Honda trounces Kawasaki in Suzuka 8 Hours, Lecuona latest MotoGP alumni to win

Honda gets one up on WorldSBK rivals Kawasaki as Iker Lecuona plays part in defeating Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam and Alex Lowes to win 2022 Suzuka 8 Hours

HRC Honda win 2022 Suzuka 8 Hours

Team HRC Honda has returned to the top of the Suzuka 8 Hours podium for the first time in eight years as ex-MotoGP rider Iker Lecuona, Tetsuta Nagashima and Takumi Takahashi scored a resounding victory over a Kawasaki line-up containing six-time WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea.

Arguably the most significant annual event on the racing calendar for the Japanese ‘Big Four’, the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race routinely sees Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki wheeling out the biggest hitters in its global portfolio to get one up on their arch rivals in the prestigious race. 

As the first Suzuka 8 Hours to take place since 2019, this was therefore a maiden outing for the new generation Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade, with the manufacturer - which happens to own the Suzuka Circuit - complementing this with two fresh faces in Lecuona and Nagashima to join Honda BSB rider and two-time Suzuka 8 Hours winner Takahashi.

Dubbed as a head-to-head with KRT - whose 2019 Suzuka 8 Hours pairing of Rea and Leon Haslam were joined by Alex Lowes, a triple winner with Yamaha himself - though Team Green went into the event as firm favourites, it was comfortably out-performed by Honda.

However, the race itself was marred by a horrific accident at the Triangle Chicane involving Gino Rea during Saturday morning's FP2 session. Reportedly knocked unconscious in the smash, Rea was airlifted to hospital but save for a statement from the Endurance World Championship (EWC) in the immediate aftermath, there has been no official communication on his condition since.

With Nagashima - winner of the 2020 Moto2 race in Qatar and on of the Fireblade’s primary development riders - setting the tone by becoming the first and only rider to go sub-2m 05secs in qualifying practice on several occasions, in the race Team HRC were only headed during the first five laps of the 214 it’d eventually complete.

While its fortunes were assisted by a fortuitous Safety Car period during the third hour that split Lecuona and Lowes into two separate packs - significantly swelling a margin of 25secs to 1m 15s - plus a brief tip-off for Rea in his attempts to make up ground, there was rarely a point in the race where the #33 Honda wasn’t lapping quickest of all regardless of the rider.

All-but-assuring its win when Nagashima lapped Haslam - who was held up by a longer pit-stop to allow KRT mechanics to check for damage in the wake of Rea’s fall - Honda maintained that advantage to the chequered flag to notch up both a record 28th Suzuka 8 Hours win in 43 attempts and a first success since 2014.

As well as being a third win for Takahashi, the success also marks maiden triumphs for Nagashima -  in his first international outing since the end of 2020 when he walked away from Moto2 - and WorldSBK rider Lecuona, who joins the likes of Valentino Rossi, Colin Edwards, Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith as MotoGP alumni with prestigious Suzuka 8 Hours accolades to their name.

For KRT, there was to be no repeat of the drama that led to it being controversially awarded victory in 2019 despite Rea crashing with three minutes to go, as it settled for a distant second.

Despite losing two of its riders - Xavier Simeon (COVID) and Sylvain Guintoli (injury) - in the run up to the race, the depleted SERT Suzuki line-up of Gregg Black and Kazuki Watanabe completed the podium. Its result could become the end of an era for both the manufacturer and the event following the news Suzuki is shuttering its motorsport programme at the end of the year, leaving the event without an official representative from one of the 'Big Four' for the first time in 2023.

Nevertheless, after famously missing out on the Endurance World Championship title in 2019 when the SERT bike suffered an engine failure five minutes from home, the podium marked a change of Suzuka fortunes for Suzuki after it inherited third late on from title rivals YART Yamaha, who lost its grip on a podium result through a series of issues during the final hour.

Running in second place ahead of KRT - and lapping quicker - during the sixth and seventh hours, a sticky rear tyre with 60mins had already dropped it to third when Marvin Fritz collided with another Yamaha at Spoon Curve and piled into the barriers. Getting the bike out of the air fence and back to the pit lane, swift repair work got the R1 back on track with 40mins to go in sixth, only for a stop-go penalty to demote it to a frustrated seventh at the flag.

S-Pulse Suzuki won the battle of the local contingent, ahead of a Toho Honda team that included three-time BSB Champion Ryuichi Kiyonari. They benefited from the very early elimination of two fancied Honda-backed domestic entries after Astemo Dream Racing’s Terasuke Sakumoto dropped his Fireblade on the run up to the Spoon Curve on Lap 2, which then collected Naomichi Uramoto on the SDG Honda up ahead.

Despite the ferocity of the impact, neither Uramoto nor Sakumoto were injured, but it concluded their campaigns just four minutes into the eight-hour encounter after weeks of preparation.

Elsewhere, BMW’s attempt to become the first Suzuka 8 Hours entry to win without any Japanese input faltered. Armed with a German bike on British (Dunlop) shod tyres piloted by French, Ukrainian and German riders, the M 1000 RR off the pace in the race before technical issues ended its hopes at the half-way point.

Serious accident for Gino Rea

The event was marred by a serious accident involving English rider Gino Rea during FP2 on Saturday morning. Knocked unconscious in the accident, Rea was airlifted to hospital.

While there has been no official news about Rea's condition some 48 hours after the incident [as of writing] from EWC or Honda beyond a brief statement shortly after the accident, Endurance World Champion and former WorldSBK rider Terry Rymer posted on Twitter that Rea is alive and will come off breathing apparatus soon - SEE FULL STORY