Yamaha wants Rossi and Lorenzo to race Suzuka 8 Hours

News of Stoner coming back to race event throws a wrench in Yamaha's plans to mount a major Suzuka 8 Hour effort as part of the company's 60th anniversary

motogp yamaha want lorenzo rossi to race suzuka 8 hours
Fabrizio Porrozzi

The whole racing community applauded last week when Casey Stoner’s comeback was officially announced by Honda and Stoner himself. The former world champion will join one of the Japanese factory-supported official teams at the Suzuka 8 Hours race to be held next July 26. Stoner will race alongside Takumi Takahashi and young Dutchman Michael van der Mark—both multiple winners of this emblematic event—and the bike will be a CBR1000RR in World Endurance Championship spec.

But what isn’t that public is what is going on backstage behind this year’s Suzuka 8 Hours. This year is Yamaha’s 60th anniversary, a very important date for the Iwata-based company, and a great way to celebrate the anniversary would be with a win in the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hours. The company’s last win was in 1996, when Noriyuki Haga and Texan Colin Edwards won for the last time for Yamaha.

To win at the Honda-owned track would be also be an excellent promotional opportunity for Yamaha’s marketing department to continue hyping the all-new 2015 R1, a bike designed using MotoGP experience and with the collaboration of Valentino Rossi, who traveled to Japan to help during the development phase.

Yamaha’s commitment to win the 2015 Suzuka 8 Hours was not some snap judgment that was made this year—the effort was likely planned a few years back. It was surely no coincidence that last year one of the Yamaha-supported Suzuka 8 Hours teams curiously switched to Bridgestone tires (Yamaha’s teams have normally used Michelin or Dunlop). Now it is apparent that the move was in preparation for this year’s effort.

To ensure their winning options and to guarantee worldwide notoriety, Yamaha wants Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to race at the 2015 Suzuka 8 Hours. And apparently it’s much more than just a hint; both riders were said to have been offered the ride and both declined…but after the announcement of Stoner’s comeback ride, Yamaha has reportedly insisted with Lorenzo and Rossi that they should be part of the Yamaha effort.

Rossi has already raced the Suzuka 8 Hours twice (2000 and 2001—when he won—for Honda, ironically partnered with Colin Edwards both times), and knows what a grind it can be racing that event. Held in the oppressive heat and humidity of summer in Japan, the race is more of an 8-hour sprint than an endurance race; the prestige of the race and the sophistication and speed of the pitstops—usually no more than 15 seconds to change both tires and refuel, and they used to be closer to half that before regulations were enacted that require teams to wait until the tires are mounted before beginning refueling using spec quick-fill cans instead of the force-feed systems used in the past—mean that each stint is run at full 120% sprint pace. The physical toll it inflicts on each rider lasts for days. Rossi reportedly told Edwards that he wanted to come back and win the 2001 event (after crashing while leading the 2000 race and costing the team a chance at victory) so that he wouldn’t be obliged to race in the event ever again—and he (as well as most other Grand Prix riders) now avoid the race like the plague.

In Losail during the Qatar GP weekend, the rumors that Rossi and/or Lorenzo might actually race the 8 Hours were running rampant. The people close to both riders (as well as people linked with the Suzuka 8 Hours organization) confirmed that Yamaha was putting pressure on them. No one knows the final decision yet, but next weekend in Austin will be a good place to find out.

Interestingly, the three special tests prior to the Suzuka 8 Hours race fall conveniently in-between MotoGP race weekends...

Related stories: