In the warmup session, held from 8:30 am to 9:15 am, Team HRC with Japan Post (Takumi Takahashi / Tetsuta Nagashima / Xavi Vierge) set the fastest time in 2 min 7.029s. YART Yamaha Official EWC TEAM (Yamaha) was second fastest, setting a 2 min 7.801s lap. No other teams manages to lap in the 2 min 7s range.
The sun shone brightly by the time the race started in dry conditions at 11:30 am. Yoshimura SERT Motul (Suzuki) rider Greg Black took the holeshot, followed by Team HRC with Japan Post’s Takahashi second, Toho Racing’s Kunimine third, and F.C.C. TSR Honda France‘s Di Meglio who started 10th on the grid, fourth.
In the opening lap, Black was chased by Takahashi, Niccolò Canepa (Yamaha), and Kunimine. Canepa took the lead on Lap 3, with Black, Di Meglio, Takahashi and Kunimine in tow. On Lap 7 Takahashi took the lead, but relinquishes his spot to Canepa, setting up a three-way battle for the lead. On Lap 11, Takahashi was back on top, chased by Canepa and Black. A distance back from the lead group, Di Meglio, Dan Linfoot (Suzuki), Kunimine and SDG Honda Racing (Teppei Nagoe / Naomichi Uramoto / Haruki Noguchi) rider Uramoto fought for fourth.
On Lap 15, race leader Takahashi extends his lead over Canepa to 2 seconds. Black, in third, was unable to keep up with Canepa. As Black and Canepa lap in the 2 min 10s range, Takahashi laps in 2 min 8s, growing his lead every lap.
On Lap 19, Di Meglio crashes at the chicane, but manages to pick his bike up and return to the pits for repairs.
By Lap 20, Takahashi was comfortably in the lead, Capena second, well ahead of Black third. 16 seconds behind, Mizuno moves up to fourth. Linfoot is fifth, and behind him, Kunimine, Uramoto, Honda Dream RT SAKURAI Honda (Kazuki Ito / Daijiro Hiura / Kota Arakawa) rider Hiura and Atsumi (Suzuki) battle for sixth.
On Lap 25, pit lane is busy with teams entering for their first rider change. Team HRC with Japan Post finishes their pit faster than the EWC regulars, and Nagashima took the Honda back on track. Nagashima lapped a 2 min 7s, further expanding the gap to Karel Hanika (Yamaha) who, on turn, was lapping at an impressive 2 min 8s. The gap by Lap 32 was 22.901s.
At 1:05 pm, Hanika slowed down dramatically. On Lap 45 Nagashima led, Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) was second, Kazuma Watanabe third, Noguchi sixth, Kiyonari seventh, and Arakawa eighth. After extending his lead to over a minute, Nagashima pitted on Lap 53 and handed the bike to Xavi Vierge.
Vierge kept extending the team’s lead. Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing (Kosuke Sakumoto / Ryo Mizuno / Kazuma Watanabe) rider Watanabe ran into problems, forced to pit via the shortcut into pit lane. Sakumoto took over the bike, but crashed at the hairpin, losing considerable ground and rejoining the race in 15th place.On Lap 70, Vierge led Etienne Masson (Suzuki) in second, Kokoro Atsumi (Suzuki) in third.
As the third rider changes began, Vierge pitted on Lap 80. With a 1 min 45s gap, he handed the bike to Takahashi, who returned to the track retaining the lead. On Lap 100, Takahashi still led, and still kept up a 2 min 8s pace. On the team’s fourth rider change, Takahashi handed the bike over to Nagashima. On Lap 110, Nagashima led, Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) was second, Atsumi third. Nagashima was lapping as fast as Takahashi in the 2 min 8s range, consolidating the team’s lead. SDG Honda Racing (Teppei Nagoe / Naomichi Uramoto / Haruki Noguchi) rider Noguchi, in fifth, was pushing to reduce the 30 second gap with fourth place.
On Lap 128 Nagashima upped his pace to 2 min 7.601s increasing his lead. His pace slowed down due to back markers, but second-place Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) at 2 min 10s was no match.
On Lap 134, Vierge took over from Nagashima to defend the Team HRC with Japan Post’s lead. On Lap 136, the gap between Vierge and Guintoli was 1 min 54.972s. Kiyonari, third, maintains his 2 min 9s pace as he pits to hand the bike to Enokido.
A crash on the West straight causes safety cars to enter at 4:33 pm. Once the safety cars left the track at 4:49 pm, the race order on Lap 144 was Vierge, Étienne Masson (Suzuki), Takuya Tsuda (Suzuki), Enokido, Nagoe, Marcel Schrötter (Suzuki). On his 150th lap, Vierge was consistently riding at 2 min 9s again.
