A final - and unexpected - ‘Superpole-style’ qualifying session was held over 40 minutes duration. It determined the top ten starting places for the 43rd Suzuka 8 Hours race. The planned ‘Ten Lap Trial’ qualifying format, for the ten best teams from earlier qualifying sessions, was cancelled. The final free practice session held just before the Top Ten Trial had been cut short after a crash, reducing important preparation time for the Top Ten Trial itself.
WorldSBK KRT riders Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes were the two riders who set the final qualifying laps for the team in the 40 minute session. Lowes was fast straight away on his first flying lap with a soft Bridgestone rear tyre, but Rea could not capitalise fully in his first run on the soft tyre.
The team and rider came up with a plan that saw Rea finally qualify second fastest, to earn an almost ideal starting position alongside the fastest qualifiers from Team HRC. Rea set a strong 2’05.149 lap on the Ninja ZX-10RR despite not having a perfectly clean best lap.
Weather conditions for Raceday are predicted to be changeable which promises a challenging day for all 45 teams who are on the provisional starting grid. Wise tyre and refuelling strategies will count as much as the three riders’ personal on-track performances.
Kawasaki will now attempt to take a third Suzuka 8 Hours victory as a manufacturer.
The 43rd Suzuka 8 Hours will start - and finish - on Sunday 7 August 2022.
Jonathan Rea, stated: “I am very happy with the lap-time. This morning I got caught out a little bit with the tyre. It is the first time I have ever used the soft tyre from Bridgestone. We have been working a lot with our race tyre and I underestimated how much grip there was in the change of direction. So, to do the ‘Time Attack’, I support the decision of the directors when they changed the format. With so many riders having completed one chrono lap, for me to go into a Superpole one lap session was very strange. We then had 40 minutes to make a lap time. Step-by-step, I understood the soft tyre and the lap was quite good. I made a few mistakes but I am really happy with second place. My team-mates have been doing a really good job this weekend so we have an incredible starting position.”
Alex Lowes, stated: “I am really happy with qualifying. For me it was my best ever lap at Suzuka and I have been coming here for a long time. So that was nice. As a team we have been doing a really good job. We have worked hard for the race and we have been pretty good in all different conditions. It looks like we are going to have some typical Suzuka rain, on-and-off, on Sunday. So we need to be prepared for that and able to adapt to all the situations. But we are really enjoying being back here at the Suzuka 8-Hours. It has been a couple of years since we have been able to come back so I am happy to be here now. It’s been a pleasure to be riding with these guys, Leon and Jonathan, and I am looking forward to the race tomorrow.”
Leon Haslam, stated: “For me it was a different qualifying day to normal, when I would have had the pressure of riding. Today, I think I was more nervous watching these guys and there was more excitement than when I had to ride the bike! They both did an amazing job. Alex straight in with a tyre he had never used before and into the 2.05s. Johnny was fantastic. Honestly, the team has been working really well and I am happy to be a part of the Kawasaki Racing Team with these two guys. Step-by-step again now and we will see what the weather holds tomorrow. I am feeling very confident and really happy with everything so far.”
Guim Roda, KRT Team Manager, stated: “It has been another stressful Saturday because first it was wet and raining in the morning. Then we didn’t know how to approach the Top Ten Trial. In the Free Practice before the Top Ten Trial qualifying Johnny fell and we needed to reorganise some things in our strategy. Then there was another crash and they had to cancel the free practice. Then the organisation and the FIM had to cancel the Top Ten Trial, and we went into 40 minutes of Superpole-style qualifying. In that time we had to play with the tyres we had left; not so many. We organised to work with Johnny and Alex as the two riders who would go for the best lap time. Alex made an incredible job using the soft tyre for the first time. He had to run fast straight away but also check the feeling he was getting. He made an incredible lap time. At the same time Johnny, in the first ‘out,' did not quite understand the soft tyre. But in his second run he was so fast. If he could have made a perfect clean lap maybe he could run in 2’04.8 or 2’04.9 pace? In any case, it is was incredible. We are so happy for that and let’s see how we are tomorrow in the race itself.”
The famous #11 machine of Webike SRC Kawasaki France with riders Randy de Puniet, Etienne Masson and Florian Marino, will start a positive 12th on the grid in the Superbike class. Kawasaki Plaza Racing Team, with riders Ryosuke Iwato, Yuta Okaya and Naoki Kiyosue, were the second place qualifiers in the Superstock category and an impressive 14th overall, even when measured against the more highly race-prepared Superbike squads.