Honda has won more victories in the world-famous Suzuka 8 Hours race than any other manufacturer
By Mat Oxley. Rights-free for editorial use
The Suzuka 8 Hours – one of the world’s premier motorcycling events – was created by Honda in 1978, towards the end of the company’s 11-year break from Grand Prix racing. The race takes place at the Suzuka International Racing Course, built by company founder Soichiro Honda in 1962.
THE INLINE-FOUR TT F1 ERA: 1978-1983
1979 winners: Tony Hatton/Mike Cole, Honda Australia RS1000
In early 1979 Honda launched its superb CB900F four, to reinforce the company’s reputation as a manufacturer of high-performance sports bikes. The CB900F’s 901cc DOHC engine made the perfect endurance power unit and took Honda’s new RS1000 eduranmce machine to a clean sweep of the Suzuka 8 Hours podium.
Two factory-backed importer teams battled for victory on CB900F-powered RS1000s: Tony Hatton and Mike Cole, riding for Honda Australia, and Ron Haslam and Alex George, riding for Honda Britain. They both finished on the same lap, breaking the race record by three laps.
The podium was completed by Shinji Sumitani and Toshio Asami, riding a CB900F for Blue Helmets MSC.
Honda machines filled the top eight positions, vindicating the work of Honda’s RSC (Racing Service Centre), which had been established to support to private teams contesting endurance and TT F1 events. In 1982 RSC was transformed into HRC.
1981 winners: Mike Baldwin/David Aldana, Honda France RS1000
American riders Mike Baldwin and David Aldana perhaps made an unlikely pairing for the Honda France team, but the pair were super-fast fast on their RS1000, winning the race by a clear two laps.
The fastest lap went to the RS1000 ridden by Britons Ron Haslam and Joey Dunlop, who were side-lined by a crash and engine problems. This was the second Suzuka 8 Hours World Championship round – the endurance series had been upgraded from FIM Coupe d’Endurance to the Endurance World Championship in 1980.
1982 winners: Shigeo Iijima/Shinji Hagiwara, Blue Helmets MSC Honda RS1000
This was the first 8 Hours run in heavy rain, when a typhoon hit Suzuka. Conditions were so bad that the race was stopped for safety reasons after six hours. Japanese riders excelled in the rain, with the RS1000s of the Blue Helmets MSC team taking a one-two.
First place went to Shigeo Iijima and Shinji Hagiwara, just 28 seconds ahead of Hiroyuki Ito and Toshihito Yoshimura.
THE V4 TT F1 ERA: 1984-1993
1984 winners: Mike Baldwin/Fred Merkel, American Honda RS750R
In 1984 the Endurance World Championship and the TT F1 series switched from 1000cc engines to 750s. Honda’s brand-new RS750R – based around the VF750 V4 road engine – gave HRC its first 8 Hours victory, with RS750R riders monopolising the podium.
American Honda riders Mike Baldwin and Fred Merkel beat Honda France duo Guy Bertin and Dominique Sarron by one lap. Honda France’s second team of Gerard Coudray and Patrick Igoa finished a further two laps down.
1985 winners: Wayne Gardner/Masaki Tokuno, Team HRC RVF750
Honda unleashed its legendary RVF750 in 1985. The RVF was the pinnacle of EWC/TT F1 technology: a tuned VF750 engine in a chassis derived from Honda’s experience in Grand Prix racing.
The future 500cc World Champion Wayne Gardner and team-mate Masaki Tokuno fought a huge battle with rivals, Gardner securing victory for Honda by riding the final two hours.
At the finish the Australian was 1 minute 17 seconds ahead of American Honda pairing Mike Baldwin and Dominique Sarron, whose RVF750 was fitted with a single-sided swingarm for faster wheel changes.
1986 winners: Wayne Gardner/Dominique Sarron, Team HRC Honda RVF750
Watched by a weekend crowd of 270,000 Gardner took pole position and in the race no one could stay with him and the new six-speed RVF750. After six hours only one other team was on the same lap as Gardner and Sarron, who eventually took the chequered flag two laps in front. The second Honda home belonged to Shunji Yatsushiro and Hikaru Miyagi, who rode a Moriwaki CBX750 to a fifth-place finish.
1989 winners: Dominique Sarron/Alex Vieira, Beams Honda Ikuzawa RVF750
Honda’s latest RVF750 dominated this race, taking pole position, setting the fastest lap and filling the top two places. However, the race wasn’t without drama for Honda.
