The highly experienced three-rider official KRT Suzuka 8 Hours are no strangers to racing and also winning at the 5.821km long ‘figure eight’ circuit in Japan.
Haslam has been in Suzuka for some time, testing and preparing for the race weekend, while Lowes and Rea have recently travelled from the WorldSBK race weekend in Most, Czech Republic. Lowes’s recovery from an intestinal infection has been continuing, despite an uncomfortable weekend in Most and long flights and travel connections to get to Japan.
On track, the riders have been pleased with the improvements they have made to their machine’s set-up as they approached the first two official qualifying sessions. All three riders got a chance to qualify, with Haslam inside the blue group, Lowes in the yellow group and Rea the red group.
After two super-hot days of testing earlier this week Friday provided changeable weather, with falls of rain at unfortunate times almost spoiling the team’s best-laid plans.
These challenges were finally overcome and all three riders now move on to Saturday’s Free Practice Three - with the subsequent Top Ten trial then finalising the starting grid for Sunday’s race.
The 43rd Suzuka 8 Hours race itself will take place on Sunday 7 August.
Jonathan Rea, stated: “The tests have been great so far. I have really enjoyed every minute even though we came from the Most WorldSBK round with some difficult travel and connections. I arrived here feeling quite good and felt no jet lag. The first practices were positive. We found the same bike that we left at the previous test, so I am really happy with that. The next target was to qualify for the top five trial - which is like a super one-lap ‘Superpole’ for qualifying, to determine our grid position. I was really nervous. Being the red group rider I got bad weather in both my qualifying sessions. I actually missed out on the first qualifying because we timed it wrong with the tyre. I was out of the qualifying percentage. But in the second session, with lots of spots of rain around the track, we finally put it in fourth place. All three of us have been consistently fast, working with old tyres, so I feel good for the race. I feel we have one of the strongest line-ups with Alex and Leon. I have a lot of confidence in them and I hope they have the same confidence in me. I am looking forward to the race as a team. Everyone speaks the same language and the atmosphere is really good. In the riders’ room we have been hanging out, laughing and joking, so I cannot wait to get stuck into the racing.”
Alex Lowes, stated: “It has been a tough week for me at the start. I didn’t feel the best in Most and travelling here I was struggling a bit. But, since getting to Japan I have been feeling better every day. On track it has been great with the guys, we have a happy atmosphere in the team, we are working hard on the bike to improve the settings so that all three guys are feeling comfortable. The weather has not been the typical Suzuka 8 Hours weather. We have had some rain and it was really, really hot the first two days after we arrived. Now it is not so hot. There have been some wet laps, some dry laps. It has been a little bit changeable but that is also the forecast for the race itself, so we have to be prepared to adapt to every situation. All the qualifying was not too bad for me this morning so I am looking forward to the race now.”
Leon Haslam, stated: “We came out early to make a test, which was extremely hot. We had a very busy time on Tuesday and Wednesday. Qualifying was OK. We just did two laps and the weather was not so kind in the afternoon. The lap time wasn’t so bad because I managed to make one clean lap and I feel we are making steps - every day, every session - for the race on Sunday.”
Guim Roda, KRT Team Manager, stated: “The qualifying sessions today have been quite a lot of fun. There was a big tension and emotion because the weather made a big effect. In the first qualifying Jonathan could not push because it started to rain, so we were outside the 108% of the fastest qualifier rules. Rea could not race in the Suzuka 8 Hours after the first qualifying! Leon and Alex made good job securing the ‘Top Five Trial’ in dry conditions - which was the target - taking third position overall. We were more than 0.8 seconds from the team classified in sixth place. In the second Q the target was for JR to finish at least one lap inside this 108%, but in the middle of first lap it started to rain! That's why we decided to get out on track quickly. He was one of the first to exit. That meant he could finish the first lap with time enough to stay inside 108% and make the race. This weather situation made us run a bit crazy, but his is life…Tomorrow we will have chance to go for a time attack during the ‘Top 10 Trial.’ Sitting in front of a TV on Sunday, to enjoy the 8 Hours race, would be a very good plan for all the fans.”
Joining the KRT squad on track at Suzuka are several other Ninja ZX-10RR equipped teams across Superbike and Superstock classes. The famous #11 machine of Webike SRC Kawasaki France with riders Randy de Puniet, Etienne Masson and Florian Marino is expected to feature among leading teams in Superbike while Kawasaki Plaza Racing Team with riders Ryosuke Iwato, Yuta Okaya and Naoki Kiyosue, vie for honours in the Superstock category.