World Endurance Championship
Suzuka Eight Hours
July 23/24/25 2004
MICHELIN GO FOR 15H SUZUKA EIGHT HOURS SUCCESS
The Suzuka Eight Hours is regarded by many as the single most important motorcycle race in the world, attracting massive investment from Japan's 'big four' motorcycle brands and making headlines across the globe. Over the past two decades Michelin has won no less than 14 victories in this most gruelling of races, making it by far the most successful tyre brand involved in the event.
This year the French company equips a number of teams at Suzuka, most notably Honda's two factory entries and the three Honda-supported Team Sakurai pairings. All four teams will use Honda's new CBR1000RR Fireblade which is already proving a winning weapon in the World Superbike, British Superbike and Japanese Superbike series. Honda's full-factory teams are Tohru Ukawa/Hitoyasu Izutsu (Seven Stars Honda CBR1000RR-Michelin) and Ryuichi Kiyonari (or Manabu Kamada) /Yuki Takahashi (Team HRC Honda CBR1000RR-Mi chelin). The Team Sakurai entries are Osamu Deguchi/Kenichi Kiyonari Yukio Nukumi /Tamaki Serizawa and Tadayuki Okada/Chojun Kameya (Team Sakurai Honda CBR1000-Michelin).
"The Eight Hours is very important to Honda, which means it's also important to us as their technical partner," says Nicolas Goubert, Michelin's chief of motorcycling competitions. "We are proud to have won many victories with them. Last year we weren't ve ry lucky. The performance of our tyres was good, so Izutsu and Ukawa were well in the lead after a few hours, but then Izutsu crashed. This year we have done four test sessions for the event, as well as the 300km race, which we won easily with Ukawa and Iz utsu."
"We used last year's Eights Hours tyres as the base for this year's tyres, working mostly on the rear, adjusting the construction slightly and developing new compounds to improve performance over the full duration of each riding stint. We aim to produce ty res that will allow the rider to lap within a second or so of his best time during each session. Of course, lap times depend on traffic and other changing circumstances, but if they're only a second slower at the end of a session than they were at the star t, we're happy."
Although this year's event won't feature the usual selection of MotoGP riders (because the race clashes with a round of the MotoGP World Championship due to the British GP changing dates to avoid a clash with an F1 car GP) the race will still prove enterta ining to spectators. "The Eight Hours allows fans to see things they would never see in GP racing," says Goubert. "If it rains during a GP, the race is stopped, but this doesn't happen in endurance racing, so fans get to see how riders can cope with really difficult conditions. A few years ago I was amazed by Alex Barros' riding in damp conditions on Michelin slicks. That kind of performance is great for the spectators."
Arguably this year's race favourite is the number seven pairing of former MotoGP winner Ukawa and former World Superbike winner Izutsu. Ukawa is one of the Eight Hours' most successful riders, having won the event on four occasions. Izutsu is one of the to p contenders for this year's Japanese Superbike Championship and recently won round four of the series, using Michelin tyres. These two vastly experienced riders have already proved themselves to be a winning team, taking victory in May's Suzuka 300km race , long considered a rehearsal for the Eight Hours.