The day that I had been looking forward to during my entire trip finally arrived. Yes, it is the Suzuka 8Hours race day! I’ve heard so much about Suzuka 8Hours and I’ve watched countless videos of them on youtube.com; but none of which could truly described the excitement I felt watching it live.
I woke up early and I left Megumi san’s house by 7.15am. Yes, instead of walking through the eerie bamboo forest and taking the Ise-Ueno line and then having to walk for about 20 minutes to Suzuka Circuit the day before, I decided to walk to Chisato Station, hopped on the Kintetsu Line, disembarked at Shiroko Station and then take the feeder bus to Suzuka Circuit. Trust me, it was a better option.
On arrival at Suzuka Circuit, I wasted no time and immediately headed to the V2 Grandstand as there was a Kawasaki H2R performance at around 9.15 am. I wouldn’t want to miss the rare performance of the 385 km/h Kawasaki Ninja H2R Trickstar and the Kawasaki Ninja H2R Bonneville. How often would one be able to watch a bike going above 320km/h? At exactly 9.15 am, the Kawasaki H2R performance started.
Minutes after the show, I had to run across the track (of course using the tunnel) toward the Pit Walk. There was something I wouldn’t want to miss. It was neither about the rider nor about the racequeens. It was about the atmosphere created by the hordes of frenzied fans of Suzuka 8Hours there and then. It was simply awesome.
As expected, it was bloody packed at the pit lane. There was a lot of shoving and pushing and goodness me, squeezing! Everyone, including yours truly wanted to catch a glimpse of the riders and the racequeens. Well, not everyone was as lucky as me because I had VIP escort yesterday. Welcome to the real world!
Some of the racequeens at the pitlane….(quite a lot of photos!)
After the pit walk, I returned to my seat and waited for the ‘big’ thing- the grand launching of Suzuka 8Hours. Selected riders from the top teams were ushered into the hall and sponsors took turns giving speeches. The opening ceremony of this race was indeed grand! So grand that they have dozens of pretty and young girls carrying the huge Coca-Cola Zero Suzuka 8Hours flags on the home straight across the grandstand. It was spectacular.
After the grand opening, it was the moment everyone was waiting for. The motorbikes, all big and powerful roared to life after all the riders revved their machines. The high decibel noises coming out from their exhausts could be heard for miles around. The teams, one after another then went out to the tracks for sighting laps. Crews and journalists alike went berserk running around the pit lanes and also feverishly heading to the starting grid.
With more than sixty teams participating, could one imagine the kind of chaos at the starting grid? After the sighting lap, I could imagine how difficult it really was for all the riders to navigate through the crowd. Imagine if you are the pole sitter and you have to navigate through the crowd.
The Suzuka 8Hours and any other endurance races are infamously known for their starts. As I have mentioned earlier in my past articles, the starting is a little different compared to MotoGP and WSBK. Instead of having three riders at each row of the starting grid, these racers have to stand across the track (grandstand side) with their bikes parked across the track (next to pit wall). At the sound of the horn, these racers must raced across the track on foot, hopped onto their bikes and ride off.
The atmosphere at the start of the race was simply amazing. First, the emcee would introduce the more than sixty plus race teams one by one before their warmed up laps. Upon completion of their warmed up laps, the riders had to park their bikes near to the pit wall then walked across and wait for the countdown. The emcee and the spectators would start the countdown in the Japanese language when all are set to go. 10-9-8- – – and 1. Go—!
That was where when all hell broke loose! Racers would run across the track and hop on to their bikes one by one at full throttle down the straight and into the first turn. I have not seen so many bikes racing in any one race in my entire life! The first few laps were very exciting as the bikes were zooming so close and almost brushing one another. Some frenzied fans were shouting themselves hoarse the names of their favourite riders as they zoomed past.
The excitement sadly did not last. After a few laps, I could see people slowly leaving their seats. Initially, I did not know why and I did not ask. Was the summer sun roasting them? Might be might not, I opined. Then I realised they all left their seats for something cool, something that could never happen back in my country’s circuit, Sepang. I found that hard to believe but believe me, that was cool!
Coca Cola, being the main sponsor for almost four decades, had set up two booths, giving free bottled drinks to spectators who bought the V2 seats. That included me! I was one of the first few who spotted the giveaway booth and was lucky to be the first few who were in the queue. Within minutes, the initial beeline of only about ten people became longer and longer. Hundreds had started to queue for the UNLIMITED free drinks!
Sitting behind the grandstand shielding myself from the sun, I was constantly keeping myself updated with the live updates. Not from the huge monster TV, but from a convenient live apps. Suzuka Circuit developed an apps called RaceLive that could be download for free. This apps is very similar to the live race tracking available for WSBK race. It comes with love timing and real time positioning for all racers. That is very convenient.
Like I said earlier, Suzuka Circuit is more family-oriented. For race day, the management had allocated a section for family with strollers. This was simply awesome. On the other hand, I can’t help but notice how clean and proper the stalls where. Perhaps this is the Japanese culture. All the stalls were very clean, the floors dry and shinny. Even the washrooms were squeaky clean and people had no qualms sitting next to garbage bins while having their lunch too!
Let’s get back to the race part and delve a little bit more about that. Each team had three riders who took turns to race. Tires would not last for eight hours, meaning there would be a pit stop in between. In fact, plenty of pit stops. I went back to my seat to witness the pit stop action. One after another, racers came in. I was pretty amazed by the pit stop precision and it was as good as Formula Ones’. Racers stopped and hopped off their bikes and the worn off tires were immediately removed and quickly replaced with new ones All that was done within ninety seconds, including refuelling.
As dust set in, the circuit timing towers showed ‘Lights On’ It was an indication for the racers to turn on their bike’s lights. It would be another hour to go and there would be one last pit stop before calling it a day.
Just how tough could one be in this kind of race? Just how could one endure it all? The heat, the bodily ache, the cramps and whatnot. I saw some got off from the bikes and fell onto the ground almost immediately and needed assistance to lift them up. Some even collapsed and needed medical attention. It was here I realised that not everyone could race in an endurance race. Imagine, you are wearing the full leather suit in a summer day and for eight long hours. Imagine the energy and the focus one racer has to give wearing all these. Truly, this is not an easy race.
At precisely 8.00 pm, the chequered flag was waved and this year, Yamaha factory racing team won with 218 laps (8.00’40) and Team Green Kawasaki with 218 laps (8.02’58) and Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance with 217 laps (8.00’42). Congratulations to them.
After all racers rode past the chequered flag, spectators were allowed into the track, leaving only some narrow space for all the racers to maneuver. The race ended with a spectacular fireworks display. The rostrum was lighted up with a very unique lighting show just before the winners were ushered out for the prize giving ceremony.
I left the circuit a tad early just to make sure I won’t have to push, shove and squeeze yet again with the massive crowd. I left with a last look at the magnificent Ferris Wheel.