Suzuka 8 Hours: A 'magical' race like no other

Riders stream away from the pit straight at the start of the 2016 Suzuka 8 Hours race.

Story highlights

  • Suzuka 8 Hours takes place this weekend
  • It's a race "unlike anything else"
  • Drivers toil in intense heat in Japan

(CNN)It is the jewel in the crown of the FIM Endurance World Championship -- and the most important race on the calendar for Japanese motorcycle manufacturers.

This weekend the Suzuka 8 Hours -- the final race of the 2017 Endurance World Championship -- celebrates its 40th anniversary. Expect local rivalries to be as fierce as ever.
It is arguably Japan's biggest motorsport race and unique in that both MotoGP and World Superbike riders pit their wits against one another.
    For the likes of Honda and Yamaha the marathon race which runs for 220 laps is almost as important as winning a MotoGP championship.
    For the riders the race presents one of the biggest physical and mental challenges they face all season.
    Last year, Alex Lowes was part of the winning Yamaha entry and the Englishman is clear about what makes Suzuka uniquely challenging.
    British rider Alex Lowes is racing for Yamaha in the 2017 race.
    "Suzuka is unlike anything else that we do," Lowes told CNN.
    "Typically we wait on the grid for fifteen minutes before a race and you try to focus on the task at hand. In this race though we're on the grid for one hour because they go through the national anthems and the pageantry of the event.
    "You are standing there in all of your leathers in 30˚C and high humidity. The sweat is dripping off your back and down your leathers. It's the most unpleasant moment of the entire season!"
    Two years ago, the enormity of the event hit Lowes as he led the field into the pit straight on the opening lap of the race.
    "Coming across the line I could see a mass of pitboards, tens of thousands of people in the grandstands and I knew that this was one of the most magical moments of my career."
    Lowes' start to the race may have been "magical" but his joy turned out to be short-lived as Yamaha went on to clinch its first win since 1996 with the team of Bradley Smith, Pol Espargaro and Katsuyuki Nakasuga.
    The following year, he was luckier, replacing Smith at Yamaha who were victorious once again.
    Riders rush towards thier motorbikes at the start of the 2016 Suzuka 8 Hours race.

    Can Honda challenge Yamaha?

    Chasing three in a row is a massive target for Yamaha and with Lowes and Nakasuga this year joined by Michael van der Mark, a two-time winner, they have an enviable rider lineup.
    Standing in the way of victory will be Honda, winners of the race a record 27 times since its inception in 1978.
    While their all-new-for-2017 Fireblade has endured disastrous campaigns in WorldSBK (World Superbike) -- they are bottom of the manufacturers' championship -- Honda is still expected to be a major contender at Suzuka.
    MotoGP race winner Jack Miller will be one of the star attractions for Honda and having tested the bike, he can't wait to get started.
    "I'm really excited to get the opportunity to race over there," said the Australian. "Suzuka is something I've wanted to do for a while and to go over there with one of the best teams, it's a big opportunity for me.
    Australian rider Jack Miller is competing for the Honda team in the 2017 Suzuka 8 Hours race
    "I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's going to be a long, hot summer for me but it's going to be good!"
    Racing alongside three-time winner Takumi Takahashi and Moto2 race winner Takaaki Nakagami, Miller will be part of a strong team.
    Former Moto2 world champion Stefan Bradl will also be on the grid for Honda. The WorldSBK racer has struggled on a Superbike this year but enlisting his services shows that Honda are doing all they can to make sure all bases are covered to be able to take the fight to Yamaha.
    Kawasaki and Suzuki are both doing the same with their rider lineups.
    Kawasaki don't put quite the same level of resources into their Suzuka program as some rivals, but with Leon Haslam paired with Kazuma Watanabe, the Team Green effort could be a good outside bet.
    Haslam, a two-time Suzuka winner, has bags of experience and plenty of confidence having been a podium man as a wild card in WorldSBK, in addition to winning in the British Superbike Championship.
    Suzuki will have their all-new GSXR-1000 on track and with Josh Brookes, Vincent Philippe, Josh Waters and the factory's MotoGP test rider, Takuya Tsuda, riding they have the potential to challenge for a podium finish.
    The victorious Yamaha team celebrate on top of the podium at the 2016 race.
    Their biggest name on a Suzuki will be 2014 WorldSBK champion Sylvain Guintoli, with the Frenchman adding Endurance duty to a season that has already seen him line up on the grid in British Superbikes and MotoGP.
    Suzuka is a challenge unlike any other. One of the most important things for teams and riders is to have as many of their bases covered as possible prior to the start of the event.
    With testing completed, the key task becomes maximizing productivity during practice and qualifying before the start of the race.
    A lot can happen in two minutes on a racetrack, and over the course of eight hours, 1,300 kilometers and 220 laps, another compelling chapter in motorcycling history will be written in the heat of the Japanese summer.