Kawasaki confirm Jonathan Rea, Alex Lowes and Leon Haslam for Suzuka 8 Hour team

WorldSBK riders Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes will be joined by BSB's Leon Haslam in the official factory Kawasaki Suzuka 8 Hour entry.

Factory Kawasaki pit stop, 2019 Suzuka 8 Hour. - Kawasaki Press

KAWASAKI have officially announced their 2022 Suzuka 8 Hour factory entry, as the famous Japanese race is set to return for the first time since 2019. 

The last edition of the Suzuka 8 Hour was successful, if dramatic, for Kawasaki. The race was won by the trio of Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam and Toprak Razgatlioglu, although it was also the genesis of Razgatlioglu’s move away from Kawasaki to Yamaha for 2020. Kawasaki had actually crashed when a red flag was thrown for an expired SERT Suzuki, but because they were able to get back to the pits within five minutes, and led the lap which the results were taken from, they were declared the winners, but not before the factory Yamaha team had been celebrating for a few minutes. 

This year, Rea and Haslam will return to defend their 8 Hour crown, but instead of Razgatlioglu, they will be joined by Alex Lowes for 2023.

Lowes has had a tough time of it in the past couple of years through injury, but showed signs of improvement at the last WorldSBK round in Estoril, where the #22 factory KRT WorldSBK rider was able to stay with the dominant top three of Rea, Razgatlioglu and Alvaro Bautista for the first half of the race. 

Lowes’ Suzuka pedigree is also without doubt. He won three straight 8 Hours with Yamaha between 2016 and 2018, when Yamaha themselves were making the journey to four Suzuka wins in a row, which was started in 2015 by Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith and Katsuyuki Nakasuga. 

It will be the first 8 Hour race for the ‘new-generation’ ZX-10RR, with the flat, aerodynamically curious fairing that debuted last year, but nonetheless with such a strong line-up there is no doubt that the factory Kawasaki will be one of the favourites for victory. 

Kawasaki will also be taking engineers and mechanics from the Provec-run KRT WorldSBK team to the 8 Hour to work alongside the Japanese factory engineers.

“I am so excited to go back to Japan,” said Jonathan Rea. “ I always feel really appreciated by the Japanese fans. The atmosphere is incredible and I am really looking forward to going back. I think the target heading back to Suzuka is to win. We won there before and this season I feel, with Alex and Leon inside the team, we have a lot of experience together with the Ninja ZX-10RR.”

Rea continued, “We are going with a huge effort, lots of testing, taking the event seriously with a strong rider line up and a team with a lot more experience. I feel the minimum we can do is compete for the podium, but of course in Endurance racing everything can go right, everything can go wrong. We have to be very calm, mature, and do our best, lap-by-lap.”

Rea’s KRT WorldSBK teammate, Alex Lowes, added, “It is a race that I have had some success with in the past. I am really happy to be going back there with Kawasaki for the first time. To be paired with Jonathan, who won last time he was there, is fantastic. Obviously I am a good friend of Leon’s away from the track so it will be nice to be in the same team as him too. I share the garage with Johnny every weekend and he obviously is a reigning champion at Suzuka because we have missed a couple of years. I have won the event three times so I think we have a pretty good team, a strong team, and I am looking forward to seeing how we get on all together. With the test schedule Kawasaki has created we know how focused they are on this race. As the race comes back on the calendar in 2022 they want to win and we are going there to do our best to achieve another victory.”

Since Leon Haslam last raced at Suzuka in 2019, he has spent two years on factory Honda, before returning this year to Kawasaki in the British Superbike Championship. “For me, to go back to the Suzuka 8 Hours is fantastic,” said Haslam. “I have had a lot of success there and managed to win it three times. Johnny and I won it back 2019, the last time it was run, so to go back in 2022 I have really high expectations. To be teamed back up with Johnny and also Alex, who was our main rival in 2019 - I think we have the dream team. I am super-excited and can’t wait to get going. The goal for 2022 at Suzuka obviously is to win.”

The 2022 Suzuka 8 Hour is set to take place on 7 August.