1996 Suzuka 8 Hours Report: The Chips Fall Colin Edwards’ Way At Suzuka

“We both have nuts, so it worked out all right!”


From the Tracy Hagen archives:

The monkey is now off of his back: Colin Edwards II finally scored
a major win in international roadracing, and in the biggest way
possible by being victorious in the prestigious Coca-Cola Suzuka 8
Hours endurance race, the fourth round of the FIM endurance
championship.

Edwards’s co-rider in the race was an up-and-coming Japanese rider
named Noriyuki Haga. Haga is in his third season of racing
Superbikes in Japan, and was ranked ninth in the 1994 season, and
tenth in ’95. His name, along with Edwards’s name, will be
remembered by Japanese fans for years to come.

The 22 year old Edwards and the 21 year old Haga are the youngest
winners ever in the nineteen times the race has been held. They
also set a new record for distance at 214 laps, improving the old
record by two, set by Aaron Slight and Tadyuki Okada in 1995.

“Yeah, me and him teamed together, two of a kind,” Edwards
exclaimed from the victory podium. “We both have nuts, so it
worked out all right!”

Kawasaki’s World Superbike riders and number one team for Suzuka,
Anthony Gobert and Simon Crafar, finished a respectable second.
Their ZX-7RR also completed 214 laps, and finished one minute, nine
seconds behind Edwards and Haga.

Third place went to a pair of reigning Superbike champions, Carl
Fogarty from World Superbike series, and Takuma Aoki from the All
Japan series. They had the race under control and an excellent
shot at winning, but near the end of Fogarty’s second outing the
front end washed out at the slow Hairpin curve, and Fogarty lost
about one full lap in the process of crashing and recovering the
bike.

Suzuka 8 Hours races tend to follow one of two scripts: one is
where the top bikes are evenly matched, but the two co-riders are
not, resulting in numerous lead swapping and a race with a good
deal of ebb and flow. The other script is where the teams tend to
run their own race, at their own pace, and brain fade induced
crashing creeps in. The former creates classic and nearly
incomprehensible drama, such as the 1991 and 1994 races. The
latter is more like a soccer match, with sometimes long and tedious
action punctuated by an occasional, “craaaassshhh!!!!”

This year’s script was the latter, yet that should not be
misconstrued as being boring. It certainly wasn’t for the riders.

In addition to Fogarty’s crash, other big guns to fall included the
current King of Suzuka himself, Aaron Slight, the three time and
defending event champion. Slight broke one, possibly two, toes on
his left foot, but was still committing himself to racing the World
Superbike round at Brands Hatch, England, coming up in less than a
week.

Reigning American Superbike champion Miguel DuHamel’s partner Tohru
Ukawa, the reigning All Japan 250 Grand Prix champion and now world
GP 250 rider, was punted by a backmarker in the fifth hour, and the
team’s effort was set back about three laps as a result.

In fact, all four of Honda’s factory prepared RC45s went down,
Satoshi Tsujimoto taking a fall in the gravel trap outside of the
chicane early in his first ride on the bike.

Yamaha put two out of the three factory YZF750s on the Suzuka
Circuit crash truck, too. Noriyuki Haga’s older brother Kensuke
slid off just before the end of the first hour, and Edwards’s World
Superbike teammate Wataru Yoshikawa crashed in the second hour, and
the bike caught fire.

The top Suzuki team of Scott Russell and Terry Rymer also found
their way into the gravel, but Rymer’s fall was brought caused by
an engine that overheated and seized in the fourth hour. The team
was not overly depressed on dropping out, because their Suzuki,
like the other Suzukis, was never handling quite right, nor had the
horsepower, nor had the fuel economy.

The Kawasaki team had the best overall showing, with the three gear
driven cam engine factory bikes finishing in the top five
positions. Three out of the four semi-factory Kawasakis also
finished the race.

Practice – Thursday, July 25

The timing and scoring equipment was not up and running until the
afternoon, when the track is always hotter and a bit slower. Even
with the timing equipment on hand, sorting out the times can be a
challenge, since both riders are allowed to practice during a
session. With frequent pitting to work out compromises on
settings, keeping track of who was on the bike when each time is
posted can be an overwhelming task for an observer.

At any rate, the times from practice indicated that the top level
riders were ready, willing, and able to post top level times, with
Gobert and Crafar topping the charts.

Machine Rider 1 Rider 2 Time
1 ZX-7RR Anthony Gobert Simon Crafar 2:11.165
2 RC45 Aaron Slight Tadayuki Okada 2:11.707
3 GSXR750 Scott Russell Terry Rymer 2:11.782
4 YZF750 Colin Edwards II Noriyuki Haga 2:12.052
5 YZF750 Toshiko Honma Kensuke Haga 2:12.254
6 RC45 Carl Fogarty Takuma Aoki 2:12.345
7 GSXR750 Katsuaki Fujiwara Keiichi Kitagawa 2:12.785
8 RC45 Shinichi Itoh Satoshi Tsujimoto 2:13.083
9 GSXR750 Akira Yanagawa Shinya Takeishi 2:13.511
10 YZF750 Wataru Yoshikawa Norihiko Fujiwara 2:13.663
11 ZX7RR Shoichi Tsukamoto Akira Ryo 2:13.726
12 GSXR750 Tamaki Serizawa Toshiyuki Hamaguchi 2:13.847
13 RC45 Miguel DuHamel Toru Ukawa 2:13.851
14 RC45 Michio Izumi Shuya Arai 2:13.890
15 RC45 Nobuatsu Aoki Haruchika Aoki 2:14.504
16 GSXR750 Kirk McCarthy John Reynolds 2:14.560

The fast time by Gobert and Crafar was done by Gobert, who
polesitter from the 1995 race, and he was pleased with how things
were starting off.

“I only wanted to put on first position, I didn’t expect it to be
that low of a time, ’cause there was a lot of oil out on the
circuit. Now it makes me feel more confident I can put a time out
in the 10’s, high 10’s, for this one lap flier on Saturday.”

“We did a test here last week, and we made a few changes, minor
changes to the way Simon rode the bike at the 200K race (in June).
Really, the bike hasn’t changed much, I just felt comfortable on
it, straightaway.”

Surprisingly, the Gobert and Crafar pairing was working together
rather efficiently, as the bold talking Gobert is the antithesis of
the soft-spoken Crafar. Yet when it came to setting up the bike,
little compromising was needed, as Gobert continued.

“To be honest, I didn’t really know how it would be with Simon,
’cause he seems to change the bike between World Superbike races,
where I tend to sort of leave it alone; I tend to ride it. Mainly
because of my lack of experience, I don’t really know much about
suspensions.”

“It’s been good working with Simon. I’ve been learning quite a bit
as we go along. We’ve just made minor changes to the front end of
the machine. We tried some different rear end settings which
didn’t really seem to benefit us, so we went to the original ones.
we’ve just been changing the front, just mainly some pre-load and
a little bit of oil.”

Gobert was also quite confident of the Kawasaki’s capability in the
8 Hours, but as the weekend wore on, Gobert slowly modified his
position on the subject. On Thursday, all was fine, according to
Gobert.

“I think the Hondas are maybe a little bit faster, otherwise we
seem to be a fairly quick motorcycle here at Suzuka. Our machine
is competitive, I think its well and truly capable to win the race.
It’s got good power, it’s smooth off the turns, so it doesn’t want
to spin the tire too much, and it’s quite comfortable when it
does.”

Aaron Slight, who was second quickest with partner Okada,
completely disagreed with Gobert’s claim of the Hondas having extra
power.

“Boo hoo. It feels pretty good, but it’s a lot slower than our
Superbike – which they all are. We’ve done a lot of testing and I
hope my bike is fast. The other bikes are all carbureted, and ours
are fuel injected, so I hope it’s more fuel efficient than theirs.
That’s what this track is all about – getting to the hour mark so
you can do just seven stops. We should be able to run a bit richer
than they can and we should have the speed.”

“Coming off the corners is pretty bad, though. All you can do is
compare it to the Superbike, but it’s really bad off the corners.
Just nothing. Flat.”

Slight was more pleased with progress in finding a good compromise
with the settings between himself and Okada.

“It’s probably the best year I’ve ever had. I tested early in the
year and got my settings, and for a fast time I did a 2:09. Then
Okada came over for two days and tested, and didn’t even change a
click. He came back last week and had more of a fiddle. I’m very
happy with how the guys put the bike together, ’cause usually the
first day is just a complete disaster, you know.”

