The curtain has finally gone up. With Thursday's free practice, the Suzuka 8 Hours, the final event of the 2017-18 World Endurance season, finally gets underway. At the end of the first three practice sessions, Kawasaki proves itself, leading the way on day one. The fastest time was set by Leon Haslam who, as we know, will join Johnny Rea in World Superbike next year.
The Brit set a best of 2’07”227, closing just 0.07 of a second ahead of the Cannibal, with whom he shares a garage this weekend, along with Watanabe. Yamaha, the best of the chasing pack, lies almost half a second behind (+0.489). Despite the R1 having dominated the first two sessions, it had to bow down to the superiority of the ZX-10RR in the final session. Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark and Nakasuga nevertheless comfort themselves with the knowledge that they have a very strong race pace.
They are followed by the first of the Hondas, or rather the HARC-PRO team, a frontrunner with Randy De Puniet (+1.152). The Frenchman closes third, but is almost a second off the pace. Behind him, the Suzuki of team Yoshimura, in action with Sylvain Guintoli, who shares a garage with Tsuda and young BSB talent Bradley Ray.
Back to Honda and it was no easy Thursday for the HRC team, returning to the Suzuka 8 Hours after fifteen years. PJ Jacobsen, called in to replace injured Leon Camier, was unable to do more than tenth, almost two and a half seconds behind Haslam (+2.669). If we look at the teams entered in the World Endurance series, the best right now is Yamaha YART, lying in sixth place. GMT94 places twelfth with Niccolò Canepa (+2.954), FCC TSR, the current championship leader is two positions further back.