Racing, by definition, has winners and losers. Last weekend at Japan’s classic Suzuka 8 Hour endurance race, there were some big winners, and some big losers.
Let’s start with the losers. Going into the weekend, all eyes were on former MotoGP champion Casey Stoner, who was returning to his first real motorcycle race since retiring in 2012. Since then, he’s tested Honda’s MotoGP bikes, but hasn’t returned to full-on competition.
Stoner laid down great lap times in practice for the Musashi Honda team and had taken the lead when disaster struck on Lap 31. He crashed his CBR1000RR hard, breaking bones in his shoulder and leg. Stoner blamed the crash on a stuck throttle, which Honda confirmed post-race.
“I picked the bike up to try to slow down more but I was heading towards the wall so I decided to lay it over and hit the barrier,” said Stoner. “Unfortunately, they were a lot harder than they looked and we came out of it with a broken bone in the ankle and broken scapular.”
In the wake of Stoner’s crash, the Yamaha factory racing team went on to win. Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith rode the YZF-R1 to the front of the pack, with Nakasuga setting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 6. It was only Yamaha’s fifth Suzuka win, and their first factory team win there in 19 years.
While the Suzuka 8 Hour doesn’t have a very high profile in North America, it’s one of the most important races in Japan, a fact the Yamaha team recognized. They had the highest-profile racers except for the Musashi Honda team (Stoner, Michael Van Der Mark and Takumi Takahashi).
“It‘s very special, the 60th anniversary for Yamaha, they are leading the MotoGP championship, but second to that was a focus to on the Suzuka 8 Hour and I‘m glad that we were able to show the true potential of this bike and give them that victory,” Smith said after the race.
Espargaro echoed his comments and added it was special to pull off the win with Smith as a teammate, saying it was good to bond with both Nakasuga and his partner in MotoGP. “Normally we have many activities and we don’t get to speak often as friends,” he said. “This weekend was so good for us. I’m happy because I found two great friends, and we got the 8 Hours Suzuka race victory.”