Third quickest was Scott Russell on the Lucky Strike Suzuki. It
was the same bike that Scott rode to second place in the Daytona
200 – or so he was told.

“It’s the same bike as Daytona, it’s set-up similar – it doesn’t
feel as fast, feels a bit slower. They probably detuned it for
fuel mileage and what have you, make it last and whatever. It’s an
endurance engine, where the Daytona was a sprint motor. Chassis
feels a little bit better, I think, than it did at Daytona. Still,
the bike needs a lot of ironing out. The World superbike guys have
been struggling all year, and I don’t think they’ve made that much
headway with it, to be honest with you. Other than that, nobody’s
been developing the bike, so it leaves it for us to race it one
time at Daytona, and then come back here and race it again.”

Colin Edwards II and Noriyuki Haga posted the fourth fastest time,
and it looked to be a promising pairing. Edwards was not riding
together with his World Superbike teammate, Waturu Yoshikawa, as he
explained.

“It was suppose to be me and Yoshikawa, the other World Superbike
Yamaha rider, to run together. When I came to the test (in May),
I knew my style and his style weren’t the same. I saw Noriyuki
here, sliding the rear, and kinda doing the same stuff I was doing,
from following him. That’s when I asked the Yamaha guys to put us
together.”

Sixth was Fogarty and Aoki. In addition to being a two-time World
Superbike champion, Fogarty is also a former endurance world
champion. The Suzuka 8 Hours is the only major endurance race he
was not won, his best finish was third in 1991, with Steve Hislop.
His teammate’s best finish ever in the 8 Hours was also a third,
when Aoki teamed with Mike Smith. But unlike the other Castrol
World Superbike rider, Aaron Slight, Fogarty was having a tough go
at finding a compromise on the bike set-up with Aoki.

“We’re struggling with a little bit of everything at the moment.
When we came here and tested, I was quite happy with that. Then we
came back, and then we tried to get a compromise between me and my
teammate is a bit difficult at the moment.”

“I feel that if I had my bike here from world Superbike, I would go
a lot better. Maybe it’s just the way the things feel, nothing
seems to be flowing very good at the moment.”

“It doesn’t feel as quick as my World Superbike. That’s what’s
amazing. It feels very flat, y’know. Maybe it’s because it’s an
endurance bike with a starter motor. It doesn’t feel that good
coming off the corners. Top speed’s okay, though.”

Miguel DuHamel and his teammate clocked the thirteenth best time.
For fans of the AMA champion, the news was worse than this, as
DuHamel’s teammate was the one setting the quick times. DuHamel
was running about a second slower, and an ironic fact given that he
was regarded as the Superbike expert on the team, whereas his
teammate is a GP 250 rider that only rides Superbikes once a year,
at the 8 Hours.

“My best time I think was 2:14.6. I wish I could put more blame on
the crash at Laguna Seca. The Michelin tires are a little bit
different, the bike’s a little bit different. Those things makes
it hard to get comfortable. You’ve got to get comfortable to let
it rip. It’s a long track, and when you’re off a little bit, a
little slow, it adds up before the lap is over.”

“I think we can’t complain, ’cause we got some of the fastest bikes
here. I think on top end we are with anybody.”

Qualifying – Friday, July 26

For timed qualifying at Suzuka, every rider is scheduled in a half-
hour session on Friday morning, and then again in the afternoon.
Although it’s called qualifying, for the top riders the sessions
are basically practice sessions. The only things that are decided
by qualifying sessions are which of the slow teams that are too
slow to meet the 115 percent lap time rule, and who are the top
thirty teams for the Special Stage session on Saturday.

The teams are split into an A group and a B group, and the final
qualifying order is based on an A-B-A-B-A-B order, or a B-A-B-A-B-A
order, depending on which group had the overall fastest rider. In
other words, even though every lap of every rider was timed, the
qualifying results are assembled as if the sessions were heat
races.

As on the day before, the fast team was Gobert and Crafar. Gobert
was timed at 2:10.427 in the morning, and 2:11.346 in the
afternoon, and was easily the fastest man of the day.

“We changed the set-up of the bike in this afternoon. It didn’t
really make it any better – made it worse, actually. It wasn’t
very smooth in the sharper turns in the circuit, like the S bends
and the hairpin. And in the faster turns, we just tried to make
the front end a little bit stiffer so I could brake a little bit
deeper in the chicane and near the hairpin. But I really must of
suffered elsewhere around the circuit, so I think that’s the only
reason why we’re a bit slower this afternoon.”

“I’ve been working a set-up for (the special stage and for the
race). I’ve been working on a set-up for the one lap flier, I want
to try to get on pole position. I think we’ve got a good set-up,
so hopefully we’ll do that.”

Gobert’s teammate Crafar was also upbeat about their results thus
far.

“It’s amazing, in qualifying especially, we just walked through.
The thing I’m most happy with is the setting of the bike – we both
like it the same. Just move the handlebars around a little bit for
each other, a little compromise there, but basically we like the
bike the same.”

Edwards was an impressive second fastest, with times of 2:10.819 in
the morning, and 2:12.312 in the afternoon.

“It’s good, you know. I think, in all, there’s three of us that
are in the 10’s – Gobert, Okada, and me.”

“Testing has definitely paid off. We’ve been here twice, and we’ve
done a 10.3 around here, and a 10.8 today, being as hot as it was,
is good – it’s perfect.”

“As far as a race pace, I wouldn’t look for 10’s, I wouldn’t really
even look for 11’s. Maybe the first ten laps, 11.8 and 11.5’s –
maybe. I think the race pace will be 12.2 to 12.5 – that’ll win
it.”

“Handling wise, I’m alright. Today, with the temperature going up,
and the tire working a little bit differently, we’ve developed a
little bit of a chatter, but we’ll get that fixed tonight. I’m not
really worried about it.”

“Of course, compared to our Superbike, our Superbike has got loads
(more power) over this thing. But this one has got to run an hour
for fuel economy.”

“We’re just going to run the race set-up in the special stage. The
10.8 I did was on a race tire, that was just a fresh race tire. We
had a qualifier – I went out on the qualifier, and I hated it,
right off the bat. It didn’t work for me. I came right in, put
another race tire on it, went out, and did 2:10.8.”

Slight and Okada were third quickest, Okada being marginally faster
than Slight. Okada’s morning and afternoon times were 2:10.752 and
2:11.116, respectively, and Slight’s were 2:11.356 and 2:11.057.

“I spent the afternoon session testing changes to the front
suspension,” Slight said. “I like the forks hard so I can brake
really hard, but Tady doesn’t like them like that, so it’s a
compromise situation. Both mine and Tady’s only problem is the
tire choice for the race. Last year we ran a different compound
tire for each of us, and we’ve been considering that for this
year’s race.”

Okada concurred with Slight’s assessment.

“We’ll decide on which compound race tire on Saturday. At the
moment I still need to sort out the front suspension, and I’ll be
testing a different setting during Friday evening’s night practice.
I was very happy with my Friday morning time, but I had backmarkers
in my way during the Friday afternoon session.”

Fourth fastest were the Kawasaki ZX-7RR team of Tsukamoto and Ryo
at 2:11.119, and fifth fastest were the Honda of Itoh and
Tsujimoto, 2:11.257.

Fogarty and Aoki were sixth fastest, with Aoki producing the
quicker lap times; 2:11.324 in the morning, 2:11.727 in the
afternoon. Fogarty, for comparison, was at 2:12.501 and 2:12.100,
respectively.

“It’s difficult, really. We don’t seem to have that much practice
to do things, y’know. He’s (teammate Takuma Aoki) obviously been
testing a lot around here, and the bike is more to his liking than
mine. I’m not too worried about it that much. I think if it was
my territory, I’d have the bike different. I would have a longer
swingarm, and I think that would suit me a little better. I would
get more grip in the middle of the corners. That’s the problem for
me at the moment – I’m just sliding all over the place before I
even get on the power, y’know. It’s just a nightmare.”

“(Takuma) runs a shorter swingarm, and a high rear. For me, I’m
trying to carry it through the corners fast, and I’m just breaking
traction everywhere, y’know – it’s terrible, really.”

