After a truly epic and finally dramatic contest the Kawasaki Racing Team Suzuka 8 Hours squad took the race victory on their Ninja ZX-10RR, securing Kawasaki's first win at this highly prestigious event since 1993. There was double joy for Kawasaki as the FIM World Endurance Championship title went to the Team SRC Kawasaki France squad, after they posted a 12th place finish in the final race of the season.
Forming a two-rider team in the race the experienced Suzuka 8 Hours duo of Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam took turns to take on the serious competition that had been evident from the very first laps, as the first-time 8 Hours rider Toprak Razgatlioglu played his role as reserve rider.
Having made their Le Mans-style start from second place on the grid the early action in the race was incredibly tight for Jonathan and Leon, with KRT third after the first hour - at which point five different teams were covered by just 0.795 seconds.
The KRT riders led after four hours, after five, then six, and then again at the seven hour point.
With Haslam struggling with recent injuries in the final laps of his riding stints Rea, the four-time WorldSBK champion for Kawasaki, re-took the lead in the very last session and looked destined to secure the win for KRT.
In an unbelievable turn of bad luck Rea arrived on another machine's oil spill in the gloomy and damp conditions that arrived just as the daylight was exhausted. He fell, blamelessly, but was unable to restart.
At that stage the dream of a famous race victory seemed gone and the official Yamaha team were initially declared winners after a red flag was thrown because of the oil.
Despite missing out on the initial podium ceremony, and after a long period of time, the results were amended by the race organisers to put the number 10 Kawasaki back on top. In the final reckoning KRT won the race by 18.720 seconds from Yamaha, with three teams in all on the same lap total of 216.
Even before the final race classification was determined the Number 11 Team SRC Kawasaki France entry of Jeremy Guarnoni, Erwan Nigon and David Checa had already won the FIM Endurance World Championship title outright for the Team SRC Kawasaki France outfit.
Although they lost one place from their immediate Suzuka classification of 11th, to finish an official 12th in the race, their closest rivals Suzuki Endurance Racing Team suffered a technical retirement.
The next-closest team to SRC entering the final round, F.C.C TSR Honda France, could not make up enough points today to deprive the French based Ninja ZX-10RR squad of a famous World Championship success.
After leading but then finishing a disappointed seventh at the Bol d'Or championship opener, the SRC 2018/2019 championship winning season included a race win at the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours race in April.
Jonathan Rea, stated: “I cannot believe what is happening really. From being dejected and feeling that everything was out of our hands, I had already gone back to the hotel, said goodbye to all the guys, with lots of tears. I was in the restaurant already, ordering dinner, when my mechanic Uri called me and said, 'Hey, are you sitting down?' I thought he was going to ask me to go to another restaurant - but he then told me we had won the 8 Hours. I think common sense prevailed in that one. I have no words because I am really emotional and happy. The strategy was to work on fuel consumption and race consistency and make no mistakes. I feel we executed that quite well although I got quite tired and cramped at the end. But we prepared the best way possible with the limited time we had. I am so proud to be part of the project and what an effort from KRT, KHI, KMJ who prepared for this race in two tests. During the race it is like hell, the hardest race you can ever imagine, but getting a result like this almost makes me want to come back for more. The emotional roller coaster is unreal.”
Leon Haslam, stated: “From everyone being in tears to getting the news sitting in a restaurant that we actually did win it, I have no words to describe how I feel. The Suzuka 8 Hours is always one of the hardest races of the year. The effort we put in to win, from us, the team and Kawasaki means it has been a big roller coaster of emotion. When the oil went down and the situation happened at the end; words cannot describe the lows we had. But when the good news came through, the highs were just as high. In the second half of each stint I really struggled physically but the bike was working well. I am so happy and I want to thank Kawasaki for this opportunity; also the whole team, Toprak and Johnny, and we pushed as hard as we could. It is a shame that we did not get to stand on the top of the podium but the result is in and we have won the Suzuka 8 Hours.”
Toprak Razgatlioglu, stated; “Today I am very tired after watching the race for eight hours! But I am very happy for Johnny and Leon because that was an incredible job today. We are all happy and thank you to everyone. For me this was my first time here - and our team won.”
Guim Roda, KRT Team manager, stated: “This race has been outstanding and I think for the public, the fans and everyone it has been the most incredible Suzuka 8 Hours. Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki - the riders and the factories – have been amazing everybody and they all saw a great race. The best point is that we finally got the victory after Johnny made an incredible last riding stint. The strategy we planned was very good so at the end we got the victory.”
TEAM SRC KAWASAKI FRANCE QUOTES
Jeremy Guarnoni, stated: “It is unbelievable to win the championship and for me it has been the first time that I have done the full season - and we won it. We deserve it because after the Bol d'Or it was a really difficult moment for the team and me - for my head. Of course we are a bit lucky at the end but we deserve it because we made the job in Le Mans and I have two unbelievable team-mates. The team itself and the bike were - all season - really good. This weekend was a bit more difficult but Suzuka is always a strange race. We are really happy.”
Erwan Nigon, stated: “What a race and what a championship also. We had all weather conditions, 24-hour races are hard and early in the 2018/2019 season we had a victory at Le Mans which is always a good sign for the rest of the championship. We pushed a lot all through this year and in the end we won the championship. First time for me and I want to say thanks to the team because they worked a lot all winter to adjust the bike to make good race settings. Many thanks to my partners, my family and my incredible team-mates. We are friends also so it is a really good feeling to win it with them.”
David Checa, stated: “I do not know what to say. In my first year with Kawasaki and Gilles's team I am world champion again. It is like a dream. When you change a team it is not easy, when you change a brand it is not easy, but my team and my team-mates did a really good job. The atmosphere in the team is incredible. We are friends and for me this is the main point. When we talk and share everything for sure you push more. I believed that we could win the championship all year. The Bol d'Or was frustrating because we had a problem two hours from the end but we continued to believe. When you dream, and believe, the dream can come true – and we are world champions. Now I want to win the next Bol d'Or for Kawasaki, my team-mates and my team. We are world champions today but we have to think of the future and that future now is the Bol D'Or.”
Gilles Staffler, SRC Team Manager, stated: “We are very happy, the riders made a really good job, my team too, and it is fantastic. To win the title was a dream for us and Kawasaki and all the sponsors. It is a great day.”