GP riders Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan were favourites aboard their Team HRC RVF. Gardner took pole, then Doohan established a new lap record, setting a super-fast pace. The Australians were way out front with three hours to go when Doohan tangled with a backmarker and crashed heavily.
That put Dominique Sarron and Alex Vieira into the lead, the Beams Honda Ikuzawa crossing the line one lap in front of Shoji Miyazaki and Tadashi Ohshima on their Team Blue Fox RVF750.
1991 winners: Wayne Gardner/Mick Doohan, Team HRC Honda RVF750
Finally, after making mistakes in 1989 and 1990, Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan sealed their first victory together, with the legendary Honda France endurance crew looking after them in the pits.
Once again the Australians set a super-fast pace, battling for the lead with Kevin Magee and Doug Chandler. In the final stages Magee slid off in the challenging conditions, leaving Gardner and Doohan to beat Magee and his American team-mate by three laps. Third place went to Britons Carl Fogarty and Steve Hislop on their Knorr Cup Soup RVF750.
1992 winners: Wayne Gardner/Daryl Beattie, OKI Honda RVF750
Wayne Gardner scored his fourth and final 8 Hours victory, a few months before retiring from motorcycle racing. This time his team-mate was up-and-coming Australian Daryl Beattie.
The Australian pairing had to fight hard for this victory, under pressure from Team HRC riders Shinichi Ito and Satoshi Tsujimoto on another RVF750. During the final 30 minutes Beattie made an unscheduled pit stop, allowing Ito to close to within a couple of seconds. However, the Japanese rider crashed out on oil dropped by another machine.
Shinya Takeishi and Kenichiro Iwahashi completed the podium in third place on their Team Blue Fox RVF750, just ahead of former 500cc and 250cc World Champion Freddie Spencer and Ryuji Tsuruta on the Mister Donuts Okumura RVF750.
THE V4 SUPERBIKE ERA: 1994-1999
1994 winners: Doug Polen/Aaron Slight, Team HRC Honda RC45
World Endurance switched from TT F1 to superbike regulations in 1994, requiring road-based chassis as well as road-based engines.
This was an all-time classic 8 Hours, with the victory duel lasting all the way to the chequered flag. American Doug Polen, New Zealander Aaron Slight and their Team HRC RC45 enjoyed a thrilling battle with Scott Russell and Terry Rymer. In the last hour Slight and Russell were side by side, Slight triumphing by just 0.288 seconds. Shinichi Ito and Shinya Takeishi took third, less than a lap down on their AM/PM Honda RC45.
1995 winners: Aaron Slight/Tadayuki Okada, Team HRC Honda RC45
Aaron Slight won his second straight 8 Hours with Honda, partnered by 250 GP rider Tadayuki Okada. Once again the race for victory was fierce. The Team HRC duo held a five second lead at half distance and although they’d extended that to 46.8 seconds at the flag the top four finishers all ended the race on the same lap.
Shinichi Ito and Satoshi Tsujimoto made up for their 1992 disappointment by finishing second on their Team HRC RC45.
1997 winners: Shinichi Ito/Tohru Ukawa, Hori-Pro HART Honda RC45
Once again the 8 Hours was ruled by a typhoon, which kept the track soaked throughout much of the race. GP riders John Kocinski and Alex Barros led the way on their Castrol Honda RC45, but lost the lead due to two unscheduled pit stops.
That put Shinichi Ito and Tohru Ukawa into the lead on their RC45. The Japanese pair rode a perfectly judged race in the treacherous conditions to beat Kocinski and Barros by 2 minutes 4 seconds. Theirs was the first all-Japanese victory since 1982.
1998 winners: Shinichi Ito/Tohru Ukawa, Lucky Strike Honda RC45
Shinichi Ito and Tohru Ukawa scored the first back-to-back team victory in the 22nd running of the 8 Hours. And Honda got to celebrate its 50th anniversary by monopolising the podium.
Ito and Ukawa took control of the race in the second hour, but were never able to fully relax as they defended a narrow lead over the Castrol RC45 of Sete Gibernau and Alex Barros, which finished 43 seconds behind the winners. Honda’s new World Superbike star Colin Edwards took third alongside Tadayuki Okada on their Castrol RVF, still on the same lap at the finish.