“Exiting the corners, it’s not too bad. But trying to run through
the corners quick like I do, I’m just breaking traction everywhere.
I think last time (we tested here), we had a long swingarm, and I
did a 10.8.”

Fogarty also had a definite opinion on the Special Stage attack lap
scheduled for Saturday morning.

“I can’t really get into all this sort of nonsense, y’know what I
mean? It’s an eight hour endurance race. I can’t get into
thinking that I’ve got to get on pole, even for a World Superbike
race and all that. It seems to be a bit of a waste of time,
really.”

Seventh best were the Lucky Strike Suzuki riders of Fujiwara and
Kitagawa and 2:11.489, followed by the second Lucky Strike bike of
Russell and Rymer. Russell’s times were 2:12.299 in the morning,
and 2:12.249 in the afternoon, and Rymer’s were 2:13.150 and
2:12.733.

“Mainly, we started with two different motorcycle set-ups, we
probably spent more time on that than we should have,” Russell
said. “We were looking for the best set-up, and we probably spent
more time to find that than we normally would – but that’s okay.”

“Terry (Rymer) tested it once. He came over here with a load of
Japanese that don’t speak English. It was like, well, “why
bother?” One of those deals. Didn’t get anything done there, and
I have tested it at all.”

“This is a race that I’m not really that concerned about. I’m
really not focused on it that much. It’s part of the contract,
that’s why I’m here.”

Russell shared the same opinion as Fogarty regarding the Special
Stage.

“We don’t give a shit about the Special Stage. That means nothing
to me, or Terry, I think. It just doesn’t matter, you know. Our
bike’s clearly down on horsepower compared to the Honda. I don’t
think the Kawasaki is any faster than ours – Gobert’s just riding
it well. Our bike neither has horsepower, nor is the chassis
really where we want it yet.”

“So for us, we are just working on the race set-up, a consistent
pace. I mean, the 10’s the 11’s – you’re not going to see a lot of
those come Sunday.”

Ninth and tenth were the other two factory Yamahas, Honma and Haga
at 2:11.506, and Yoshikawa and Fujiwara at 2:12.400.

DuHamel and Ukawa qualified thirteenth at 2:11.992. DuHamel’s best
time was a 2:13.273, and was growing more perplexed as the weekend
wore on.

“I just haven’t been able to find a set-up that pleases me around
this course, which is a difficult course, a very technical course.
The bike’s not feeling right. I’m obviously very frustrated with
my lap times, but I’m also very pleased that I’ve finally been able
to stamp in my sub-conscious as well as my conscious that if
something’s not right, you don’t push it. If you push it – look at
Laguna Seca: you try to make up for it, and you crash.”

“We’re trying to do a compromise. We don’t have the set-up on the
bike that we would like to have. I mean, Al (Ludington) and Ray
(Plumb) are here, but they are bored out of their skulls, because
they can’t do nothing. So we’re limited to a certain extent. And
in racing, your point-of-view carries as much weight as depending
on your lap times. Obviously, I’m having trouble, and Ukawa is
going faster. He’s a typical Japanese racer who will never
complain, unless you take the front wheel off.”

Doug Polen qualified 29th on the Suzuki GSXR750 he shared with
Frenchman Eric Gomez. Polen’s times were 2:14.340 in the morning,
and 2:14.145 in the afternoon, and were better than Gomez’s by two
to three seconds.

“We’re searching right now for a good chassis set-up, right now we
don’t have one. It’s pushing wide, everywhere. Every corner – it
doesn’t matter where. The fast ones are the worst. Even the tight
ones, it won’t hold a tight line. Can’t accelerate off the corner,
the thing wants to run wide. There are a lot of other bikes out
there that are holding the line and accelerate quite well.”

“The power’s not great, but I wouldn’t say that’s really the major
problem at this point. If we could get the thing to hook up and
run around the corner on a rail, the acceleration would be better
off the corner anyway, ’cause we’d be carrying more corner speed.
So that’s the problem, I think, at this point.”

Special Stage – Saturday, July 27

The Special Stage always makes for an entertaining show, but using
it to set the grid is a bit like requiring all entrants in the
Boston Marathon to run the 100 yard hurdles to determine how good
of a distance runner they are. The Special Stage doesn’t make a
whole lot of sense, but it is a crowd pleaser, and thus probably is
here to stay. Like the Umbrella Girls.

The rules are simple. The top thirty teams from qualifying send
their slower rider out for warm-up lap, a timed flying “Attack
Lap,” and then a cool-down. After running through all of the
slower riders, the whole procedure is repeated with the faster
riders.

Last year’s Special Stage winner, Gobert, was favored to repeat
based on his consistently quick lap times from practice and
qualifying. Gobert was upstaged by Slight and three Japanese
riders this year, but was at no loss for words on explaining why
things were they way they were, and if they had been the same for
him, well, then, for sure a track record would have been set,
without question, no doubt about it, and so on and so forth.

But it was Slight that had the lowest overall Attack Lap time, an
impressive time of 2:10.386 and within a blink of the Superbike lap
record of 2:10.278 set by Katsuaki Fujiwara on a Kawasaki ZXR750 on
November 11 of last year.

Slight’s lap was smooth and steady, and he was able to get an
excellent albeit a wide drive out of the exit of Spoon Curve, a
critical part of the track for lap time.

“That lap wasn’t very quick,” Slight claimed in the press
conference. “I had a couple of points where it chattered. I think
it could have been a little bit better, but that’s all we needed,
so I’m very happy.”

“I wasn’t trying to get pole,” Slight confided. “I wanted to get
a good set-up between Okada and myself.”

Ironically, through practice and qualifying it was usually Okada
that was the faster of the two. Okada certainly look as if he was
giving the bike as much throttle as it could absorb, with the bike
wobbling through Dunlop Curve and leaving a long darkie out of
Spoon. However, Okada’s time was slower than Slight’s, a 2:10.441,
but good enough for second best.

“This year we worked a lot closer on the settings, and now we have
something in between, so we can both go fast. That’s why the lap
times are so even,” Slight said.

Third quickest was Honda’s Shinichi Itoh at 2:10.707, and fourth
was Yamaha’s Kensuke Haga at 2:10.761. Like Slight, Haga went
right to the edge of the track at Spoon Curve, which allows the
rider to carry the maximum amount of speed down the back straight,
the fastest section of the race track.

Gobert, the last rider on the course, left the Special Stage with
the fifth best time at 2:10.834, an improvement of his time of
2:11.173 from 1995. Gobert used every inch of the track, taking
Dunlop and Degner Curves as wide as possible, running wide through
the sweeping right-handers after the Hairpin, and pushing the limit
through Spoon. Gobert had plenty to say about his performance
afterwards in the press conference.

“I almost high-sided coming (out of Spoon Curve), and it affected
the speed coming down the back straightaway, it probably cost us a
little bit of time, but that wasn’t the main problem. I sort of
rode to stay on the machine, and I think we could have done a low
10, I was riding at that pace, but that didn’t help any. I was
sort of a little bit easy in some of the corners because I was
pushing the front quite a bit. So I wasn’t surprised to have done
a high 10. To be honest, I think that slide coming out on to the
straight really affected our lap time. The Kawasaki has been quite
a bit down on horsepower compared to the Honda and the Yamaha. And
also this morning (in Slight’s session), the track temperature was
quite a bit lower than what it was (when I was out), so we were
sliding around quite a bit because of our lack of horsepower, we
have to make it up so much in the corners. Due to the heat, we
were sliding around more than we expected, and we couldn’t carry
the corner speed we would have liked to, to do a high 9. I still
feel it’s possible to do a high 9 around here, and we’ll just wait
and see in the race.”

Slight made no effort to conceal his amazement at Gobert’s gift for
gabbing, and was shaking his head left to right while looking at
the ceiling and then the table top while Gobert chatted away.

When the riders were asked whether or not they had used qualifying
tires in the Special Stage, every Michelin rider had admitted to
fitting soft rear tires. Gobert then claimed that his Dunlops were
his race compound tires, and that there were no Dunlop qualifying
tires at Suzuka since Dunlop forgot to bring them, and if Aaron
Slight doesn’t believe any of this, then Slight can check with the
Dunlop guys, who will confirm this.

Takuma Aoki was sixth fastest, 2:10.862, and rode a nearly
identical line to Gobert, exiting every corner out to the very edge
of the track, and maybe a bit more.

