Features

Suzuka 8 Hours Thursday Round Up: Yamaha strike first at Suzuka

On first glance the field looks to be close ahead of this weekend's Suzuka 8 Hours. Yamaha led the opening session, Honda topped the second, and there are four manufacturers inside the top five and all within a second of the pace.

It seems to be setting up for a great weekend of racing, but when you delve into the times it's clear that, while Honda has made progress, they are still playing catch up with their CBR1000RR SP2. Despite a crash for Jack Miller the 634 machine led the way in the afternoon session but with Yamaha electing to use only one set of tires in the session their true one lap pace is still unknown. Miller's crash came on what would have been his fastest lap of the day but having rolled off on his previous lap may have been caught out by a slightly cold tire. There were plenty of positives on the opening day for Honda and while they probably need to make a small step to compete with Yamaha they are in the ballpark.

Back to top

Suzuka 8 Hours: A lap around legendary Suzuka

There aren’t many circuits as challenging as the Japanese track. So what's the key to a quick lap?

Suzuka is a real roller coaster racetrack. The unique figure-of-eight layout ensures that it is unlike any other circuit on the racing calendar. But the Japanese venue isn't a gimmick; it's a true test of skill and bravery for every rider. As riders come across the start-finish line, it’s a rare chance to catch their breath as they look across for their pit board – and the Suzuka 8H is not a short race.

The mental challenge of Suzuka is huge, and it's easy to get fatigued. The heat and humidity play havoc with the riders, but the 20 corners, most linked together, mean that mental errors are heavily punished. With such a long lap and stifling conditions, the lap counter seems to grow at a snail’s pace.

As the riders start the laps they'll grab sixth gear as they come across the line but it's all about getting ready for Turn 1, a fast right hander, where the bikes approach in sixth and start braking just before the 200m board. Turn 1 is the beginning of the Suzuka Snake, where the track winds around the contours of the land, one turn leading directly to the next. If you're wide at one corner, it can affect the next three.

Having snatched back three gears, the key thought when peeling into Turn 1 is about being in the right part of the track for Turn 2. Riders clip the apex just outside the kerb for Turn 1 and run the bike wide for 2, where they hook back another gear on the entry. Trying to square off Turn 2 and use the power of the Superbikes, riders slide the bike on the exit to get into the right position on the track for the first left-handed corner of the lap.

Back to top

Suzuka 8 Hours Preview: The heat is on, the pressure's high

When Glenn Frey released one of the biggest hits of the 80s the Suzuka 8 Hours was on the verge of its glory days. Those days are now being repeated

In 1984 the Suzuka 8 Hours was on the cusp of being the biggest race of the season for the Japanese manufacturers, and that year's edition was won by double WorldSBK champion Fred Merkel and 500GP rostrum finisher Mike Baldwin. The win was Baldwin's third and final victory but started a run of success by the world's biggest names in racing. The following six years saw riders such as Wayne Gardner, Kevin Magee, Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson all have their name etched on the winners’ trophym and in 1991 the first “Suzuka Super-team” emerged victorious.

With Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner winning, the all-Australian team was a 500GP dream team taking on the rest of the field. With Doohan sidelined by his horrific Assen crash the following year, Gardner nevertheless claimed his third win in Japan with Daryl Beattie as his teammate. The run of Grand Prix winners then came to an abrupt end in 1993 with Superbike stars Scott Russell and Aaron Slight delivering Kawasaki’s only victory in the race. It was an era of exotica with the Japanese manufacturers using incredible machinery to try to win the race; an era of big budgets and no holds barred racing - a true golden era of motorcycle racing.

In the following years the fortunes of the race ebbed, though some Superbike riders remained. Colin Edwards would put his name on the trophy on three occasions, winning for two different manufacturers, Yamaha and Honda. His 2001 win alongside Valentino Rossi, when the Italian was en route to his first premier class title, was another invigorating moment for the 8 Hours that saw interest in the race spike once again - but for much of this century the race was an afterthought of the racing calendar.

That changed in 2015 when Yamaha upped the ante and brought their MotoGP riders to the event. With Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith riding alongside Katsuyuki Nakasuga on a “Suzuka Special”, the race was relevant once again. Casey Stoner made a one-off racing return in that year's edition, and with Kevin Schwantz on the grid, the relevance and interest in Suzuka was huge. It became a spectacle again, and showed the power of having some of the biggest names in racing back at the event.

Back to top

World Superbike Silly Season - All Quiet On The WorldSBK Front

It looks set to be a quieter year on the rider market for WorldSBK with the leading seats already filled for 2018 but there will still be some significant deals announced in the coming weeks and months.

Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes, Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri are all secure in their seats for next year but Sykes had been linked with a move away from Kawasaki earlier this summer. Prior to winning two races before the summer break the 2013 World Champion had been touted as a potential target of Yamaha but with wins in the bag it looks highly unlikely that he will make a switch.

For Ducati there is little reason to change their status quo and the only change in their ranks could be the addition of a second bike to the Barni squad. The Italian entry has thrived with Xavi Fores in the last year and came close to adding a second machine for this year. If there is a fourth Ducati on the grid it will likely have a rider bringing money to the table for Barni.

Back to top

MotoGP Silly Season Update - Summer Break Means Feverish Negotiations

The MotoGP bikes have fallen silent for over a week now, the teams and riders dispersed to the four winds, nominally for "vacation". And while riders relaxed on a beach somewhere for a week before returning to their training for the second half of the season, teams and rider managers have been anything but dormant. There has been a hive of activity in preparation for the latter half of the season, and for some of the satellite teams, for 2018 as well.

For the Silly Season That Wasn't Supposed To Be has stepped up a gear. The summer break has so far seen extensive negotiations going on over the MotoGP seats which will be free in 2018, and in some cases, whether a seat will become available or not. Phone calls to team staff start with pleasantries about vacation time, but quickly reveal that vacation consists of at best a day or two taken in between meetings and preparations for the remainder of the year.

The first shoe to drop in the summer edition of MotoGP's 2018 Silly Season is the revelation by Motorsport.com that Jack Miller will be joining Danilo Petrucci at Pramac Ducati for next season. After losing his direct contract with HRC – that contract going to Cal Crutchlow instead – the Australian had been in talks with the Marc VDS squad about a contract directly with the team. However, a failure to agree terms over money, and a better offer from Ducati, pushed Miller towards Pramac.

Back to top

Subscriber Only Feature: Which Direction For WorldSBK?

After Laguna Seca the future of WorldSBK was once again questioned. Asking the right question may be more important than finding the right answer immediately

“I've said it before and I'll say it again, democracy simply doesn't work,” so said this intrepid reporter when faced with reports that Bart's Comet would bring destruction to Springfield. It was a time of uncertainty and peril for America's greatest city but one from which it recovered by maintaining the status-quo.

While the WorldSBK paddock isn't standing on Mount Springfield singing Que Sera Sera and waiting for the comet to hit, it is facing a moment of truth about where the series is heading. It's always easier to swim with the tide but for WorldSBK patience and thoroughness are more important than being swift and decisive in making the wrong decision.

Since Imola the paddock WorldSBK has been filled with rumor and counter rumor about the direction that the series will take. Will there be a spec ECU? Will there be concessions for different manufacturers? Will there be testing restrictions placed on the successful teams? The list of possibilities has been the talk of the paddock with Dorna's Carmelo Ezpeleta even suggesting making the series into a Stock class, but what is actually best for WorldSBK?

Back to top

Interview: Aspar's Gino Borsoi On Creating A Pathway To MotoGP For Young Talent

The world of motorcycle racing is undergoing a major change behind the scenes. Increasingly, teams are working on creating a path for bringing on young and talented riders. Where once individual teams would merely scour the classes below the one they competed in for talent, and engage in bidding wars for the most promising riders, now, they take a very different tack. Talent scouting starts at the very lowest level, and a path created all the way from Pre-Moto3 to MotoGP.

One of the first examples of teams creating such a pathway came about when Marc VDS teamed up with Monlau for the 2015 season. Monlau had an existing racing structure in Spain, reaching down to regional championships, as well as a technical academy for budding race engineers. Marc VDS had a successful Moto2 team which could take over from the Monlau operation, and a newly created MotoGP operation. Suddenly, the team had a complete package they could offer riders, with sponsorship and consistent support starting in Pre-Moto3 and carrying on through the FIM CEV, Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP. All with the backing of Spanish beer giant Estrella Galicia.

Back to top

World Superbike Track Guide: Laguna Seca

There are not many circuits in the world like the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The Californian circuit offers a unique challenge in WorldSBK.

Led Zeppelin sang about Going to California and said, “I'll meet you up there where the path runs high. Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams, telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.” Unfortunately for the riders in WorldSBK when you stand at the top of the mountain at Laguna Seca the challenge facing riders who dream of a win truly is as hard as it seems. This highly technical race track demands precision, consistency, imagination and above all else experience.

Coming across the line riders will take a variety of lines and gears that are defined by their bike setup. In WorldSBK gear ratios are fixed for the season and as a result we see a lot of variety at Laguna Seca. Some riders will be forced to use six gears, whereas others will use only five around the 3.6km track. With the track snaking it's way throughout the Monterey hills around a lake, it offers a little bit of everything.

Back to top

Pages