TEAM GREEN BACK IN B
Haslam steers Kawasaki to their best Suzuka result since Scott Russell and Aaron Slight won in 1993
Leon Haslam may have been unable to notch up another Suzuka 8 Hours win in 2016, but his hugely impressive performance alongside team mates Akira Yanagawa and Katsuaki Fujiwara saw the factory Kawasaki team secure second and come the closest to challenging the all-conquering Yamaha squad.
Eventually finishing over two minutes behind close friend Alex Lowes onboard the factory Yamaha R1, Haslam believed that despite the defeat, they’re only just coming close to unlocking the potential of the new-for-2016 machine after the experience of this year’s race.
“We came here with a brand new bike, and that took a lot of effort working with these guys. We spent a lot of time trying to improve the setting, but we got the most out of the bike in the end. To get second is huge.
“We’ve got on really well, and the set-up between Yanagawa and me was really similar, which helped. The team have taken on everything I’ve said, and we’ve been trying to push the bike forward – and I think we’ve made it a lot better for Suzuka in the future.”
The Team Green rider also confirmed that he fully intends to return to the prestigious event next year, as long as regular-season duties permit it.
“I’ll be back next year for sure, depending on what I’m doing. If I stay with Kawasaki, it’s a fantastic team with the potential to win. It’s a big gap to Yamaha, but we can bridge it.”
And part of the attraction for coming back to one of the toughest races of the year comes from the prestige attached the event. Taking Kawasaki’s best result since they won it back in 1993 with World Superbike heroes Scott Russell and Aaron Slight, Haslam is keenly aware of how important the race is to his bosses’ bosses.
“Suzuka is massive, and it seems to be getting bigger and bigger. Pol coming from Grand Prix, Nicky, van der Mark and Alex coming from World Superbikes – there’s a lot of talented guys here. To set the third fastest time in qualifying and the second fastest time in the race is awesome.”
However, there’s one thing that won’t be of benefit to him from the race – any knowledge he’s gleaned from the machine. Working on a bike vastly different – and more advanced – from his BSB bike, he admitted that there are few similarities between the two.
“The bike in BSB is totally different. We’ve had a few difficult weekends there, but we’ve just figured out the issues, and I’m looking forward to have a normal-running bike for Brands to try and take it to Shakey.”
‘I’ll be back next year. It’s a big gap to Yamaha, but we can bridge it’
legendary Nori Haga to finish third for Yoshimura Suzuki.
Yamaha pulled out all the stops for the second year in a row, with Motogp racer and defending champion Pol Espargaró joined by victorious 2015 team-mate (and fourtime Japanese champion) Kats Nakasuga and Britain’s own Alex Lowes on a machine that Bradley Smith described last year as closer to a Motogp M1 than an R1.
But the real big guns are Honda. Literally a home race – Honda own the circuit and founded the race – they brought Nicky Hayden, Michael van der Mark, PJ Jacobsen, Dominique Aegerter and Takumi Takahashi among others to try and regain their crown.
Add to that a stable of factorysupported teams, comprised of everything from Japan Superbike front-runners to teams made up of students from their training colleges and factories, and you see how seriously they take it.
Then there are 124,000 of the most passionate fans you’ll ever meet, the top CEOS and chair people of all the manufacturers, and a slew of local and international celebrities, just to reinforce the picture of just how seriously the big four take Suzuka.
‘No other race attracts so many factory teams or superstar riders’