Crafar was next, the last man in the 10’s with a time of 2:10.986.
Crafar had a very good lap going until the rear wheel got out too
far on the exit of Spoon Curve, and he had no choice but to feather
the throttle where many other riders had it against the stop.

Noriyuki Haga was eighth fastest at 2:11.013, and felt he could
have gone quicker if he had not slid the rear tire so much through
the S Curves and Dunlop Curve.

Tenth was Kawasaki’s Akira Ryo at 2:11.045. Ryo had the bike on
the wide line path, but had some tiny wobbles through Spoon, and
later was on the curbs in the chicane.

Edwards time of 2:11.468, eleventh best, was more than a half-
second slower than his best time in qualifying. Most of the area
where Edwards lost time was in the demanding front half of the
circuit, later Edwards wished he would have opted for a softer
front tire. Still, it was a time to be happy with, and it was done
with the “T” bike, rather than the better race bike.

Katsuaki Fujiwara was the first Suzuki at 2:11.621, and then came
Fogarty at 2:12.684. The Fogarty’s Honda would get twitchy
whenever it went through center as he flicked from one side to the
other, in contrast to the well-behaved appearance when the Honda
was ridden by Aoki, and Fogarty had a minor slide at Dunlop.

“It really just won’t settle down, and I can’t find any grip.
That’s a problem, really. Last time I was here, I had the long
swinging arm. I could change directions, and it wasn’t as
unstable. For me, I got to get the bike more stable, but that’s
not possible now. It’s got too long in the day. but I’m not
really that worried about it. It’s more (Aoki’s) race than my
race. I’m just here to make the numbers, really.”

Russell was seventeenth fastest at 2:11.969, which was within a
couple hundredths of a second to the lap time he ran on the
Kawasaki ZXR750R two years ago in the Special Stage. Russell
looked to be trying hard at the beginning of the lap, but the Lucky
Strike Suzuki was sliding badly through the S Curves and Dunlop,
and it looked impossibly to hustle the Suzuki around Suzuka
quickly.

“I was just cruising, man. I had a little bit of out-of-the-saddle
(in the S Curves), and I thought, ‘ah, what the hell, I’m just
going to have fun and just hammer it.’ Then it got loose around
Dunlop. I knew I wasn’t going to sit on the pole, there was no
way, so I accepted that. If you are not going to sit on the pole,
well, then, who cares? I reckon I could have done an 11.5. But it
wouldn’t had done me any good, come tomorrow. Doesn’t matter, a
half second.”

Russell’s teammate Rymer was next at 2:12.076. However close their
lap times were, the riding styles were not, as Rymer looked
composed, steady, and tidy, in contrast to Russell’s dirt tracking
on asphalt.

“I wanted to go out there, and not push too hard, and not over do
it. I think my time was respectable, and everything was tidy in
places, and we didn’t get out of shape hardly at all. This Special
Stage, for me, is bullshit. It’s great for TV and spectators, I
mean, it’s great to watch. I always enjoy watching everyone else
go around. But as a rider’s point-of-view, I don’t think it’s so
good.”

Miguel DuHamel’s time of 2:13.730 was the 35th fastest of the
Special Stage, more than 3.3 seconds behind Slight, and 1.5 seconds
behind his own teammate, Ukawa.

The DuHamel entourage were finding little to smile about.

Race – Sunday, July 28

On race morning there were some dark clouds to the south, but by
race time it looked like it was going to be a dry race, and under
reasonable conditions (90 F, and 54% humidity), at least compared
to recent years.

Polesitter Okada got the ball rolling for the 64 bike field by
being first away and leading the opening lap. Itoh, Gobert, and
Kensuke Haga were all very close behind, followed by Edwards,
Russell, Aoki, Norihiko Fujiwara, Ukawa, Moriwaki’s Michio Izumi,
Takeishi, and Yoshimura’s Serizawa.

Okada’s opening lap was down in 2:18.610, which included running
across the track, starting the bike, and cold tires. Not bad.

Last away was Kirk McCarthy, who had trouble getting the motorcycle
to start. “I reckon we had the dry ice on the tank too long, and
the fuel was that cold, and it wouldn’t fire up. I was dead last
as we took off.”

There were no fallers on the first lap, but they started going down
by the second lap.

First off was Izumi, who downed it in the gravel trap at Turn 1,
and then Norihiko Fujiwara crashed a factory Yamaha at the exit of
the Hairpin. Both riders got their bikes up and running again
fairly quickly.

Gobert went around Itoh early in the lap and pressured Okada
through Dunlop Curve, but did not make a pass. Aoki went around
Russell and then Edwards to move up to fifth, and lapped the
circuit in 2:11.757. By this time a leading group was being
defined, as Ukawa was not able to keep up with Russell and Edwards,
but yet was defending his position.

On lap three Itoh started attacking Gobert from the rear, and
attempted a pass on the back straight. Okada was able to put a few
tenths on these two, while Aoki was closing down on Haga, and
clocked the fastest lap of the race, 2:11.600, in the process.

Aoki overtook Haga and Itoh on lap four. Okada’s lead was roughly
to the point where he was exiting turns as Gobert was entering
them. Edwards and Russell were now riding side-by-side through
Spoon and down the back straight, which was the best the Suzuki had
looked all weekend. And the ability of the ability of Russell to
tuck in tightly behind a windscreen has to be seen to believed.

Okada overtook the first of the backmarkers on lap five, going
around the infamous Crazy Ducks team (see In The Pits) at the end
of the front straight. Aoki closed right up on Gobert in the S
Curves, and half a lap later drafted past on the back straight.
Gobert went back around on the brakes at the 130R corner, but Aoki
immediately responded with a pass at the chicane.

Okada’s was 2.53 seconds over the foursome of Aoki, Gobert, Itoh
and Haga. A gap developed back to Edwards and Russell, and the gap
back to Ukawa grew some more. After eighth place Ukawa came
Takeishi, Tsukamoto, Nobuatsu Aoki, and Serizawa.

Okada increased his lead by a half-second on lap six, and Aoki put
.8 seconds on Gobert. Farther down, everything after Ukawa was
single file, with consistent gaps between each bike. An unusually
processional race.

All the action on lap seven occurred at the chicane, where Haga
passed Itoh to take over fourth, and two minutes later McCarthy
crashed the Suzuki, but had it back up and running again quickly.

The Yamaha of Haga moved backwards on lap eight, as Itoh reclaimed
fourth. Edwards shook himself free of Russell, and was catching up
with Haga.

“I was riding my ass off, to be honest with you,” Edwards
explained. “I was tucking the front every other fricking corner,
trying to stay with the guys. As it’s pretty well known, the Honda
has got a lot of power on us here, which is just something we have
to put up with. I figured it would be this fast, but it was tough
in the heat of the day. When we started, the track was nice and
greasy. It was hot, and the tires weren’t sticking, and full tank
of fuel – it was tough.”

Edwards passed his teammate’s older brother on lap nine, and with
that pass things settled down even more. The top twelve their
respective positions from here until lap 15.

Nevertheless, there was action on the track, as the Moriwaki bike
was back on course after a ten minute visit to the pits. Disaster
struck again, however, as Izumi crashed the bike once more, big
time, in the S Curves. When the dust settled the bike was found
laying on top of a tire wall. The corner workers helped Izumi get
the bike back down on the ground, and Izumi fired up the engine.
Izumi fell over while riding to the track surface, and the corner
workers came to his aid again. Izumi made to the track on his
second attempt, and rode the smoking motorcycle into the path of
Takuma Aoki. Aoki dodged Izumi, and Izumi continued riding down
the course, dropping oil in the process. This unfortunately caused
the fifteenth place rider, Tomohiko Kaneyasu on a Honda, to crash
in Degner.

On lap 16 Gobert was passed by Itoh, and Honda now controlled the
top three positions. The top three bikes were running steady 2:13
lap times, and the next nine motorcycles were in the 2:14 range.

“I tried to just set a pace, where I was going to stay on the
motorcycle, and not do anything to risk crashing,” fourth place
Gobert said. “At the start of the race, I tried to get to the
front, but we were really down on power, compared to the Hondas.
I would pass a Honda in the corner, and they would get us going
down the straightaway. It was sort of worthless to keep doing this
thing over and over. We actually blistered a rear tire in the
process. So we sort of dropped off the pace a little bit at the
start, and from then on we just lost ground, gradually, all day.”

