The Team Green Kawasaki squad of Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam and Kazuma Watanabe finished third in a dramatic Suzuka 8Hr race on Sunday 29 July.
After leading for much of the early part of the race, mixed fortunes befell the team at a crucial point. However, all three riders battled hard in the final hours and secured a valuable podium place in this iconic event.
The 41st edition of the race was won by the No.21 Yamaha of Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark and Katsuyuki Nakasuka ahead of the No.33 Honda of Takumi Takahashi, Takaaki Nakagami and Patrick Jacobsen.
The race could not have started in more dramatic conditions. An overnight typhoon had swept through the region leaving behind a mix of sunshine and showers. As the teams lined up on the grid one of those showers returned meaning the race would start in wet conditions. Leon Haslam shot into the lead into the first corner but soon settled into second place as the track surface began to dry. When the time came to change to slick tyres, Jonathan Rea took over the riding duties and duly engaged in a close battle with the No.21 Yamaha of van der Mark.
For the first few hours of the race, both Rea and Haslam battled hard with van der Mark and Lowes as they edged further ahead of the nearest challengers. As the race approached the half way point Rea had established a two second lead over the Yamaha rider. That evaporated at the next rider change when Rea ran low on fuel on his in lap. He had to coast down the pit lane to hand over to Haslam for the next stint losing valuable seconds.
When Rea took to the bike again with just over three hours to go another heavy shower came over the track and brought out the safety car. As the slow string of riders approached one of the many tight bends around the track Jonathan had to run off the racing line and unfortunately fell on the treacherous surface. He brought the bike back to the pit box where the Team Green mechanics repaired the damage in amazingly quick time, sending Kazuma Watanabe into the race without losing position.
The race ran under the safety car for a considerable time and it was with around two hours remaining that racing could be back underway. Despite all their best efforts, and at one stage gaining time on the second place team and trying to claw back the deficit, the Kawasaki trio finally had to settle for third place.
Another Suzuka podium to add to those already achieved by Kawasaki and all three riders and an amazing team atmosphere are certainly positives to take away from the event and, of course, there is always next year !
Jonathan Rea – we proved our speed
“It was a very, very difficult race we had so many different conditions thrown at us and things we were not prepared for. I am really happy and I gave a big effort and myself, Leon, Kazuma and the all the team fell short; the chips just did not fall our way this year and congratulations to Yamaha and Honda. It just didn’t happen for us but we proved our speed which I am really happy about. I just want to thank my team mates, they did a really good job in a difficult race”.
Leon Haslam – a great team effort
“Really happy. I made a podium again with Team Green. I had a real good first part of the race and had some good battles with Yamaha and Honda. I came into a little bit of bad luck in the mid race stage and had to bring the bike home for third place. I am really happy, it was a great team effort and the bike was working really good. I can’t be too disappointed, we are back on the podium here at Suzuka so I am really happy”.
Kazuma Watanabe – we had good potential to win
“First of all I would like to forward big thanks to Kawasaki, the sponsors and Team Green.
It was a difficult race with many extraordinary issues like the typhoon, ever changing weather and the safety cars etc.
I had only one stint but that was not a problem because I know my job is not only on Sunday. However I do regret that we ended up third although we had good potential to win. I will be improving myself as from today for the next Suzuka 8hr based on the experience I absorbed from two great riders this week”.