1999 winners: Tadayuki Okada/Alex Barros, Lucky Strike Honda RC45
Okada and Barros completed Honda’s second 8 Hours hat-trick, the GP pairing bettering the World Superbike duo of Castrol RC45 riders Aaron Slight and Colin Edwards by one lap.
THE V-TWIN SUPERBIKE ERA: 2000-2003
2000 winners: Tohru Ukawa/Daijiro Kato, Cabin Honda VTR1000SPW
Honda had an all-new machine for the 2000 season, the V-twin VTR1000SPW, which became the brand’s sixth different 8 Hours winner, following in the wheel tracks of the RCB1000, RS1000, RS750R, RVF750 and RC45.
The star entry in this race was GP star Valentino Rossi partnered with WorldSBK star Colin Edwards on a Castrol Honda VTR1000SPW. Rossi took the lead in the first hour, then fell. Edwards was fighting back when he too fell, after four hours, ending their race.
By then Ukawa and Kato had established themselves in the lead, which they retained till the finish, beating their closest rival by one lap.
2001 winners: Valentino Rossi/Colin Edwards, Cabin Honda VTR1000SPW
Rossi had learned from his first endurance race and this time he rode perfectly, once again alongside Edwards. The winning pairing had a race-long duel with the second Cabin VTR1000SPW of Tadayuki Okada and Alex Barros. The result was in doubt until the final moments, Edwards taking the flag 14.2 seconds ahead.
The third Cabin Honda of Tohru Ukawa and Daijiro Kato took fourth place – they missed completing an all-Honda podium by only ten seconds
2002 winners: Daijiro Kato/Colin Edwards, Cabin Honda VTR1000SPW
The VTR V-twin won its third consecutive 8 Hours and this time filled the podium, an important result in the 25th running of the event. Kato and Edwards took victory after a long battle with the second Cabin VTR of Makoto Tamada and Tadayuki Okada.
Kato rode the final session, his first in the dark, which was complicated by a rain shower. The reigning 250cc World Champion held his nerve to cross the line 25 seconds in front. Third place went to the Sakurai Honda VTR1000SPW of Alex Barros and Yuichi Takeda who were a lap down after problems in the early stages, then fought back brilliantly to finish 48 seconds behind Kato.
2003 winners: Yukio Nukumi/Manabu Kamada, Sakurai Honda VTR1000SPW
This year the VTR1000 completed a unique achievement – completing the machine’s unbeaten run of four 8 Hours victories.
Nukumi and Kamada had a thrilling duel for victory, finally snatching the lead in the final hour when their rival ran into technical problems. The Japanese pair completed the race one lap ahead of the runners-up and two laps ahead of Takeshi Tsujimura and Shinichi Ito, riding an inline-four F.C.C TSR ZIP-FM Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade; a pointer to Honda’s future at the 8 Hours.
THE INLINE-FOUR SUPERBIKE ERA: 2004-PRESENT
2004 winners: Tohru Ukawa/Hyasu Izutsu, Seven Stars Honda CBR1000RRW
Another impressive ride by MotoGP rider Ukawa. This was Honda’s first victory with an inline-four machine since 1982 and Ukawa’s fourth success, achieved on a third different type of Honda – a CBR1000RR Fireblade, after earlier successes on an RC45 V4 and a VTR1000 V-twin.
Ukawa took the lead in the first hour and set a blazing pace with team-mate Izutsu to ensure they were never headed. They finished one lap ahead of their closest rivals, with Toshiyuki Hamaguchi and Shogo Moriwaki taking the last podium place on their Weider Honda Gakuen CBR1000RR.
The CBR1000RR dominated the race, with no fewer than eight of the machines in the final top ten!
2005 winners: Ryuichi Kiyonari/Tohru Ukawa, Seven Stars Honda CBR1000RRW
Another historic victory for Honda, the company’s 20th 8 Hours success, a record fifth win for Ukawa and CBR1000RR Fireblades locking out the top six finishing positions.
Kiyonari and Ukawa were the dominant force, winning by the huge margin of three laps. Chris Vermeulen and Katsuaki Fujiwara completed an impressive one-two for Seven Stars Honda, a further lap down.
2006 winners: Takeshi Tsujimura/Shinichi Ito, F.C.C. TSR ZIP-FM Honda CBR1000RR
Honda’s tenth consecutive 8 Hours victory and another one-two for the Fireblade, with Tsujimura and Ito leading the first hour, then slipping behind the Toy Story RT Run’A & HARC-PRO CBR1000RR of Yoshiteru Konishi and Takashi Yasuda. As the race passed mid-distance Tsujimura and Ito retook the lead and maintained their advantage to the flag. There were seven CBR1000RR machines in the top nine.