Gobert was overtaken by Edwards on the back straight during lap 18,
and then by Haga on lap 20.

The Lucky Strike Suzuki of Fujiwara was the first factory bike to
pit, doing so at the 44 minute point on lap 20. Russell pitted two
laps later, as did the Yoshimura Suzuki of Serizawa and the Suzuki
of Doug Polen. The factory Hondas, Yamahas, and Kawasakis were
still on course, and this meant that Suzuki had to add fuel
consumption to the list of problems that already included
horsepower and handling.

Haga pitted on lap 23, and fellow Yamaha rider Edwards did likewise
on lap 24. Aoki and Itoh came in on lap 24, too, and the other
works Hondas did so on the following lap. Gobert pitted on lap 25
as well, and the other two factory Kawasakis finally came in on lap
26. The distinct order of pitting gave most of the other teams a
good idea of what the fuel consumption rates were of their rivals.

The second group of riders proved to be a squirrely bunch, as Honma
crashed the factory Yamaha he took over from Haga within two laps
of his stint.

Three minutes later, Satoshi Tsujimoto dropped the factory Honda in
the gravel outside of the chicane that teammate Itoh used to
control third during the first hour.

Most shocking of all was Slight’s fall at the beginning of the S-
curves, in less than two laps after taking over from Okada.

“I went around a backmarker, I went off line, and got high-sided.
It was purely my fault,” Slight admitted. “It’s a problem we’ve
had all week, and that’s the track is very dirty. The tire was
perfect – it just got around me, and I wasn’t expecting it.”

Both Hondas rejoined the race after ten minutes or so in the pits,
with Okada out in place of Slight. But after the team realized
that Slight had broken a toe or two and was unavailable to ride,
they withdrew.

After all this excitement, the running order read as follows:
Fogarty lead on the Honda from Aoki, Haga was second on the Yamaha
from Edwards, Crafar was third on the Kawasaki from Gobert, DuHamel
was fourth on the Honda from Ukawa, Rymer was fifth on the Suzuki
from Russell, Yanagawa was sixth on the Kawasaki from Takeishi, Ryo
was seventh on the Kawasaki from Tsukamoto, Haruchika Aoki was
eighth on the Honda from brother Nobuatsu, and Toshiyuki Hamaguchi
was ninth on the Suzuki from Serizawa.

The running order held this way through lap 33, with Fogarty in the
lead by six-plus seconds, Haga had some twelve seconds on Crafar,
and Crafar had about eighteen seconds on DuHamel.

But during this period DuHamel was losing ground to Rymer, as Rymer
was lapping in the mid to high 13’s, versus DuHamel’s low to mid
14’s.

“In the first relay, I found out that my problem was that the
brakes were too grippy,” DuHamel explained. “What that does is
that it stops the bike from turning in. So then you’re off the
lines everywhere.”

Rymer was right with DuHamel on lap 35, and made the pass on the
brakes going into the chicane. Rymer stayed ahead of DuHamel for
the following two laps, but found it to be hard work.

“You get close to the Hondas, they just stop you in mid-corner, and
you can’t carry your corner speed,” Rymer remarked. “Then they go,
and you’re about a second behind. (Our motorcycle) just dies in
mid-corner. You slow down for the entry, and in mid-corner you
just can’t get it out. The Honda, it’s got extra torque, and can
pull out. But it doesn’t make that much difference to their lap
time.”

Rymer may be correct about the Honda’s extra torque, but the
problem may have more been with DuHamel riding below the pace, and
then picking it up when Rymer caught up.

“Terry got by me, and then I got back by him and pulled away.
Actually, I was being really safe, because a lot of these riders
were being really unpredictable. Some would see the blue flag, and
they’d move over. The only problem is that usually you’re already
over there, they’d move into your path pretty fast. So I was being
very cautious.”

The give and take between DuHamel and Rymer allowed Yanagawa to
catch the pair, and passed the first one at Degner on lap 37, and
the other on the back straight during the same lap.

During the jockeying of fourth through sixth positions, things were
getting more interesting at the front. Haga was chipping away at
Fogarty’s six second lead, and on every lap the chips were getting
a little bit bigger. On lap 37 Fogarty’s advantage was 4.5
seconds, then it dropped to 2.9 on lap 38, then 2.1 on lap 39, and
then to a scant .37 seconds on lap 40. Haga bravely passed the
World Champ on lap 41 by drafting and out braking Fogarty at the
end of the back straight.

Fogarty did not retaliate, and thus a new running order developed
and held that saw Haga in the lead, followed by Fogarty, Crafar,
Yanagawa, DuHamel, Rymer, Ryo, Hamaguchi, Aoki, and Kitagawa in
tenth.

The next round of pit stops took place generally over laps 49
through 53. Edwards inherited the lead from Haga, with the dreaded
Aoki less than five seconds behind. To compound matters, Aoki’s
older brother Nobuatsu was not far ahead of Edwards. The semi-
factory Honda RC45 of the elder Aoki was staying on the racing
line, and not yielding to Edwards.

Edwards finally made it around the backmarker Aoki in Spoon Curve
on lap 58. The elder Aoki generously yielded to Takuma at the
chicane, and starting lap 59 the interval from the Yamaha to the
Honda was a narrow .65 seconds.

The anticipated pass of Aoki on Edwards occurred as the two braked
for the Hairpin. Edwards left the inside line exposed, and Aoki
went for it, and was gone.

In the end, this was the final lead change in the race performed by
riding on the track, and not through pit stops or crashes.

“I rode my ass off, trying to stay with him,” Edwards said. “I
just couldn’t do it. He pulled, I think, ten seconds or so on me.
There’s two particular places on the track (where the Hondas are
strong). Exit of the Hairpin, they’re just – whoosh, five or six
bike lengths. Exit of the chicane, they pull at least that, if not
more. And out of Spoon, up the hill, they just pull us and pull
us.”

Behind Aoki and Edwards were the Kawasakis of Gobert and Takeishi.
Gobert was some twenty behind Edwards, and running laps in the
2:13’s and 2:14’s, far slower than his bold predictions from the
day before. Ukawa was fifth, followed by Russell, Tsukamoto,
Nobuatsu Aoki, Serizawa, and Katsuaki Fujiwara.

During the first hour, Russell succeeded well on putting distance
over Ukawa, and, as expected, Russell was whittling away at Ukawa’s
advantage in the third hour.

Russell was close enough to Ukawa to pass at the start of lap 70,
and made a serious attempt at the entrance to Spoon Curve, a
frequent site of overtaking. Ukawa quickly re-passed Russell at
mid-corner, but the threat still remained.

The following lap was a almost an exact repeat. Again, Russell
went around Ukawa at the entrance of Spoon, but this time Russell
moved over after the pass to cut off Ukawa’s line. At the exit of
Spoon, Russell moved over again, and again, and again, and Ukawa
learned just how wide a motorcycle can be sometimes.

“I block passed him, I went low and held him off,” Russell
explained. “I just started swerving down the straightaway, and he
couldn’t get around me. They were running about what we were,
their pace was about like what we were. But we were just lacking
a little bit of horsepower. If we had the horsepower that these
Honda guys have, we’d win this race, easy. I’m dead serious.”

Ukawa followed Russell for a lap, and then tried drafting Russell
down the front straight on lap 73. The pass was looked inevitable,
however, Russell moved over into Ukawa’s line, and cut him off.

There was an underlying irony in the action, as the same moves were
put on Russell at Daytona by Ukawa’s teammate, DuHamel.

The pass on Russell finally happened on the back straight of lap
73, and two laps later Russell’s scheduled pit stop came up, ending
the closest action seen in the race.

The other top riders completed their scheduled stops by lap 80.
The order of the motorcycles remained the same, but the riders were
Fogarty, Haga, Crafar, Yanagawa, DuHamel, Rymer, Ryo, Haruchika
Aoki, Hamaguchi, and Kitagawa. Fogarty’s lead was just over 12
seconds, and Crafar was 25 seconds behind Haga. The remaining
riders were spread apart, with Rymer the last one remaining on the
lead lap, while the other four were the only ones that sat a lap
down.

The next twelve laps saw none of the top ten make ground or lose
ground, but then, on lap 92, a surprise: Rymer was in the gravel
trap at Degner Curve.

