Sunday morning at Suzuka was cloudy but dry, unlike the previous day where a typhoon forced the top-10 trial to be cancelled. A 45minute warm-up session took place from 8:30 and the teams made their final adjustments for the race.
Before the start, a retirement ceremony was held for Suzuki Endurance Racing Team Manager Dominique Méliand, who has led the team for over 40 years. Former SERT riders such as Keiichi Kitagawa and Yukio Kagayama were among the many guests celebrating Dominique’s successful career. FIM president Jorge Viegas made a speech praising his achievements and Suzuki president Toshihiro Suzuki presented him with flowers. Dominique thanked everyone for the years he has spent competing in the EWC and said he would do his very best in this, his last race as team manager.
The race started on time at 11:30 with a Le Mans start under dry conditions with an ambient temperature of 30 degrees and track temperature of 47 degrees.
An unexpected holeshot from #95 S-PULSE DREAM RACING IAI (S-PULSE) Bradley Ray brought excitement to the Suzuki fans, but at the end of a confusing opening lap, #12 YOSHIMURA SUZUKI MOTUL RACING Sylvain Guintoli was in second, S-PULSE in third and SERT in ninth. #9 MotoMap S.W.A.T (MotoMap) Josh Waters was leading the SST class in an overall 13th position, but #71 TK SUZUKI BLUE MAX Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman couldn’t get off to a good start and fell back.
On the third lap Yoshimura overtook #1 F.C.C. TSR HONDA FRANCE and became the race leader, slowly widening the gap to 2 seconds. MotoMap, who were comfortably leading the SST class, crashed on the 6th lap, and returned to the pits to repair the machine.
Safety cars were needed on lap 12 due to a crash at the 200R section of the track, and this put the race leaders together again. When the safety cars left the track on lap 17, Yoshimura continued to lead the factory teams for another 10 laps.
After the first pit-in, Yoshimura were back to 5th place but riding at a good pace. S-PULSE and SERT continued around 10th place, and the race proceeded without much change until the last hours.
Rain started to fall at around 19:00 and, with only 30minutes to go, SERT was in a position where, if they could maintain position they would take the world title yet again by a margin of one point. Riding carefully in the dark and increasingly wet conditions, and with only 5 minutes to go, the title looked promising, but the GSX-R suffered a rare technical issue and SERT was out of the race, and unable to deliver a final world title to Dominique.
Race leader #10 Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea raced into the final lap but crashed on the left-hander after the S-corner and the Red Flag brought the race to a premature end.
Following an FIM meeting the final positions were taken from the previous lap and the final results showed Yoshimura in 5th, S-PULSE 8th and TK SUZUKI 21st. MotoMap fought back from their early crash to 27th overall and 4th in the SST class.
#12 YOSHIMURA SUZUKI MOTUL RACING:
Sylvain Guintoli: “The start was good; I was able to push hard and stay in the lead for some time. We couldn’t reach the podium but were able to show our strong performance. The team worked extremely hard and the potential of the bike was even higher than last year. I’m glad we were able to finish safely in front of the cheering fans.”
Yukio Kagayama: “I felt I could have done better on the first stint so that’s a bit of a regret. I tried hard to overtake the TSR machine ahead, but we had minor troubles and it wasn’t possible. I’m not totally happy with the result, but we made it to the goal, so I think I’ll just have to be proud about that.”
Kazuki Watanabe: “To be honest, I’m frustrated with the result. We made a mistake with the tyre choice on the first stint and I couldn’t ride as fast I would have liked. However, we were able to gather a lot of data and it was a great experience for me to team-up with experienced riders such as Kagayama and Sylvain. I hope this experience will boost my performance in the following rounds of the Japanese Superbikes series.”
Yohei Kato – Team Manager: “We have had trouble for the past two years so I must say I’m glad we made it to the end safely. However, the factory teams definitely showed us their strength, making us realise there is an obvious gap that needs to be assessed. This is frustrating, but we’ll move on and try harder next time. Thank you all for your support.”
#95 S-PULSE DREAM RACING·IAI:
Tommy Bridewell: “It was yet again a wonderful race for me. Only two riders was a hard task, but the crew worked hard, and we were able to ride the bike in a very comfortable situation. The crew are like a family in Japan and I feel very proud of them.”
Bradley Ray: “I couldn’t believe the holeshot! It was a superb feeling. We worked hard as a team and I think we can be proud about the final result in 8th as a private team. It was a great experience and I thank all the staff.”
Shiro Yoshida. Team Manager: “The holeshot by Bradley really boosted our spirits. We found our pace and finished in 8th, so I’m happy about the race and the result. I thank all the sponsors and fans for the support and promise to keep on trying hard.”
#71 TK SUZUKI BLUE MAX:
Gregory LeBlanc: “I’d say the result was so-so. We were aiming for the top 10 but I don’t think we had enough time to properly prepare for that. I’m glad we have finished safely.”
Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman: “We had some trouble with the bike and had to nurse it along for some time, but I’m relieved we’ve made it to the goal without any spills. I thank Kagayama-san for this opportunity and will be happy to do it again.”
Takuya Tsuda: “Multiple unexpected problems occurred during the week and it was difficult to concentrate. I injured my wrist this morning trying not to crash, and the injury made it difficult to control the bike in the race. I hope to find an answer to these difficulties and fight hard in the latter half of the Japanese Superbikes.”
#9 MotoMap S.W.A.T:
Josh Waters: “Obviously I am very disappointed. I had a crash from the start, but the team did an amazing job all weekend and it showed in qualifying and how fast we were able to go on a stock bike. Our pace throughout the race was the fastest of all the stock bikes. Big thanks to Nobu, to everyone in the team, they have done a fantastic job. So next year, we will win. Third year lucky!”
Dan Linfoot: “I’m happy This is the first time for me to take part in the race. So just being in the team was amazing and having to finish in the night was amazing. We had great pace – I mean everyone, Nobu and Josh and myself, we all had a good pace. Obviously, Josh had a small crash and we lost about nine laps I believe, but we have made the best possible recovery. It was a fantastic experience and I want to come back again. Thanks to all the team, and I mean every single person in the team to make it all happen. I have really enjoyed it so thank you.”
Nobuatsu Aoki: “I had struggled a bit on my lap times and Josh recovered everything for me. I am really sorry for that. Dan also did a fantastic job. The mechanics who fought with us never gave up. They were so perfect, that I would like to do this again with this exact same team members next year.”
Makoto Busujima – Team Manager: “First of all I am very glad that all of the riders came back safely. I have realised how high the potential of the GSX-R1000 is from looking at the lap times. Every year I look very much forward to the race and have a real passion for it. I am actually a bit jealous for Aoki to have such a great team. If I were to have an offer from them once again next year, I would definitely want to join this team again.”