Haslam steers Kawasaki to their best Suzuka re­sult since Scott Rus­sell and Aaron Slight won in 1993

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Sport - By Si­mon Pat­ter­son MO­TOGP RE­PORTER

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’

Su­per­pole time Fastest lap

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