July was a busy month. First I spent a week in Japan testing for the Suzuka 8 Hour Endurance race. I had a crash, but I also learned the circuit with respectable lap times, came to terms with the challenging Yamaha R1 powerband, and started coming to terms with the special ‘Suzuka’ Dunlop tires (I use the term started lightly!).
After four days of testing, I went back to Canada for a few days, packed up the family and went right back to Japan. I took my mother, sister, wife and baby along and turned it into a family event. We planned a week of sightseeing around Japan and then we would finish the trip off with the Suzuka 8 Hour Endurance race. Future visitors to Japan, be warned: July in Japan = Intense heat and near 100% humidity. We had a great time enjoying fantastic food, great hospitality and a very clean, well-organized country. The Japanese are really nice people.
I have broken this blog up into 3 parts, which will be posted over the next few weeks on the IM website: 1) Intro/Summary, 2) Behind the scenes of a big budget race team, and 3) Bringing family to a racetrack. I hope you enjoy!
Four days before the Suzuka 8 Hour, we arrived at the circuit and I left my family to spend a few days on their own while I got into race mode with my team. They would meet up with me Friday for qualifying and again Sunday for the 8 Hour. Simply put, the next five days of my life would be massively cool! There I was, sitting in a riders meeting with the legend himself, Kevin Schwantz, and MotoGP regulars Randy De Puniet and Broc Parkes… talking about how fast the Japanese riders are with British Superbike star Josh Brookes… or simply bumping into and saying ‘g’day’ to World Superbike frontrunner Johnny Rea in pit lane. All of it was truly an amazing experience for me. Sharing the race track with them was both intimidating and also eye opening. It quickly reminded me that they do this for a living, and I am merely living the dream, doing this for fun.
My team had arranged a van for me to use to shuttle myself and my family around while in Japan. I wasn’t too concerned about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road since I had recently spent a month in Europe for the TT and NW200 (which you can read about in IM Vol. 17 issue 05). I was a little concerned about getting lost since the GPS was in Japanese and asking locals for directions was not an option – they do not speak a word of English and me smiling at them saying arigato over and over (thank you in Japanese) wasn’t going to help me find my hotel or the circuit. Luckily my North American phone had an integrated GPS and it worked awesome. Problem solved. I was mobile in Japan.
The race was full of drama both in terms of weather and crashes. We ended up qualifying 17th and finished the race in that same position, seven laps down from the winner. We were aiming for a top 10 finish and were running in 8th for a while, but a small technical issue during a pit stop cost us two laps and me, being a ‘broken Canadian in Japan’ from three July crashes (all at Suzuka) kept us from pushing to the same level as we should have.
I have massive respect for my two teammates who really put in superhuman efforts throughout the race. If you look at the competition in this event, 17th is nothing to be ashamed of, but as a racer, you always want to do better. Thank goodness we start preparing for the 2015 Suzuka 8 Hour in only three months and we will be aiming again for that Top 10 finish. I think I have now donated enough bike parts and riding gear to the Suzuka gods, so I will now plan on staying on the bike and leaving the crashing to other teams.