“I went into first Degner, and the back end just slid sideways,”
Rymer said. “So I went across the gravel, and the thing high-sided
me. I went back on the track, and the bike had lost a lot of
power.”

Rymer pitted right away, but went back out for another lap, and
then retired. The Suzuki had been running hot before the crash,
and after Russell and Rymer talked on pit road, the two decided to
withdraw from the race.

By this stage Haga was nicking into Fogarty’s lead, steadily
pulling back a tenth or two a lap and reducing Fogarty’s lead to
nine seconds.

Then, without warning – bang! Fogarty was sliding off the track at
the Hairpin, just behind his Honda, which came to a stop in the
trackside grass. Fogarty was fortunate to be alone and not in the
way of on-coming riders, and was quickly on his feet. There was no
evidence of oil on the track, and Fogarty’s body motions – two
clenched fists and head tilted backwards – told the truth, that the
crash was no doubt rider error.

Fogarty walked over to the bike and stared at it momentarily with
both hands on his hips, in disgust and disbelief. Then a couple of
motorcycles came by and reminded him that there was a race waiting.
Up came the bike, and Fogarty was going again.

“I just tipped it in the corner, like I did the previous lap, and
the front end just walked away from me. It’s one of those things.
Everything else worked really well, y’know, we could have won the
race, but that’s the way it goes.”

Fogarty’s fall enriched the position of Edwards and Haga beyond
what they could have ever hoped. “I was never so relieved when I
saw Carl throw it away, cause that made our day a lot shorter.”
Edwards admitted. “I wish him the best, but that’s the way the
chips fell.”

A lap after Fogarty crashed, Crafar pitted the Kawasaki for fuel,
tires, and Gobert. Over the coming three laps all the front
runners completed their scheduled stops, and the top ten were now
Edwards, Gobert, Takeishi, Ukawa, and Takuma Aoki, all on the lead
lap, followed by Tsukamoto (one lap down), Nobuatsu Aoki (one lap
down), Katsuaki Fujiwara (two laps down), Polen (two laps down),
and McCarthy (three laps down).

Edwards’s lead over Gobert was a healthy 35 seconds, and Gobert
nearly had that much time over Takeishi. Ukawa was about 13
seconds adrift from Takeishi, and about 30 seconds in front of
Aoki.

Less than a half-hour after Fogarty’s crash, the last remaining
uncrashed works RC45 went down. Ukawa went to overtake a
backmarker in the S Curves, but the slower bike pulled in to the
path of the Honda. The two bikes were knocked off the track and
went down in the grass.

Ukawa lost three laps in the pits for a new fairing and replacement
of the bent parts, and re-joined the race in fifteenth position.

“Unfortunately, Ukawa, my teammate, got caught by one of those
unpredictable backmarkers,” DuHamel said. “I think he saw the blue
flag, and moved out, but that was the racing line and he just came
back in and nailed him. If it wasn’t for that, for sure we would
have been on the podium this weekend. But that’s a part of
racing.”

It was an unfortunate ending, because in the stint DuHamel had just
completed he finally started to look comfortable and competitive.

“In the second relay, I started pounding. I was making some 12’s
and a lot of low 13’s. It was real similar to the top four, top
five guys, so I was real happy with that.”

Although the race was far from over at this stage, it was becoming
evident that Honda was not going to win for the third year running.
“I’d be lying if I said I was sad about it,” Crafar admitted.

With three hours and change to go, the second place Gobert and
Crafar were a threat to the 35 second lead of Edwards and Haga.
Edwards put his head down for the next 15 laps with a series of
high 2:13 laps, and stretched the lead out to 48 seconds. The
threat from Gobert, though, never materialized. Gobert rode
smoothly, clocking a string of 2:15 plus or minus a half second lap
times, and was not taking unnecessary chances.

“We crashed last year, Kitagawa in the chicane,” Gobert explained.
“I did not want to spend another day testing tires again. It was
good just to settle down in to a groove, and stay consistent.”

The next round of rider changes for the leading teams happened over
laps 131 through 134. Haga picked up the Edwards’s campaign,
followed by Crafar, Yanagawa, Fogarty, Ryo, Haruchika Aoki,
Katsuaki Fujiwara, Gomez, and McCarthy.

The tenth place Suzuki of McCarthy and Reynolds had done well to
recover from the bad start and early crash, but their motorcycle
now was beginning to lose power.

“It was good up until about the fifth hour,” McCarthy said. “Then
it went real flat. I’m not sure if it swallowed something when I
tossed it or what, but, yeah, when you pull it to the stop at the
end it just wouldn’t spin up, it would just crawl.”

Haga kept his lap times in the 2:13 range, which was all that was
required to maintain the fifty second plus lead on Crafar.

Crafar’s concern was really more from behind, as fellow Kawasaki
rider Yanagawa was picking up the pace and erasing the eight second
gap to Crafar. Yanagawa turned a 2:12.787 time, the team’s best of
the race, on lap 138, and then improved that best time to 2:12.738
on lap 140, and improved it again on lap 144 to 2:12.592.

Yanagawa was on the back of Crafar going into Turn 1 on lap 146.
Yanagawa made a gentlemanly attempt on Crafar going into the
Hairpin, but after just showing the front wheel, Yanagawa yielded
the corner to Crafar. A backmarker slowed up Yanagawa in Spoon
Curve, but by the chicane Yanagawa was right there with Crafar
again.

Yanagawa drafted Crafar on the front straight of lap 147, but
Crafar braked late and blocked Yanagawa going in to Turn 1. This
move, however, caused Crafar to exit the corner wide. Yanagawa
squirted by to take over second, and left Crafar to himself.

Other than this exchange, no other significant positions were
swapped during the sixth hour. Doug Polen though was getting his
Suzuki to lap consistently in the low 14’s, less than a second from
what the leaders were doing, and was looking impressive.

“The first stint I ran a different tire, and I was chewing up rear
tires real quick. It was just the wrong choice, way wrong choice –
it was really, really bad. Then we changed back to the other
tire, and I went four seconds a lap faster. I was just kinda
sorting out what I could do with the motorcycle, the more I rode
it. I just kept trying to modify where I was going on the track to
get some more benefit out of what I had.”

The opening riders took to the track for the last time over laps
159 to 161. The first eight places held steady through the seventh
hour. The only advancement of note was that Ukawa cracked the top
ten, and near the end of the hour Ukawa overtook the Suzuki World
Superbike boys when Reynolds pitted to hand off to McCarthy on lap
167.

With the sun now very low in the sky, the top five teams pitted for
the final time on laps 187 and 188. First place Edwards handed off
to Haga on lap 187, then third place Gobert to Crafar, and fourth
place Aoki to Fogarty. On lap 188 second place Takeishi handed off
to Yanagawa, and fifth place Tsukamoto to Ryo.

Haga had a 42 second lead on Yanagawa at the beginning of the final
hour. Yanagawa had a 21 seconds on Crafar, and Crafar had 25
seconds on Fogarty.

When the riders are spaced this far apart, normally the final hour
at Suzuka will be ridden cautiously due to the lack of light, the
presence of debris and other motorcycle droppings, and rider
fatigue. Not so this year.

Haga surprised everyone by riding the final hour faster than the
Yamaha had gone all day. After running in the tires for a lap,
Haga opened up and clocked the course in 2:12.637, and then pulled
a 2:11.771 on the following lap for his best lap time of the race,
and second best out of all riders. The next four laps were in the
12’s, while Yanagawa and Crafar were in the low 13’s.

“I was looking for a really long, hard day – until Fogarty
crashed,” Edwards said. “Of course, we changed strategy. We had
like 30 seconds on Gobert and Crafar. When I got back on the bike,
we pulled it out to about 40. Then, Haga got on the bike again,
and pulled it out to 50. Then I got back on the bike, rode
conservative, running 2:13’s – I was just dead. Then Haga jumps on
the bike for the last hour, and does 11’s. So, shit, I don’t know
– he’s got balls, that’s for sure.”

“You could say that I was biting my nails. I knew he wasn’t going
to throw it down the road, though, ’cause Yamaha would take him to
the factory and cut him up into little pieces or something.”

The brisk pace of the final hour didn’t produce any crashes, but it
may have contributed to a problem for one of the teams
nevertheless. On lap 202 second place Yanagawa had to pit the
front brake problems. The team immediately sent him back out for
a slow lap while they gathered the necessary tools and parts, and
then Yanagawa pitted again on lap 203. The repairs cost the team
three laps, and they fell from second position to fifth.

