MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Out there with the big boys – part 1
Mat Oxley's account of his foray into the biggest race on the endurance calendar: the Suzuka 8 Hours. This story is one of many that appear in Mat’s The Fast Stuff, available on Kindle
The Suzuka 8 Hours race celebrates its 40th anniversary this Sunday. I contested the race several times in the 1980s and 1990s, with a best finish of sixth in 1986, riding with Vesa Kultalahti for Team Howard Lees. This story, written at the time, tells the tale of the 1989 race, when I partnered French journalist Gilbert Roy to 12th. They were the boom years of the 8 Hours, when you got to share the track with Rainey, Schwantz, Doohan, Gardner and the rest
The weather is typical of Japan in July: so steamy hot that the air you breathe feels second-hand and rivulets of sweat run down every part of your body.
I shouldn’t care though: I am lying on a couch with two women draping nicely chilled towels across my legs and torso. I have an ice-cold drink in one hand and a bowl of sliced orange and banana within reach of the other. A Japanese doctor massages my body and an electric fan blows a cooling draft at my face, rustling the leaves of the nearby palms.
Heaven surely couldn’t be a much more delightful place but the pleasure of this visit through the pearly gates is tainted by the knowledge that soon I must return to the fiery torment of hell.
Hell in this case is the Suzuka racetrack, created back in 1962 by some fiendish designer, obviously intent on giving racers sleepless nights well into the next millennium.
The circuit is tough enough in itself but it’s the viscous Japanese summer that turns the Suzuka 8 Hours into bike racing’s Dante’s Inferno. As you get deeper into the race, the ogres of physical and mental exhaustion grow like monsters before you and devils dance around, laughing hideously at the sight of a mere mortal venturing into their terrible territory.
The exhaustion isn’t exactly tangible but the devils certainly are. They are dressed in colourful suits, mounted on 145 horsepower motorcycles and their names are Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Christian Sarron, Kevin Magee and John Kocinski. They fly past, taunting you with daredevil deeds that would mean disaster if you were foolish enough to attempt to emulate them.
Sharing the track with these men is indeed like moving through a door into another world where the laws of physics mean more to some people than others. You can no longer smugly announce ‘I could do that’ and walk away from the spectator area, believing that if someone put a million dollars in your hands and sat you on a factory bike you could cut the same lap time as these guys.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.