Suzuka and racing a Superbike.

YART Yamaha - Suzuka 8 Hours
YART Yamaha - Suzuka 8 Hours

Late heartache for YART gifts Suzuki podium

With HRC and KRT safely reaching the flag, the Suzuka 8 Hours saved a twist in the tail for the final hour with the hapless Yamaha Austria Racing Team the unfortunate victim of late fate this time.

Spurred on by the gritty efforts of riders Niccolo Canepa, Karel Hanika and Marvin Fritz, YART - the top Yamaha representative after Yamaha Factory Racing declined to enter this year - looked to be heading for a well deserved podium. This was despite a terrible start that saw R1 bog down initially when pulling away, dropping Canepa from third to 22nd on the opening lap - this was in complete contrast to SERT Suzuki that started 22nd and was fourth by the end of Lap 2.

However, YART swiftly fought its way back up to third by the end of the first hour and pulled clear of fourth place Suzuki, spending the next two stints lapping in a lonely third.

However, after the Safety Car pushed KRT slipped into its clutches, though YART wasn't close enough to strike when Rea had his crash, its longer stop during the next rider change cycle allowed the Austrian team to move into second place with two hours to go. Running out-of-sync with KRT in terms of pit stops, the two bikes kept leapfrogging each other without racing one another but with a 'red mist' Rea bearing down on Canepa during his final stint, YART's race began to unravel coming into the final hour.

First hampered by a sticking rear tyre change that cost it 30secs and second position to KRT, fifteen minutes later the R1 was deep into the barriers at the Spoon Curve after Marvin Fritz got tangled up with the Akeno Speed Yamaha. Extricating himself and the bike out of the air fence to get back to the pits, some rapid work by the YART crew got the bike back on course for the final stages, albeit now in seventh. 

Just to rub salt into the wounds, however, Karel Hanika - having recovered a position to sixth - was then given a stop-go penalty with 30mins remaining, dropping YART back to seventh where it would remain to the end.

With YART counting the cost of a horrid end to an otherwise excellent race, SERT Suzuki capitalised to secure a podium finish on what could be the manufacturer's final Suzuka 8 Hours in a factory capacity. A boosting result at the end of a tough week during which SERT's intended riders - Xavier Simeon and Sylvain Guintoli - were forced to withdraw, it was left to the hastily arranged pairing of rider coach Gregg Black and JSB1000 rider Kazuki Watanabe to score a solid result.

Suzuki also came out top of domestic battle with the S-Pulse Gixxer of Hideyuki Ogata, Atsumi Cocoro and Takuya Tsuda prevailing in a race-long tussle for fourth against the Ryuichi Kiyonari-anchored Toho Honda.

Sakurai Honda inherited sixth from YART late on, ahead of the Kodama Yamaha in eighth and the ATJ Honda in ninth.

A beleaguered FCC TSR France Honda rounded out the top ten with Hook and Mike di Meglio valiantly splitting the stints between themselves in the absence of Rea, whose condition remains unclear following the accident that knocked him unconscious during Saturday’s FP2.

With riders sending a show of solidarity to Rea on the grid before the race, Hook offered up the perfect well-wish as the quickest sprinter to get into the lead at Turn 1. Shuffled down to fifth over the course of the first hour, the Fireblade began to hit problems during the second hour to trigger the first of a few extended periods in the pit-lane that dropped it out of contention.

Nevertheless, the Australian-French duo clawed their way back into the top ten during the final hour for a hard fought single point. FCC TSR Honda at least fared better than the 16th place SRC Kawasaki, which never recovered from laps lost fixing damage sustained early on when Randy de Puniet took a spill just 30mins into the race.

BMW’s first factory-backed Suzuka 8 Hours effort, meanwhile, flopped as the Dunlop-shod M 1000 RR struggled for pace against a Bridgestone-heavy field before retiring with technical issue while down in ninth midway through the race.

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