MIDSUMMER RACING SPECTACULAR:
Endurance Event Tests Riders' Mettle
September 28, 1999
Alexandre Barros (left) speeds through the rain to victory in the 1999 Suzuka race. (Jiji Press)
The Suzuka 8 Hours World Endurance Championship is Japan's most prestigious motorcycle race. Also known as the "Midsummer Festival," the event was held for the twenty-second time in July 1999. Two-person teams alternately ride high-powered 750-cc motorcycles over the Suzuka circuit in an eight-hour test of endurance. The race is severe: The reflected heat of the sun and blasts of hot air from the cycles' engines push temperatures to over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), and riders' body temperatures can also climb to above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). From the first qualifying race on July 23 to the finals on July 25, the championship captured the attention of motor racing fans worldwide.
In order to spice up the 1999 gala, pop singer Tatsuya Ishii was put in charge of creative direction, and numerous events were held to jack up the atmosphere under the theme of "Ride and Live." Festivities kicked off with a parade through the city of Suzuka on July 24 featuring several hundred motorcycles. As a prelude to the final race, a live music concert was also performed on a stage erected in front of the circuit's grandstand. Some 85,000 spectators, 15,000 more than the previous year, were on hand for the finals. A showcase fireworks display and an awards ceremony rounded out the race's grand finale.
Revving for Glory
Onlookers had their attention glued to the team of Shinichi Ito and Toru Ukawa, which was shooting for its third straight victory at the Suzuka 8 Hours. Announcing before the race that they would be satisfied with nothing less than victory, Ito and Ukawa got off on the right foot by grabbing pole position for the second straight year. Thirty minutes into the final race, however, the unthinkable happened when Ito tasted gravel on the thirteenth lap. The team got back into the race but had fallen six laps back, close to sixtieth position. Though they made a gallant comeback attempt, climbing all the way back up to tenth, Ukawa took a spill on lap 147 to put the team out of commission.
In the end, it was the team of Tadayuki Okada and Alexandre Barros that took command of the wild race, in which only 48 of 70 teams finished. The two, both regulars on the ultra-fast 500-cc-class World Grand Prix (WGP) circuit, completed 213 laps in a standout victory. For Okada, who realized his second triumph in the race since 1995, his performance on the WGP circuit--his primary stomping ground--has also been superlative. Prior to Suzuka he won the 1999 Dutch Grand Prix and is currently number two in the WGP rankings. Okada hopes to use the momentum from this victory at Suzuka to pull off his dream of becoming the first Japanese 500GP world champion. The "Midsummer Festival" may be over, but eyes will be riveted on Okada at upcoming WGP events.
Top finishers at the Suzuka 8 Hours
1. Tadayuki Okada/Alexandre Barros
2. Colin Edwards/Aaron Slight
3. Akira Yanagawa/Hitoyasu Izutsu
4. Noriyuki Haga/Regis Laconi
by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented
here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent
the policy or views of the Japanese Government.