Six Honda Teams Qualify for Suzuka 8 Hours To…

Free practice sessions for the Suzuka 4 Hours held on the previous day were marred by intermittent showers, which lingered into Friday morning as the two-hour free practice session for the Suzuka 8 Hours began at 8:10am. From 12:10pm, team riders were designated as blue, yellow and red riders for two separate 20-minute qualifying sessions each. In the FIM Endurance World Championship (EWC), starting grid positions are determined by the average best lap of each team’s two riders. Two riders from the top ten teams then proceed to the Top 10 Trial to be held on August 6 to determine the final starting grid.

In the morning’s free practice session, Team HRC (Tetsuta Nagashima / Takumi Takahashi / Iker Lecuona) led the field as Tetsuta Nagashima set the fastest lap time of 2 min 5.823 s, which went unchallenged. Third fastest was ♯73 SDG Honda Racing (Teppei Nagoe / Naomichi Uramoto / Ikuhiro Enokido) with 2 min 6.838 s. In the 2 min 7 s range, ♯5 FCC TSR Honda France (Josh Hook / Gino Rea / Mike Di Meglio) was sixth-fastest, ♯17 Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing (Kosuke Sakumoto / Kazuma Watanabe / Taiga Hada) was seventh, and ♯72 Honda Dream RT SAKURAI HONDA (Sodo Hamahara / Daijiro Hiura / Yuki Kunii) was eighth. One second slower, ♯9 Murayama.Honda Dream.RT was tenth-fastest with 2 min 8.130 s.

Weather improved by noon, when the skies were much brighter. The track was mostly dry by the time Blue riders were up for their first qualifying session. Nagashima (#33) clocked 2 min 6.659 s on his second lap, followed by an extremely fast 2 min 4.942 s, faster than the lap record of 2 min 5.1682 s set by Jonathan Rea in 2018.

Sakumoto (#17) was third with 2 min 6.393 s, with other Honda team riders Nagoe (#73 / 2 min 6.733 s), Hook (#5 / 2 min 6.749 s) and ♯25 Honda Sofukai Suzuka Racing (Yuudai Kamei / Yuki Sugiyama / Jun Tadokoro) rider Kamei (2 min 6.829 s) also within the 2 min 6 s range.

In the second Blue riders qualifying session, despite intermittent showers proving troublesome for the teams, Nagashima (#33) initially set the fastest lap time in the 2 min 7 s range, followed by 2 min 6.675 to maintain his lead. Hook (#5) was fifth-fastest with a 2 min 8 s lap, and Sakumoto (#17) was sixth within the same range. Kamei (#25) slid off at the S bends in the closing stages of the session. Overall, Nagashima (#33) held the lead, Sakumoto (#17) was third, Nagoe (#73) fifth, Hook (#5) sixth, Kamei (#25) seventh, and Hamahara (#72) ninth.

As the first Yellow riders qualifying session began, the sun was shining. Takahashi (#33) went through the pit road, timing his entry into the track for his hot lap. Takahashi’s 2 min 7.238 s placed him fifth, and on the fourth lap, he improved by almost a second to 2 min 6.494 s. The top 3 remained the same, while Hiura (#72) improved his position to sixth with a 2 min 7.204 s lap. Rea (#5) was one place behind with 2 min 7.204 s.

In the second Yellow riders qualifying session, Rea (#5) set the fastest time of 2 min 7.326 s. Enokido (#73) was second-fastest with 2 min 7.840. With thirteen minutes remaining in the session, rain began to fall. Hiura (#72) moved up the third with 2 min 7.880, as Takahashi (#33) pitted, and decided not to rejoin after consulting his pit crew. Overall, Takahashi (#33) was third, Watanabe (#17) fourth, Hiura (#72) sixth, Rea (#5) seventh, and Enokido (#73) tenth.

Rain began to fall as the Red riders prepared for their first qualifying session. Lecuona (#33) returned to the pits. Later in the session, the sun shone as the showers continued, and riders began to return to the track with seven minutes remaining. In the end, De Meglio (#5) was the fastest rider with 2 min 10.556 s.

Rain had stopped by the time the second Red riders qualifying session began. As the track almost dried up, the rain started again. ♯104 TOHO Racing (Ryuichi Kiyonari / Takuma Kunimine / Hiromichi Kunikawa) rider Kunimine set the fastest time of 2 min 11.831 s. Le Cuona (#33) set a lap time of 2 min 15.174 before returning to the pits. Overall, Di Meglio (#5) was the fastest, Kunimine (#104) was third, Le Cuona (#33) was seventh, and Kunii (#72) was ninth.

The results of the average best laps from the Blue, Yellow and Red rider sessions were in: #33 Team HRC was the fastest. ♯17 Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing was fourth, ♯5 FCC TSR Honda France fifth, ♯72 Honda Dream RT SAKURAI HONDA seventh, ♯73 SDG Honda Racing eighth, and ♯25 Honda Sofukai Suzuka Racing ninth. These teams advance to tomorrow’s Top 10 trial.

In the Top 10 Trial, two riders from each team have timed hot laps, determining the top ten places on the starting grid. Eleventh onwards are unchanged from today’s Qualifying results. #88 Honda Asia-Dream Racing with SHOWA (Md Zaqhwan Bin Zaidi / Gerry Salim / Helmi Bin Azman) will start the race from the 16th grid.

The night session was held under heavy rain. ♯5 FCC TSR Honda France was seventh-fastest, ♯17 Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing was ninth, ♯73 SDG Honda Racing 11th, ♯33 Team HRC 13th, and ♯25 Honda Sofukai Suzuka Racing 14th.

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