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 Honda Take Five Suzuka 8-Hour Wins in a Row

Endurance World Championship Suzuka - Japan, August 5 Round six of an eight round series.

Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi rode a superb race over 217 laps of the classic 5.864km Suzuka grand prix circuit to take the win in the prestigious 8-Hour Endurance race. Their win gave Honda five consecutive 8-Hour victories, and was the highlight of an almost immaculate performance from the three factory Cabin Honda squads entered in the race.

Edwards, who had the pleasure of riding the last leg, was ebullient and praised his team and fellow rider ceaselessly after the marathon test of man and racing machine. "I had the best riding partner and the best bike and it's great to win my second 8-Hour. I couldn't be happier."

Rossi, in his second Suzuka endurance race, was relieved with his team performance, having crashed out while leading last year. "To race and win an event like this is very exciting. When I asked Honda if I could do this race last year they said I should do it for two years because it is such a difficult race to win at your first attempt.

That's the way it turned out but because I had a stupid crash while leading. So to win it the year, after such disappointment in 200, is fantastic. Thanks to everyone and especially Colin." Honda's decision to roll out their Grand Prix and World Superbike big guns paid rich dividends throughout the gruelling race, with all three of the factory Honda teams taking turns to lead. In second place, a mere 14.268 seconds down on the winners, were Cabin Honda riders Alex Barros and Tady Okada, who fought tooth and nail with the eventual winners for almost the entire race distance, with frequent on-track tussles forming the highlight of a sometimes dramatic race. Third was the only official Suzuki Superbike entry, a three man team comprising of Akira Ryo, Yukio Kagayama and Atsushi Watanabe, who came home 1m 13s down on the leading Honda duo.

The intervention of the Pace Car, after an accident which resulted in a privateer machine being set ablaze on the racing line, allowed the Suzuki squad to catch, and subsequently pass the eventual fourth place Cabin Honda pairing of Daijiro Katoh and Tohru Ukawa.

Suzuki rider Akira Ryo, starting from pole position, got away first into turn one but was soon caught and passed on the second lap by both Valentino Rossi and Kawasaki factory rider Akira Yanagawa.

With Daijiro Katoh catching the leading three riders, it was soon to be a four, then a five-man early battle with the addition of the rapidly advancing Tady Okada on the tail, making it a full house of factory Hondas in the leading peleton.

The number 99 Sakurai machine pitted on lap four suffering from mechanical problems, which were to dog the team's efforts for the entire race. On lap four the first backmarkers were encountered by the leaders, and one was to play a major part in the fortunes of the race overall, when Yanagawa crashed into the rear of a slower machine on lap 21, effectively blunting one of the Kawasaki factory challenges for the win.

The NK class machine of Keiichi Kitagawa and the Kawasaki Superbike of Gregorio Lavilla and Tamaki Serizawa joined onto the leading five after the fifth lap, with no more than 2.109 seconds covering the top seven near the end of a true first session sprint. On lap 21 the Phase One world championship team was out, after their second rider Tony Rees fell on the second lap of his first session, damaging the machine too much to continue.

Colin Edwards's first session benefited from Rossi's sterling work, as he led Kagayama by over a second after the first rider changes. Running off in his efforts to stay in contention, Kagayama a lost several seconds, allowing Edwards to make good his escape until Alex Barros caught him after a display of determined riding.

Another near miss with a backmarker caused Ukawa a moment of worry halfway through his first session, with the fight between Edwards and Barros frequently see-sawing as the backmarkers played their unwitting part in the fight for the win.

At the turn of the third hour, the timesheet order of Katoh, from Rossi, from Okada was somewhat false, as the number four machine team had adopted a strategy of going for longer periods before stopping. Leaders on the road were still the Edwards and Rossi and Barros and Okada partnerships. The best fight of the race occurred in the second Edwards/Barros session with the SBK and GP rider overtaking each other at will, swapping the lead at frequent intervals. Only a pit stop for Edwards, on lap 101, ended their titanic battle.

The end of the fourth hour once more had an artificial feel to it, with Kato and Ukawa leading their closest challengers by arithmetic only. In fifth place Gobert and Haga were moving on up in pace, but they were to exit in the very final section of the race, having completed 7 hours and 38 minutes of racing. The second factory Kawasaki was already out of the race, after Gregorio Lavilla had crashed at the exit of Spoon curve on lap 81.

At the end of the fifth hour, the order was once more Ukawa from Rossi from Barros, but the fight for the top positions was as intense as ever. Near disaster for Tady Okada saw him crash as he led Valentino Rossi on lap 117 although his low-speed spill at the chicane left his machine undamaged and he carried on, some 15 seconds down on the departing Rossi, who had to take to the grass to avoid Okada's machine.

The race itself settled into a routine for the next 40 laps or so, with the three factory Hondas leading in the order of Rossi/Edwards, Barros/Okada and Ukawa/Katoh, with the factory Suzuki of Ryo/Kagayama and Watanabe ahead of Yamaha duo Gobert and Haga. Five hours and 42 minutes into the race a private machine crashed and caught fire at the last corner of the Esses, just before the Dunlop corner. The pace cars brought all the top four teams, the three Cabin Honda efforts and the factory Suzuki, onto the same 161st lap, and allowed the top Suzuki team to get onto terms with the number 4 Honda. Barros was similarly fortunate and took advantage to close up to Edwards, negating his ten second lead.

With the final stint looming for each rider, Rossi showed how determined he was, to lead from Okada by 14 seconds at the turn into the final hour.

With the American riding well as darkness fell, he kept his margin of victory after 217 laps of hard and punishing racing. Edwards' second 8-Hour win was Valentino Rossi's first, with Okada and Barros in second and the Suzuki factory team in third. Rossi's win was the first y an Italian rider in the 24 year history of the race. A battling race finish gave Daijiro Katoh and Torhu Ukawa fourth, with fifth going to the first 1000cc four-cylinder NK machine, the Suzuki of Kitagawa, Arakaki and Toda.


1. Valentino Rossi, I; Colin Edwards, USA; Manabu Kamada, J Cabin Honda 217 laps.
2. Tadayuki Okada J; Alex Barros, Bra; Shinichi Itoh, J Cabin Honda 217 laps 3. Akira Ryo, J; Yukio Kagayama, J; Akira Watanabe, J Suzuki 217 laps
4. Tohru Ukawa, J; Daijiro Katoh, J; Makoto Tamada, J Cabin Honda 217 laps
5. Keiichi Kitagawa, J; Toshiyuki Arakaki, J; T Toda, J Suzuki 213 laps
6. Yuichi Takeda, J; Tetsuya Yamaguchi, J; Sakurai Honda 212 laps
7. Norihiko Fujiwara, J: Noriyasu Numata, J; O. Miyazaki J Yamaha 211 laps
8. Daisaku Sakai, J; Hiroki Noda, J; Honda 209 laps
9. Stephane Mertens, B; Warwick Nowland, AUS; Suzuki 208 laps
10. Hideo Senmyo, J; Kenichio Nakamaru, J Honda 206 laps
11. Yoshinobu Takahashi, J; Naomichi Nakai, J Kawasaki 206 laps
12. Mitsuo Saito, J; Takahiro Fukami, J; Y. Aoyagi, J Yamaha 206 laps
13. Haruchika Aoki, J; Jun Maeda, J Honda 205 laps
14. Katsunori Hasegawa, J; Hiroshi Murauyama, J Honda 205 laps
15. Shigeru Yamahshita, J; Hideto Hotta, J Kawasaki 203 laps

Fastest lap: Edwards. 2m 08.855s = 163.89km/h. (lap record for 8 Hours) Bill

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