The 41st running of the prestigious Suzuka 8-hour race took place in constantly changing and tricky weather conditions, with teams and riders contending with everything from the soaking wet to bone-dry and everything in between. After eight hours of racing the S-Pulse Suzuki team of Tommy Bridewell, Kazuki Watanabe, Hideyuki Ogata finished fourth, while the Yoshimura Suzuki team recovered from 48th position after a crash to finish 10th.
The tone was set with the weather from the very start, with teams and riders lining up on a dry grid, only to have to switch to wets before the warm-up lap. Sylvain Guintoli, on the Yoshimura Suzuki, completed the opening lap in fourth, but soon made a pass for third place.
As the rain stopped and the track dried, Guintoli pitted for slick tyres and rejoined the race, and moved into the lead. Behind, S-Pulse Suzuki's Watanabe was fifth with Yukio Kagayama's Team Kagayama Suzuki sixth, before they switched positions.
However, disaster struck for Yoshimura Suzuki on the hour mark, the team crashing out after colliding with a back-marker.
With the bike back in the pits it was repaired and Bradley Ray began his stint, but discovered issues as he went, and was forced to return to the pits for running repairs. The team dropped to 48th on the timing sheets.
Further up the leaderboard Team Kagayama also crashed at the chicane, costing them positions, but S-Pulse Suzuki had climbed to fourth.
More rain arrived, and with more crashes the team had to contend with safety cars and tyre changes, plus oil from another machine and another safety car situation. The track then dried again for the final two hours.
Despite dropping one position to fifth, S-Pulse Suzuki climbed back up to fourth and held the position to the chequered flag.
Yoshimura Suzuki recovered to finish 10th, Team Kagayama finished 11th, while SERT finished 12th.
S-Pulse Suzuki's Tommy Bridewell said, "Everything was fantastic and the result was unbelievable. The bike was perfect with a good engine, predictable chassis, electronics and tyres. Everything just worked wonderfully in the dry, wet, and even in the dark. The team did a great job, too with perfect pit timing and pit work. I’m very pleased."
Yoshimura Suzuki's Sylvain Guintoli said, "The Suzuka 8-hours is always a tough and demanding race. The bike felt fantastic both in the dry and the wet so it was a shame that we crashed trying to avoid a back marker.
"But the Yoshimura team is strong with a fighting spirit. We had the pace to be on the podium so we pushed to the end. I’d like to be back again next year and hope to be on the podium then."
Bradley Ray, making his debut at the event, added, "It was all new to me and everything was both a wonderful and difficult experience. The Yoshimura team was professional in every aspect so I am happy I was able to ride with them. The bike was very fast and always perfect, and I think I was able to play my part.
"I feel sure that this experience will be good for my career and it would be an honour if I could challenge the 8 hours again with this team.