“Winning is the only reason why I came here,” Edwards said after
the race. “It’s been a long week, we’ve been putting in the times
when we needed to. We knew today was going to be tough, but we had
luck on our side.”

“It looked like we were going to finish third,” Gobert said, “but,
fortunately, the other Kawasaki team had some problems, and we
finished second. I’m happy, but like Colin said, you have to come
here with one goal, and that’s to win. You can’t be completely
satisfied when you come second, but you can be happy.”

“It was a long day. I would have loved to win it, but it didn’t
work out that way,” Crafar added. “I’m real happy to be here.”

The Track According To Colin Edwards

The mile Suzuka Circuit has been in its current configuration
since 1962, with minor alterations over the years. Its most
distinctive feature is the figure of eight layout.

The front Grandstand straightaway is downhill and sends the riders
to the first and second corners, a pair of double right hand turns.
Next comes a short straight to the S Curves, an uphill set of left-
right-left-right turns. From there the riders tackle Dunlop Curve,
a long, sweeping, semi-circle left hand corner. Then a short chute
to Degner, a pair of left hand corners named after the famous GP
rider Ernst Degner. After Degner the riders go through an
underpass and ride uphill to the left hand Hairpin, a very tight
180 degree corner. Next is a section of long, sweeping right hand
corners that lead into the aptly named Spoon Corner. Spoon is a
critical, double apex corner that requires a high exit speed to
make the best use of the long back straightaway. The back straight
starts off with a short yet steep downhill, and ends with a fast
left hand turn, the 130R. A short chute takes the riders to the
Casio triangle, a right-left chicane that was added in 1983 to slow
riders down before the front straight. A sweeping right corner
connects the chicane to the front straight. While this section is
technically a corner, the chicane reduces the rider’s speed to the
point where this final corner is more of a curved straight, rather
than a classic corner where one brakes, changes directions, and
accelerates away.

Here is how Colin Edwards rides Suzuka Circuit, in his own words.

“I like it a lot. It’s a good track – the best in Japan without
doubt. It has such variety; slow corners, fast corners, uphill
corners, off camber corners, banked corners – everything you want
in a race track.”

“It’s an all round rider’s track and takes laps and laps to learn.
It’s one of the greatest tests for a rider.”

First Curve – (second corner) 110 km/hr, 2nd/3rd gear
“It’s pretty shaky this one, although it looks easy on TV. It’s
got two parts to it. You can either run deep and break more, or
else run in medium and do a decent speed around it.”

S Curve – 150 km/hr, 2nd/3rd gear
“How you play this corner depends on how you came out of the first
curve. All the corners here are more or less the same. The last
is off camber and can be a bit tricky – I crashed there last year!”

“It’s then off to the uphill Dunlop curve. Another two part
corner, you take it in third or fourth with the speed varying
between 150 and 210 km/h. Once you have turned the first corner
you are up on top of the hill. Then you straighten it up, gas it,
and then flick it left once again.”

Degner Curve – first part 140 km/h, second part, 100 km/h
“Hard breaking here. If you are too quick it can get you. The
second right-hander is really banked, and then you are off under
the bridge.”

Hairpin – 60 km/h, 1st gear
“The small right hand beforehand is no problem, it’s the hairpin
which causes the difficulty! Just before the small right-hander
you touch the brakes, but afterwards you jump on them. All the
Japanese get out of the hairpin really well as they have had so
much practice on it. It’s tough to get out there on our bike as it
is a first gear corner, and our machine is a bit of a beast in
first.”

“From there you short shift from first to fourth.”

Spoon Curve – first part, 130 km/h, second part, 110 km/h, 3rd gear
“This corner can be hard because as you come off the brakes there
is a series of bumps all across the track – you can’t miss them!
So you need to have the bike well under control.”

“Then it’s on the gas for a second and into the next part of the
corner, which seems to go on for ages. After that it’s off again
to the quickest part of the track.”

130R Curve
“Then you arrive at the fastest corner of the circuit, a left-
hander. It is a little bit banked so it works for your advantage.
There’s no real excitement here – no real chance of crashing!”

Chicane – 50 km/h, 1st gear
“The hardest braking on the track. It’s a tricky corner, but the
more laps you do, the better you get at it.”

“After the chicane there is a right-hander before you get to the
last straight. It’s a hairy corner. There are a couple of little,
rolling bumps, the traction goes from light to heavy, and it brings
you right to the edge of the track.”

Notes

Prize money for the Suzuka 8 Hours broke down as follows. The top
30 qualifiers received approximately $2000 per team, and the 31st
through 60th qualifiers received $1000 per team. The winners of
the special stage received $10,000, second received $7000, third
received $6000, fourth received $5000, fifth received $4500, sixth
received $4000, seventh received $3700, eighth received $3400,
ninth received $3200, and tenth received $3000. Special stage
money was paid out down to 30th ($1500). The overall win paid
$100,000, second paid $20,000, third paid $10,000, fourth paid
$7000, fifth paid $5500, sixth paid $5000, seventh paid $4500,
eighth paid $4000, ninth paid $3500, and tenth paid $3000. Prize
money was paid down to 25th place ($500).

A team that would qualify 26th through 30th and finish in 21st
through 30th would receive approximately $4000 in qualifying money,
starting money, and prize money, an amount equal to what Allesandro
Gramigni received for winning the last AMA Superbike national, held
at Brainerd.

Published attendance figures for this year’s Suzuka 8 Hours was
20,000 on Friday qualifying, 60,000 on Saturday’s Special Stage and
All Japan 4 Hour race, and 101,000 for Sunday’s race (as of 3pm
Sunday). The Sunday attendance figures are about the same as 1995
(103,000) and 1994 (102,000), but are down significantly from the
peak years of 1988 (157,000), 1989 (159,000), and 1990 (160,000).

Wayne Gardner is the only four time winner of the Suzuka 8 Hours
(’85, ’86, ’91, ’92). Mike Baldwin (’78, ’81, ’84) and Aaron
Slight (’93 through ’95) are three time winners, and Wes Cooley
(’78 and ’80), Dominque Sarron (’86 and ’89), and Kevin Magee (’87
and ’88) are two time winners. No Japanese rider has ever won the
8 Hours twice. Japanese riders have been on winning teams only six
times in the nineteen year history of the race.

Dunlop tires were used by Edwards and Haga, and Gobert and Crafar;
five out of the top six finishers were on Dunlop. Fogarty and Aoki
were the best Michelin finisher, and the best Bridgestone finisher
semi-factory Kawasaki in thirteenth place. The fourteen factory
teams were equally split between Dunlop and Michelin; only one
Dunlop factory team crashed (Honma and Haga), whereas only one
Michelin supported factory team did not crash (Polen and Gomez).
Not every crash of a Michelin-shod motorcycle can be blamed on the
tires, however.

The top factory Honda teams were practicing pit stops in just over
nine seconds at Suzuka. In FIM endurance rules, the both wheels
must remain on the bike during re-fueling, thus under these
circumstances, nine seconds plus is quick work.

The typical Honda pit crew has four mechanics that actually work on
the bike, three helpers, one who helps hold the re-fueling hoses,
and two who help move wheels to and from the mechanics; one man who
controls a fire extinguisher, and one man who holds the sign board.

The area where the team pits is all carefully marked prior to the
start of the race so that pneumatic jacks, air wrenches and wheels
are in their expected position when the bike comes to a stop.
During the race the teams are expected to have this equipment
sitting in the pit lane for the minimum amount of time, thus having
all the positions pre-marked expedites preparation. Moreover, the
distractions present during the race are something not encountered
when practicing pit stops.

