The Suzuka 8 Hours is still a career make-or-break race. The Japanese motorcycle manufacturers place enormous value on this long-running annual endurance event, and for Honda—the owner of the Suzuka circuit—this year's race is more than just a home outing; it's a chance to reassert itself on the Superbike stage and end three years of Yamaha domination.

American PJ Jacobsen was expected to team with Ryo Mizuno and Dominique Aegerter on the CBR1000RR of three-time 8-Hours winners MuSASHI RT HARC-Pro Racing, but the 24-year-old New Yorker was promoted to the factory Red Bull HRC squad with Takumi Takahashi and Takaaki Nakagami when Leon Camier crashed during testing and fractured his C5 vertebra.

Stepping up to Superbike is tough enough, but to do so with a new team is even more difficult. Triple M Honda is adapting to the big-bike class, and Jacobsen has shown potential on the CBR1000RR, but many figure Suzuka will be a better indicator of his true speed. Jacobsen is confident ahead of his sophomore effort at the centerpiece of the Japanese racing calendar.

“This is my first time back since 2016, and I can’t wait,” Jacobsen said about the 8 Hours. “I wanted to race last year, but I wasn’t able because of my World Supersport commitments. It’s been fun riding the bike so far. The tires are a big difference, and it has a different fairing. The engine is also quite different, but there are some similarities between the two bikes.

“In ’16, the fast lap times were low 2:07s, but guys are already in the 2:06s on race tires. That wasn’t possible then, so it’s clear a big step has been made. During the most recent test, I was actually faster on race tires than I was in qualifying in ’16. Our times were also where we need them to be for the race.

“We will do about 27 laps per stint so consistency is crucial,” Jacobsen added. “You need to maintain 2:08s, but that’s a big challenge once traffic starts to appear. Lapping slower riders can be scary because you sometimes catch them very quickly—and they are often in the middle of a battle—but that’s part of endurance racing.”

Red Bull Honda
Jacobsen tested the MuSASHI RT HARC-Pro Racing Honda CBR1000RR but will race the Red Bull-backed factory machine. “I’ve enjoyed riding at the tests," he said, "and I’m looking forward to the race.”Photo courtesy of Honda

What is the key to reaching the top of the time sheets? Both Bridgestone (Suzuka) and Pirelli (World Superbike) offer loads of performance, but riders generate their lap times differently. Remember when Michelin replaced Bridgestone as the spec-tire supplier in MotoGP? Up and down pit lane, riders remarked, “I miss the feel of the Bridgestone front tire.”

But what is that feeling? Stability. That attribute is very much present in Bridgestone's Suzuka tires. A quick lap time comes from pushing hard into corners because the stiffer carcass maintains its shape from initial braking to lever release. When the load changes, the transition isn't as significant as it is with other tires.

PJ Jacobsen
Suzuka 2016 flashback: PJ Jacobsen has endured a difficult rookie World Superbike campaign, but a strong performance in this month’s Suzuka 8 Hours could drum up additional support for Triple M Honda.Photo courtesy of Honda

That confidence from the braking marker to the apex of the corner allows riders to carry more speed into the turn. Once he is in the middle of the corner, Jacobsen still has enough grip that he can hang off more than he usually does in World Superbike. This helps him with corner exit because he can pick up the throttle without lifting the bike as much.

“I don’t usually drag my elbow, but at Suzuka I was doing it the whole time,” Jacobsen admitted. “That comes from the grip when you’re on the edge of the tire; it’s a bit crazy, to be honest. I still need to pick up the bike when I’m exiting the corner—it’s a Superbike—but there is so much more edge and drive grip.

“I have so much more confidence in the middle of the corner because of how much I can lean off the bike, and that helps me all the way through the corner and to the exit when I’m getting on the gas. The electronics also help, but what we have in World Superbike is very similar to the Suzuka bike.”

Two years ago, Jacobsen was rewarded for finishing the race. To take the checkered flag at their home race means a lot to the Japanese teams, and it is also important to be the top rider in a team throughout the week. Jacobsen hopes to receive a similar honor this year, in addition to having something even bigger to fight for in the final hour.