2008 winners: Ryuichi Kiyonari/Carlos Checa, Dream Honda CBR1000RR
Honda 500 GP and World Superbike winner Checa partnered Kiyonari to the Japanese star’s second victory in four years. The race was full of drama, with Kiyonari moving to the front on the second lap, only to lose the lead when 2006 winner Shinichi Ito went ahead on the F.C.C TSR CBR1000RR he shared with Takeshi Tsujimura. But then Ito crashed and soon after that a rain shower hit the track, causing more crashes. Kyonari and Checa regained the advantage in the tricky conditions.
Future Honda MotoGP winner Cal Crutchlow finished in sixth place, sharing a Moriwaki Motul CBR1000RR with Tatsua Yamaguchi.
2010 winners: Ryuichi Kiyonari/Takumi Takahashi, Musashi RT HARC-PRO Honda CBR1000RR
CBR1000RR machines once again dominated, monopolising the podium after another thrilling race. Kiyonari and Takahashi had a big battle for the lead with rival factory teams, setting an unbeatable pace that gave Kiyonari his third 8 Hours victory. By the end of the race the winners had a clear one-lap lead over Shinichi Ito and Makoto Tamada, riding a Keihin Kohara CBR1000RR.
Kosuke Akiyoshi and Jonathan Rea took third place after a stunning comeback from 42nd place.
2011 winners: Kousuke Akiyoshi/Shinichi Ito/Ryuichi Kiyonari, F.C.C. TSR Honda CBR1000RR
Akiyoshi and Kiyonari scored an excellent win, recovering superbly from a small crash in the early stages to reach the finish 38 seconds in front of their closest rivals. The result gave Ito and Kiyonari a fourth 8 Hours victory, putting them equal with Wayne Gardner’s tally and one short of Tohru Ukawa’s record five successes. This victory was particularly meaningful for Ito, contesting the final season of an illustrious career.
The podium was completed by youngster Takumi Takahashi and veteran team-mates Makoto Tamada and Tadayuki Okada, who also finished on the same lap as the winners.
2012 winners: Johnathan Rea/Kousuke Akiyoshi/Tadayuki Okada, F.C.C. TSR Honda CBR1000RR
A truly historic race for Honda – the company scored its 25th Suzuka 8 Hours victory in the 35th running of the event. Rea’s success was the first by a British rider at the 8 Hours, the third for former All-Japan Superbike champion Akiyoshi and also the third for veteran Okada, 17 years after his first win in 1995, aboard an RVF750!
Rea and his team-mates finished an impressive four laps ahead of second-placed Tatsuya Yamaguchi, Yuki Takahashi and Yusuke Teshima, riding a Toho Racing with Moriwaki Honda CBR1000RR.
2013 winners: Takumi Takahashi/Leon Haslam/Michael van der Mark, Musashi RT HARC-PRO Honda CBR1000RR
Takahashi, Haslam and Michael van der Mark became the first tri-nation winners of the 8 Hours, taking a fourth consecutive victory for the CBR1000RR at the end of a tense race. At the start of the final hour the Anglo/Japanese/Dutch held a narrow seven-second lead over their closest rivals. Former All-Japan 250cc champion Takahashi took the last session, during which the track was made treacherous by rain. He rode superbly, increasing his team’s advantage to 1 minute 51 seconds at the flag.
2014 winners: Takumi Takahashi/Leon Haslam/Michael van der Mark, Musashi RT HARC-PRO Honda CBR1000RR
A famous back-to-back victory by Takahashi, Haslam and van der Mark gave the CBR1000RR its fifth successive 8 Hours victory.
The Musashi RT HARC-PRO team’s success was impressive because weather conditions were atrocious for much of the race, which started an hour late after a fierce storm hit Suzuka on race morning. There were numerous crashes as the rain came and went, with the safety car deployed four times. The F.C.C. TSR Honda team of Kohsuke Akiyoshi, Jonathan Rea and Lorenzo Zanetti were the unluckiest, when Akiyoshi crashed out after four hours, losing a one-lap lead.
With the release of the all-new CBR1000RR-R Fireblade, Honda will be looking to add to its tally of 27 Suzuka 8 Hour victories in the future.