At long last the Suzuka 8hours Endurance Road Racing week begins with today's free practice session. Free practice is used to fix issues from the previous test sessions and to make final adjustments in preparation for the qualifying sessions and the race itself. "team R1 & YAMALUBE" had Makoto Tokinaga as the 1st rider, Norihiko Fujiwara as the 2nd rider and Jeffry de Vries as the 3rd rider. The three of them steadily clocks up the mileage. However, in the afternoon session, Jeffry crashed. The sparks caused by his crash into the tire barrier (a shock absorbing material) set the machine on fire. Fortunately Jeffry wasn't hurt, which was a big relief.
The team had two machines (the main machine and a "spare" bike). The machine that crashed was the spare bike, so after that they continued to ride on the main machine. When I saw the bike that crashed I thought "It was over". But despite my worries everybody on the team worked through the night repairing the bike and by the next day it was like new. Amazing teamwork! "Touch this, there's still some soot stuck to it" said general manager Toyoshi Nishida to me, and when I touched the bottom of the bike, my hand was slightly black. But it was like new that I almost doubted whether the bike had actually been on fire after all.
The qualifying sessions were held today. These are very important sessions for competing in the race itself. The tension rose and I became aware of the voices giving instructions in the pit were crisp and determined. Even I was thinking to myself "It's started". Looking at the day's schedule I saw that there were 12 qualifying sessions being held! I wondered why, but this year there are unusually large number of bikes (84) taking part, so for the first time in 7 years, since 2008, they have split the field into A Group and B Group to conduct the qualifying sessions. 1st rider (A Group, B Group), 2nd rider (A Group, B Group) then 3rd rider (A Group, B Group) have two sessions of 20 minutes each for a total of 12 qualifying sessions. "team R1 & YAMALUBE" is in B Group. The position of the team will be determined by the fastest qualifying time of a rider of the team, Makoto Tokinaga, Norihiko Fujiwara or Jeffry de Vries. The result was 36th place overall and 5th place in the Superstock class. Although I had heard that the qualifying sessions are just qualifying and that they are a different thing to the race itself, I could sense the frustration in the team and in that atmosphere I felt I needed to be careful about what I said. But after that, things seemed to get better. When I caught a glimpse of people smiling as they worked in the pit I got my own smile back. Even though it was past 11 o'clock at night, in the pit they were still practicing tire changes and refueling, again and again. I felt their determination to win, to keep going for as long as time allowed them and to not leave anything unfinished.
On race day, the weather was fine again and the midsummer sun was beating down. At 11:30 the air temperature was 33 degrees and the track temperature was 54 degrees. I couldn't imagine a track temperature of 54 degrees; it was like standing on a frying pan.
The race started at 11:30. I thought the race would begin with standing start, but the riders were stood on the other side of the track, then they ran to their bikes, jumped on and raced off! It seems that it's called a "Le Mans" start. I was overwhelmed by the impact of the start, with the cheers and the sound of the exhausts.
This year's race did not unfold smoothly. There was a series of crashes, machines were left on the track and oil spills remained (a dangerous situation because if you ride over the oil, you will slip and crash), so a guide vehicle used to maintain safety, called the safety car, had to come on 6 times.
When the safety car is on the track speeds are reduced, fuel is consumed more slowly and the burden on the tires is also lightened, so instead of making 9 pit stops as originally scheduled the team hastily changed their strategy to make only 7 pit stops. I thought that racing was just about riding as fast as possible, but then I remembered Makoto Tokinaga and Norihiko Fujiwara explaining to me that the Suzuka 8hours Endurance Road Racing is not just a case of "the faster the better", it's about how the team as a whole responds to and works out strategies to deal with pit stops, weather, the safety car and other unpredictable situations that occur during the race. With fewer visits to the pits, there is less time lost and by skillfully using this to their advantage the team steadily improved their race position.
At first I was cheering them on, but whenever I saw other teams crash my heart was in my mouth and instead I was just praying for them to finish quickly without crashing and to come safely back to the pit. But my team was riding very consistently and as they got closer to the finish I was really thinking "Go on, win!" In the end it was Makoto Tokinaga who crossed the finish line. A brilliant victory for "team R1 & YAMALUBE" in the Superstock class!! The crash in free practice, the repair of the machine, the changes in race strategy - it was teamwork that got them through each of these difficulties. It's wonderful.
There are many different teams participating, from teams directly associated with major manufacturers to the private teams of companies and even individuals, but today I'm going to report on team R1 & YAMALUBE, which is a Yamaha internal team, competing in the SST (Superstock) class.
Yamaha's veteran test rider Makoto Tokinaga was himself actually involved with the testing for the Yamaha YZF-R1, and was so impressed by its ability that he decided to compete in the Suzuka 8hours. The riders are Makoto Tokinaga and Jeffry de Vries from Europe, a former Yamaha test rider and World Superbike racer. Finally there is Norihiko Fujiwara, former All Japan Champion for three years running. The R1 project leader Hideki Fujiwara is the team director.
This is the Suzuka 8hours Endurance Road Racing! I felt keenly the way that everybody's emotions have been condensed into these 8 hours, after using their paid holidays and skimping on sleep during preparations, and how the riders carried those feelings with them as they rode.
At first I approached this as just another job, but now I feel I've had the chance to look at, and touch an amazing world.
This time, through my contact with the team, I've become closer to the world of racing and feel that it has given me both inspiration and bravery. Thank you! (Satsuki)
Date of Birth: May 24, 1989
Special skill: volleyball, classical ballet, swimming, skiing, snowboarding, piano
Hobby: traveling abroad
She is an actress and model acting on television, fashion magazines, radio and theater. She loves all kinds of sports but motor sport.
This opportunity to report 2015 Suzuka 8hours race gave her the chances to meet the riders and team staffs, and experienced the excitement of motor sport.