As the clock past 6:00 pm, reports came in of rain at Turn 1. The rain, however, stopped shortly leaving the track dry, but dark clouds approached Turn 1, threatening heavy rain at any minute. The sky above other parts of the track was clear, but light rain on the track caused the red-cross yellow flag to be waved from the flag posts. The leading teams did not seem to slow down.
Takahashi was on track at that point and his lap time at the end of Lap 178 was 2 min 9.722s. The pits were busy with team preparing rain tires. The sky above Suzuka began to darken, and at 6:12 pm it began to rain.
A number of teams directed their riders to pit for rain tires. On Lap 184, Takahashi’s lap time slowed down to 2 min 34.548, but he, along with many of the other leading teams, decided to stay on slicks. SDG Honda Racing‘s Noguchi and Honda Dream RT SAKURAI Honda‘s Ito, however, pitted.
Despite his severely reduced pace, Takahashi took advantage of the team’s big lead and rode carefully. In the difficult conditions, Kiyonari lapped at 2 min 21.870s on slick tires, more than ten seconds faster than Takahashi’s 2 min 33.116s, putting pressure on Black ahead. Once the Lights On sign was shown and the night came, Black pitted for rain tires, but slipped on his out lap and lost many positions.
Black’s misfortune allowed Kiyonari to move up to second place. His lap time of 2 min 26.877s was much faster than anyone else on track, and he even speeded up to 2 min 15.635s on Lap 186.
On Lap 189, Takahashi was in to the pits to hand his bike to Nagashima, and for a new set of slick tires. Kiyonari was second, Takuya Tsuda (Suzuki) third, Noguchi fourth, and Di Meglio was up to fifth. On Lap 189, Takahashi was in to the pits to hand his bike to Nagashima, and for a new set of slick tires. On Lap 190, Nagashima upped his pace to 2 min 10.587s while Kiyonari also set a 2 min 11.135 lap. Red-crossed flags were being waved as rain fell and the race continued. On Lap 193, Nagashima slowed down to 2 min 17.471, but was still in the lead. With thirty minutes remaining, the rain stopped. Nagashima finished his 201st lap in 2 min 10.841s.
On Lap 215, at 7:24 pm, Nagashima pitted for a splash-and-dash, and was soon out on track. He went on to cross the finish line without further drama, giving Team HRC with Japan Post its second consecutive victory, and Takahashi’s fifth Suzuka 8 Hours win equaling the record held by Toru Ukawa.
Honda dominated the podium with TOHO Racing second and SDG Honda Racing third. F.C.C. TSR Honda France was the best EWC team performer, finishing fourth. Honda Dream RT SAKURAI Honda was sixth, Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA eighth, and Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing tenth. Seven Honda teams were in the top 10.
"I really didn’t know if I could race in the Suzuka 8 Hours this year because of my injury. I was also worried that I would not be fast enough. Without the speed, I would not be selected, and if I was selected, I had to win. There was a lot of pressure, so I’m relieved we won. Last year’s Suzuka 8 Hours was the first time for me so everything was new, and I relied on Takumi a lot and just rode as fast as I could, but this year I’m a bit more mature, and managed to pace myself in the last stint, which I think helped in winning. I’m grateful to everyone at HRC for giving me this opportunity."
"I’m relieved we won. It started to rain in my final stint, so I thought fate was against us. My lap times were very slow, but I had to stay upright, so I avoided taking any risks. Tetsuta and Xavi both had great pace, which led to our victory. I’m grateful to everyone in the team. I also managed to equal the most Suzuka 8 Hours wins for a rider. I had many chances up to now but failed, so if I have the chance in the future, I’d like to extend my record."
Chase Sexton #23
“Anaheim 1 was one of the gnarliest tracks I’ve been on. It was really hard to jump into and be consistent and perfect throughout the whole main event. Being back in a race setting was good. I’m pretty comfortable on my bike; I think we made some good steps in the right direction, and I felt safe and stable in the whoops all night.”
“Being able to race in the Suzuka 8 Hours was the best experience. It was my first time, but I had the best teammates, and learned a lot. The safety car came out during my stint, and I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t have the experience. But I rode carefully, because I could not fail. Takumi and Tetsuta both had tough stints in the rain. I believe we could overcome these difficulties because we worked as a team. I’m grateful for the team’s support as well. I’ll gladly come back to Suzuka as many times as I can to have this amazing experience again! ”