The typical Honda pit stop runs as follows: two mechanics with air
jacks are in positioned to the left of the motorcycle, one mechanic
is to the right-front, and the fourth mechanic is to the right,
holding the re-fueling coupler. After the motorcycle comes to a
stop, the two mechanics with the jack stands insert the jacks into
the motorcycle (one in the rear axle shaft, and the other in a
pick-up tube just in front of the engine). The motorcycle is
lifted off the ground, and the re-fueling dry break couplers are
engaged into the fuel tank. During re-fueling, the rear jack stand
mechanic runs around the back of the motorcycle to be in position
to change the rear wheel. When the re-fueling is complete, the re-
fueling mechanic removes the dry break coupler, and screams at the
top of his lungs, which is the signal for the mechanics to start
changing the wheels. At this time the second rider throws a shop
rag to the first rider, and the first rider wipes up any fuel
spillage. The mechanic on the right-front side then starts
removing the front axle, while the rear jack stand removes the rear
axle nut. These mechanics have two air guns each; one for taking
off, and one for putting back on. The air guns are color coded for
quick identification, and the color coding is the same as the raise
and lower buttons on the pneumatic jack stands. The front jack
stand mechanic moves to the left-front area, and waits for the
first rider to dismount and the second rider to climb aboard.
After the new wheels are in place, the rear wheel mechanic runs
back to the left side, and together with the front jack stand
mechanic, the jacks are lowered and pulled away from the bike.

All of the factory bikes have some sort of spring system that turns
the lower fork legs thirty degrees or so after the front axle has
been removed and the front wheel has been pulled forward enough to
disengage the front brake calipers from the disks. The front brake
disks have chamfered edges to aid installation, and the inside
edges of the brake pads are likewise heavily chamfered. The brake
pads are held in place by magnets so that the gap between the pads
is maintained at the widest possible amount. Some factory bikes,
such as the Yamaha, have specially modified brake calipers that
contact against the front rim to provide optimum alignment of the
caliper to the disk during wheel installation. All of these
systems allow motorcycle pit stops at the Suzuka 8 Hours to look as
smooth and problem free as a typical Indy Car pit stop.

For the first time since 1990, Japanese television broadcaster NHK
did not carry the race live. The race was pre-empted for coverage
of the Olympic games from Atlanta.

Television advertisements for events at Suzuka reveal another
cultural difference between the Japanese and the rest of the world.
Instead of announcers screaming, “Power, power, power!!!” in
Japanese while showing motorcycles cartwheeling off the track and
over the fence, a typical Japanese television ad shows average,
young Japanese women going out to Suzuka Circuit and having a good
time watching the races, shopping, and taking in a few amusement
rides. The apparent marketing strategy would suggests that it is
the wives, girlfriends, and single women that need to be convinced
to go to the races; no such hard sell is needed for men. It
certainly appears to work, based on the number of women that show
up.

Suzuka Circuit has also published a slick brochure titled, “Suzuka
Circuit Wedding.” The brochure shows a happy, young women have her
dream wedding at Suzuka Circuit (no pictures of the groom are in
the brochure). Other pictures include a decorated reception hall,
tier wedding cake, ceremony room, multi-course meal selections
(Western or Japanese), dinner china, wedding dresses (again,
Western or Japanese), the wedding night suite, parade around the
circuit, and a honeymoon tour package to Hawaii.

Tracy Hagen

There were no Ducatis at this years 8 Hours, factory backed or
privately entered. Nevertheless, there was a twin cylinder machine
in the race, a Yamaha TRX850 ridden by Tadahiko Taira and Christian
Sarron. The bike was prepared Yamaha, although not through the
racing department, and was sponsored by Marlboro. The model is
proving to be quite popular in Japan and various world markets, and
Yamaha felt that entering one in the Suzuka 8 Hours would boost the
bike’s image as a real sports bike. Taira and Sarron, who teamed
together in the 1986 8 Hours, qualified 53rd and finished 24th.

The factory Honda RC45s had VIS, or Variable Induction System, on
the throttle bodies. This was a system Honda developed for Formula
1, and used it on the V12 engines supplied to McLaren in 1991 and
’92. The system can change the length of the intake tracts from
long to short when the engine speed exceeds a certain pre-
programmed value, thereby broadening the spread of power. The VIS
system maybe standard equipment on the 1997 RVF/RC45.

The only factory bikes with production serial numbers stamped into
the steering heads were those of the three Kawasaki teams. The
frames used by Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki factory teams had either
glued on serial number plates, or unusual serial numbers near the
swing arm pivot, or no serial numbers at all.

The factory Honda RC45s featured a new exhaust silencer hanger
design. The new design allows for replacement of crashed damaged
silencers by just unfastening Dzus fittings.

Shoei introduced their new racing helmet at the Suzuka 8 Hours,
called the X-8 SPII in the Japanese market (a different name maybe
used in the U.S. market). This helmet was used by DuHamel,
Russell, and Rymer, and is claimed to be 10 percent lighter than
the old X-8 SP from use of a new, secret material, and 20 percent
better for aerodynamics. The most visible difference for the X-8
SP to the SPII is the venting. The X-8 SP helmet has two forehead
vents, while the SP II has four. Two of the vents go directly to
the rider’s head, while the other two vents are part of a cooling
circuit that discharges just behind the top of the helmet. Also,
the forehead vents have been moved farther back so that they
remained exposed when the rider is fully tucked in behind the
windscreen, and the size of the vents have been increased. The
rubber beadding at the base of the helmet is wider on the new SP II
compared to the SP. When the helmet is officially announced in the
U.S, expect a retail price of around $470 for basic white. A
DuHamel replica will be offered in U.S. and Japan.

The Honda ridden by Carl Fogarty and Takuma Aoki were sponsored by
Castrol, as was the Honda of Aaron Slight and Tadyuki Okada. The
Honda of Shinichi Itoh and Satoshi Tsujimoto was called Team TRF,
and was part of a deal Honda made with Japanese pop music group TRF
– Honda gave TRF exposure and signage on the bike, in exchange for
TRF writing and recording some music for Honda. The Honda of
DuHamel and Ukawa was all black and featured Valkyrie across the
side, big, bold yellow graphics. When DuHamel and Ukawa were on
course during their Special Stage “Attack Laps,” the Suzuka Circuit
announcers played “Flight of the Valkyrie” in the background.

Miguel DuHamel on last minute changes: “Right at the last minute,
thank God for Martin Adams, Al Ludington, and Ray Plumb. We had an
urgent meeting right before the race, and we changed the bike, as
the Japanese would say, “sukoshi,” or very little, but it was
enough to save our team as far as lap time wise, ’cause it made the
bike a lot better. we changed some suspension settings, we both
went much faster than we been going since we’ve been here.”

Miguel DuHamel on his Laguna Seca injuries: “Maybe I was a little
bit weaker – not on race day, but through the whole week. My heel
is still real sore, but it’s just a bruise now, almost gone.
Fortunately Honda and HRC took incredible great care, with the
masseuse and the doctors, I mean, you name it, it was awesome. I
would really like to have that in the States. You can’t imagine.”

The Honda Firestorm, a large displacement twin cylinder sports
bike, was not displayed at the Suzuka 8 Hours, as the rumor mill
had been predicting for months. Honda did have the CBR1100XX Super
Blackbird on display, along with the 1997 NSR500V, RS250R, and
RS125R roadracers. The RS250R has the same ram air intake system
used on the works NSR250, and an engine designed for running
unleaded racing fuels. The engine has also been modified to
include the balancer shaft inside the crankcase, thereby
eliminating an oil seal. The RS125R received new bodywork that is
claimed to be more aerodynamic.

The Sakuri Honda team that included Nobuatsu and Haruchika Aoki
were sponsored by Namco, a company that markets Ultraman action
figures. The Aoki brothers wore leathers that resembled Ultramen,
and their helmets were painted likewise. They even had two pit
scooters with special Ultraman bodywork.

In the U.S. they are known as, “rooms by the hour,” in Japan they
are called pink hotels and love hotels – places were young couples
can get some privacy and intimacy, since most young, single
Japanese live with their parents. One such establishment near
Suzuka is called the “Hotel Pit-Inn.”

One team in the 8 Hours gained the attention of every photographer
at the event by their unique “umbrella girls.” The private #69
“Crazy Ducks” Yamaha team showed up with two Japanese adult film
actresses as umbrella girls. The two wore suggestive, white frilly
two piece outfits with fishnet stockings that left them nearly
naked from the back; the suggestive aspects of their apparel
included the idea that the two do not exercise regularly. Part of
their contract to appear with the team was to strip totally nude in
the pits, if the team finished. Alas, while the team took the
checkered flag, they failed to complete the prescribed number of
laps, and were officially scored as non-finishers. The highly
anticipated appearance by the two actresses never happened, and the
two were nowhere to be found after the race. No doubt that the
team’s two riders had a doubly frustrating day.


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