Burning questions entering the Japanese endurance event.
The 39th running of the Coca-Cola Suzuka 8 Hours starts this weekend in Japan, featuring a strong mixture of global talent on the grid for round three of the 2016 FIM Endurance World Championship. CycleOnline.com.au combs over some of the interesting factors pre-race.
Q: Can Yamaha go back-to-back?
A: Yamaha Factory Racing thoroughly controlled last year’s event for victory at Suzuka. Pol Espargaro stormed to Superpole before he, Bradley Smith and Katsuyuki Nakasuga won the race by over a minute following 204 laps. This time around it’s Alex Lowes who will partner Espargaro and Nakasuga, so it’s once again a team with a stack of potential. Outright pace won’t be a problem, however consistency will be the key come Sunday.
Q: Who will be the best of the Aussies?
A: There are many capable Australians in the field this year, but as usual at Suzuka, the package is critical if you’re going to contend for the win. Yoshimura Suzuki’s Josh Brookes will be partnered with Japanese aces Takuya Tsuda and Noriyuki Haga this year, so considering he was secondwith the squad in 2013, he should be strong.
Q: What’s the target for world title leader Alex Cudlin?
A: It’s no secret that the Japanese round of EWC is the most competitive on the calendar, so for Australia’s Alex Cudlin, a good performance will go a long way toward winning the championship. His Team April Moto Motors Events Suzuki squad has a six-point lead going in following a podium at Le Mans and fifth at Portimao. Looking back to Suzuka last year, SERT finished fourth on its way to the title, so somewhere well inside the top 10 at the end of the race would be a top result.
Q: Which current GP and SBK riders are on the grid?
A: Alongside a very long list of local ex-world championship riders from Japan, there are a heap of current internationals who have made their way to Suzuka this year. 2006 MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden is back in the mix with Honda, current MotoGP racer Pol Espargaro is defending last year’s Yamaha victory, multiple WorldSSP champion Michael van der Mark is going for another win, plus there is PJ Jacobsen, Dominique Aegerter, Josh Brookes, Alex Lowes, Anthony West, Niccolo Canepa and Gino Rea. It’s a hard-fought affair.
Q: Are there any surprise packages we should keep an eye on?
A: We’re expecting big things this year for the Monster Energy-backed Yamaha Austria Racing Team of Aussie Broc Parkes, alongside Kohta Nozane and Takuya Fujita from the Yamalube Racing Team, Yamaha’s youth team in the All Japan Road Race Championship JSB1000 class. Other teams – also boasting a couple of highly-credentialled Australians – we’ll be watching closely for a big result will be Josh Waters’ MotoMap Supply Suzuki squad and Damian Cudlin’s au & Teluru Kohara RT Honda effort.