WorldSBK stars Lecuona, Vierge to partner in Honda Suzuka 8 Hours team

The 2023 factory Honda Suzuka 8 Hours team will consist of WorldSBK riders Xavi Vierge and Iker Lecuona, and four-time 8 Hours winner Takumi Takahashi.

Iker Lecuona, Xavi Vierge, 2023 Catalan WorldSBK. - Gold and Goose

Honda has announced the rider line-up for its factory team at the 2023 Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race, with Iker Lecuona and Takumi Takahashi joined this year by Xavi Vierge.

Lecuona and Vierge are the most recognisable headline names for European fans, thanks to their exploits in Moto2, MotoGP (in the case only of Lecuona), and WorldSBK, where the two have been teammates in the factory HRC squad since the beginning of 2022.

For Lecuona, the 2023 edition will be his second Suzuka 8 Hours, after his debut last year alongside the aforementioned Takahashi, and Tetsuta Nagashima. Lecuona’s debut was successful, as he, together with his Japanese teammates, took victory for HRC, who won the race for the first time since 2014. 

The success enjoyed by HRC in Suzuka last year and Lecuona’s role within that has undoubtedly played a part in the increased trust given by HRC to the 23-year-old Spaniard. This has seen him ride twice for the Repsol Honda Team in MotoGP this season, firstly in place of Marc Marquez in the Spanish Grand Prix, and secondly in place of Joan Mir at the Dutch TT.

Meanwhile, Vierge will be making his Suzuka debut this year, as Honda looks to defend the crown it won in 2022.

On its own, that seems a relatively daunting prospect for Vierge, but in the context of this year’s reduced number of full-factory teams, perhaps the pressure will be slightly reduced.

Recently, Kawasaki announced that it will not be attending the 2023 Suzuka 8 Hours with a factory team, as the Provec Racing outfit that took over the running of the 8 Hours squad in 2019 has decided that its attention needs to be entirely on improving Kawasaki’s WorldSBK project, which is currently in its worst state since arguably the early 2010s before Tom Sykes won the 2013 World Championship.

Kawasaki’s lead effort will therefore be its factory Endurance World Championship (EWC) team, Kawasaki Webike Trickstar, which will compete with Greg Leblanc, Kazuki Watanabe, and Randy de Puniet.

Additionally, Yamaha announced that, as in 2022, its factory Suzuka effort will be an upgrade in technical and operational support - and a Yamalube title sponsorship - for the YART team that competes full-time in the EWC (of which the Suzuka 8 Hours is the penultimate round), and that won the Spa 24H EWC Motos earlier this month with its riders: Niccolo Canepa, Marvin Fritz, and Karel Hanika.

This leaves Suzuki, whose lead team will be the Yoshimura SERT squad that competes against the aforementioned YART Yamaha team in EWC full-time, and which won the title in 2021. SERT will field Sylvain Guintoli, Gregg Black, and Etienne Masson.

As a result of the other Japanese manufacturers committing fewer resources to Suzuka, Honda’s chances of retaining its Suzuka 8 Hours title seem strong by their retention of a full Suzuka factory team. But at the same time, the challenge of endurance should not be underestimated. 

Honda will also have the representation of its own factory EWC team, FCC TSR Honda France, which won this year’s 24 Heures Motos at Le Mans with their riders: Josh Hook, Mike Di Meglio, and Alan Techer. Heading to Japan in early August, TSR has a one-point deficit in the EWC standings to YART Yamaha.

The 2023 Suzuka 8 Hours will take place on 4-6 August.

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