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Rachit Thukral

Suzuka 8 Hours: Honda in command at halfway mark, trouble for Yamaha

Takumi Takahashi held a two-minute advantage on the #33 HRC CBR1000RR-R he shares with Tetsuta Nagashima and Xavi Vierge after four hours of racing at the Suzuka Circuit, putting the factory Honda squad on course for a second consecutive win in the Japanese endurance classic.

HRC and YART Yamaha were embroiled in a tight battle for the lead in the opening 30 minutes of the race, with Takahashi and Niccolo Canepa trading places after both had repassed Yoshimura Suzuki’s Gregg Black, who had shot to the lead with an amazing launch from fifth place.

Takahashi first moved to the front at the start of lap 8 when he fired his Honda down the inside of Canepa at Turn 1, before Canepa retook the initiative with a brilliant pass at Turn 3 just a few laps later.

However, the HRC’s superior pace was soon evident, with Takahashi able to regain the lead on lap 11 and stretch out an advantage up front.

Nagashima carried on the good work of team-mate Takahashi in the second hour of the race and had built a buffer of almost 40 second when YART’s Karel Hanika, who had taken over the #7 Yamaha from Canepa, suddenly stopped on track between the Spoon Curve and 130R.

It took 20 minutes for Hanika to bring the hobbled Yamaha back to the pitlane, aided by a push from marshals, before YART mechanics could begin work on repairing the bike.

By the time all the fixes were made it had dropped 13 laps down on the leaders, effectively ending the squad’s chances of a maiden podium finish at Suzuka.

YART’s troubles also handed HRC an advantage of a minute and 10 seconds over the Yoshimura Suzuki, which grew to two minutes by the end of the fourth hour.

Third place was occupied by the Toho Racing Honda team, after Takuma Kunimine passed the S-Pulse Suzuki of Atsumi Cocoro in the fourth hour.

The AutoRacing Ube team completed the top five, with Dan Linfoot circulating just under a second behind Cocoro on the #76 Suzuki.

The Webike Trickstar team ran in eighth as the top Kawasaki squad in the absence of KRT, just ahead of the factory BMW team.

No Yamaha team held a spot inside the top 10 after its flagship squad YART ran into technical troubles.

However, YART’s title rival in the FIM Endurance Championship, FCC TSR Honda, also didn’t have a clean race, leaving it 13th at the halfway mark.

Mike de Meglio made some early strides from 10th on the grid to run as high as fourth, before slipping back down the order.

The Frenchman then suffered a crash on the entry into the chicane in the first hour, suspected to be caused by a rear sensor failure, dropping it completely outside the top 10.

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