Team Kagayama achieves a podium finish in its first try at Suzuka
“Got to do the 8 Hours”
This statement made by Yukio Kagayama at the end of last year was the start of it all. “I want to do what only I can do” said Kagayama. This lead to the forming of the “Dream Team”, with Noriyuki Haga and Kevin Schwantz, overcoming the barrier between manufacturers and generation.
Preparing the Suzuka 8 Hours started early in the year, and it all had to start from scratch. Acquiring the spare machine and parts, mechanic, staff, hospitality, pool to cool down the riders,and pit material were only a small portion of the list that had to be prepared.
“This is my third year since I formed my own team. Everything I did, from the participating in the parade with my racing machine in the city of Yokohama, throwing a ceremonial pitch at a professional baseball game, were all a part of me believing that it would help the racing scene in Japan. Now in my third year, the only thing that came to mind was to race at the Suzuka 8 Hours in my own team” – Yukio Kagayama
Testing started in June with Haga participating, and Schwantz joining the test in July. It started from shaking down the Yoshimura-tuned Suzuki GSX-R1000 to improving the performance, to get well-prepared for race week.
Qualifying, Friday, July 26th
Qualifying began with two sessions each for every rider. The best lap of the team was marked by Haga with a lap time of 2’08.438, qualifying the team in fifth position, and advancing the team to the Top 10 Trial.
“There were ups and downs setting up the machine. This was my first time to ride a Suzuki machine, but bikes are bikes. There is a Suzuki taste to the machine, but things we need to do are basically the same. It’s a matter of how we set-up the machine to an endurance machine. We improved little by little from the test. There were times when we made big improvements, but there were times when we had setbacks. Machine had the potential, we just needed to setup the machine so that we can average fast laps in the race. That’s the only way to win at Suzuka” – Noriyuki Haga
Top 10 Trial, Saturday, July 27th
Rain started to fall right before the Top 10 Trial, and the session was changed to 40 minute timed practice, instead of a super-pole type of qualification. All three riders went out on a time attack, and Kagayama’s 2’08.188 qualified the team in the sixth position.
There was big surprise for everybody at Suzuka. In order to show his respect for his long-time rival and friend, Wayne Rainey, Schwantz decided to change his Arai helmet to a Rainey-colored SHOEI helmet. This surprise was made possible by the cooperation of both helmet manufacturers. The fans cheered as Schwantz rode off with the Rainey helmet in this session.
“It’s not efficient to change the setting for just one-lap. So I think the rain did us good by changing the session to a 40-minute one. This meant that we had more time in setting up the machine for the race, and more time to discuss. Wearing Wayne’s helmet meant a lot to me, and I did to show my respect to him. My career has always been together with Wayne’s.”-Kevin Schwantz
Race Day, Sunday, July 28th
The race started at 11:30 a.m. Haga started the race for the team. He made a great to start and jumped to 3rd. From then on, the leading pack would consist of #12 Yoshimura, #7 YART, #634 Harc-Pro, and #99 BMW. Haga would place himself in the second group. He would drop to the 8th position at one time, but successfully came into the pit in the 5th position.
In the 27th lap, after all teams made their first pit stop, the second rider, Kagayama would battle #7 YART’s Nakasuga until they pit in lap 49, keeping the 4th position.
Haga once again took control for stint #3. We retook the 4th position after passing #7 YART’s Josh Waters. After the race leader, #11 TSR’s Ryuichi Kiyonari crashes, he jumps up to 3rd. Then, #12 Yoshimura was penalized for a overspeed in pitlane, and Haga would jump up to 2nd, and would once again pass the baton to Kagayama.
Although, the team dropped to 3rd during the pitstop, Kagayama passes #7 YART’s Broc Parkes and once again takes the 2nd position. He would keep this position until he pits in lap 100, while #12 Yoshimura loses position from a faller.
And the history was made. Schwantz goes on track on the fifth stint. Lapping at the same average as the race leaders, and would keep the 2nd position until he pits and gives the machine to Haga.
Haga, in this stint, would battle for the 2nd position with #1 SERT and #12 Yoshimura. With 2 hours left to go, Kagayama takes the track again, and would keep a lone 3rd after passing #1 SERT.
Haga would again go on track keep 3rd position, and showing a great effort by widening the gap with #1 SERT for 30 seconds. By the time, he ends his stint, the sun went down in Suzuka, and the lights on sign was out earlier than expected.
Kagayama took out the Suzuki GSX-R1000 for the last stint. Rain started to fall at Suzuka. It seemed that he was a slight rain at first, but it started to pour around lap 200. The team prepared rain tires, and Kagayama pits in lap 203 to change to rain tires.
With the race leader #634 Harc-Pro and 2nd position #12 Yoshimura on dry tires, Kagayama would pace at a 10 to 20 second faster lap than the leaders, and would start to catch up with them. However, the rain started to weaken, and dry patches started to appear on track, not allowing Kagayama to close in further. Kagayama finishes the race in 3rd, an amazing finish for a team in their first challenge at the Suzuka 8 Hours.
#634 Harc-Pro won the race, with #12 Yoshimura coming in second.
“I made the decision to race at the 8 Hours, thinking to cheer up the racing scene in Japan. I’m sure this decision was a burden to my staff, but with their endless efforts, we were able to achieve a great result. I would like to particularly thank Yuichi Takeda, since I made him turn down the offer for a rider from an another team, and had him control the whole team. I think we had more spectators than previous years. Making news, and a dream team would bring in more fans, and I think I proved that. We had a couple of problems during race week, but there was not a single problem during the race. The mechanics made a perfect pitstop every time. I really have to thank the team and staff for this! And furthermost, being able to finish third with my racing hero, Kevin and my best friend Nori was really great. It’s a shame that Nori wasn’t able to make it to the podium. The Dunlop tires and the Yoshimura-spec worked perfectly. I hope that Suzuki, as well as Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha would put more efforts in racing like before, from seeing this race!”
“I think I somehow managed to do my job. I wanted to post faster laps, but I think I did the least of what I had to do-bringing back the machine in one piece without breaking it or crashing it. We had some problems on Friday and Saturday, but without any problems on race day, I believe, was the largest factor that we finished 3rd. I made a good start, but couldn’t make the rear tire grip enough, so the only thing I was thinking was to bring back the machine safely to pass it on to Yukio. I think we need more time. If we tested more, and requested more parts and stuff, we would be able to make a machine that could win this thing. On the hand, I was extremely happy to race along with Yukio, who I have been racing against since our mini-bikes years as a child. My friendship with him is the only reason why I said yes immediately when he asked me. And Kevin, wow! He’s 49 years old and hasn’t raced for 20 years, right? To run at that pace is a tremendous achievement!”
“I know that winning the Suzuka 8 Hours, and even being on the podium is a very difficult thing to do, so I am extremely happy that we were able to achieve that. Yukio really made a great team, and Nori supported the team well. Japan is a very special place for me, and being able to comeback racing at Suzuka meant a lot to me. I thank Yukio for giving me this great opportunity. When he gave me this offer, my only request was that he makes a good team in a good environment, and he did it perfectly. It was truly a great team, and I was able to relax at the 8 Hours. The tires and machine improved every time we tested, and I know for sure that by repeating this, it would be a great tire and a great machine. I only raced 1 stint, but I was really happy to race with young Japanese riders. Everyone one tells me to come back again next year, but you never what will happen. Yukio says that I am his racing hero, but to me, Yukio is a superstar! I thank the team and staff for making me a part of this great team! ”