The Top 10 Trial that took place on Saturday, July 28, is always major highlight of the Suzuka 8 Hours Road Race.
Only the fastest 10 teams from July 27's official qualifying session can join, and they all head out to do a one-lap time attack to decide the starting grid.
This year, Typhoon Jongdari forced a change to the usual format, with a timed qualifying session for the top 10 teams held instead. But even with the change, the session was a true contest of speed to see who could set the fastest time, and it was the focus of fans' attention.
On the entry list for the Top 10 Trial, however, the name "F.C.C. TSR Honda France" could not be found.
The TSR team, headed by Team Manager Masakazu Fujii, is a top-level team that is regularly in the running for podiums at the 8 Hours, and they have won the event three times: in 2006, 2011 and 2012.
They had also featured in every Top 10 Trial since the format was first introduced in 2011.
However this year the team qualified 12th, which brought an end to their streak of seven back-to-back Top 10 Trial appearances.
This did not bother Team Manager Fujii at all. He explained, "Our target in qualifying was 11th. So, to finish in 12th was a bit disappointing actually."
Aiming for 11th in qualifying? That could only mean TSR had no interest in in the Top 10 Trial from the start.
"This time, our only goal was to win the EWC (Endurance World Championship) title. If we thought the Top 10 Trial would bring us closer to that, of course we'd try for it. But here it doesn't matter at all," he laughed.
Even speed is unnecessary if it gets in the way of winning the championship
The Suzuka 8 Hours is Japan's biggest motorcycle race.
The high-level fight for the win is usually between the factory-backed teams, or satellite teams with strong links to the factories. It is run at such a high pace that it is often called an "8-hour sprint race."
The race also serves as the final round of the EWC season.
Compared to the Japanese domestic teams fighting for 8 Hour glory, the mostly Europe-based teams competing full-time in the EWC often have a slightly slower pace and finish a little further down in the ranking, as they are more focused on the EWC season than this single race.
What ends up happening at the 8 Hours is that the fight for the race win and the fight for the championship are fought separately.
This year's TSR team is a full-time EWC competitor, and they came to Suzuka with the goal of being the first ever Japanese team to take the EWC title.
Their results prior to the 8 Hours looked like this. Round 1, Bol d'Or 24 Hours: 6th. Round 2, Le Mans 24 Hours: 1st. Round 3, Slovakia 8 Hours: 3rd. Round 4, 8 Hours of Oschersleben: 1st.
After Round 4 the team had acquired 146 points, which gave them a 10-point lead over the 2nd-ranked GMT94 Yamaha team, and put them within striking distance of taking the championship at the Suzuka 8 Hours.
This is why there was no need for TSR to enter the Top 10 Trial, and no need for them to aim for the race win. All they needed to do in the race was stay in front of the GMT94 Yamaha team.
The importance of keeping the trinity in balance
"Lots of people ask me about not being able to ride in the Top 10 Trial. But I want to ask them right back, 'What did we have to gain by being in the Top 10 Trial?'" says Team Manager Fujii.
There are some things that can be gained, such as a high position on the starting grid, the attention of race fans, or the satisfaction of a job well done from the riders and team.
But all of that was not really necessary. The team only wanted one thing: to be world champions.
In motorcycle racing "speed" brings another factor with it: risk. Fujii simply removed as much risk as possible. His goal was to finish the race at least one point ahead of the GMT94 team. That was all.
"To win an endurance race, you need the 'trinity,' which is the riders, the machine and the team. If one part is too strong, the whole thing won't work; if one part is lacking, the whole thing won't work. If the triangle is lopsided, there's no way you can win. You have to create a perfect triangle where the power of the riders, machine and team are all balanced."
It has been three years and 14 EWC races since Bridgestone staff asked Fujii, "How about entering the Le Mans 24 Hours?" to which Fujii quickly answered, "OK, let's do it."
The formula that has guided Fujii to winning success has been to keep that trinity in balance. To do that, one factor that had to be kept in check was highly competitive riders wanting showing off their speed.
Everything in pursuit of victory
In the race itself, which got started at 11:30 a.m. on July 29, Fujii devoted himself to maintaining that balance.
It was a challenging race as the conditions changed frequently and the safety car came on track several times.
As the top Japanese factory and privateer teams fought it out for the win at the front, the TSR team did not do anything to particularly stand out.
This was also part of Fujii's plan. As long as they were in front of the GMT94 Yamaha machine, everything was fine. One hour into the race however showed GMT94 in 13th and TSR in 15th. After that though, the remaining hours saw TSR in 6th, 5th, 5th, 6th, 5th - all ahead of GMT94.
When they finally came across the finish line, TSR was 5th while GMT94 finished behind them in 6th.
That result was enough for TSR to achieve their goal of taking the 2017-2018 season championship crown.
TSR is a Japanese team, but its riders are Josh Hook (Australian), Freddie Foray (French) and Alan Techer (French). There are no Japanese riders. Their rider selection was practical-minded, and made with the singular goal of winning the EWC championship title.
Conversely, the team wanted an all-Japanese package for their machine, fielding a Honda CBR1000RR SP2 shod with Bridgestone tires. This was yet another essential decision taken in order to win.
Everything was done purely to win. The TSR team came to the Suzuka 8 Hours with the sole purpose of winning the EWC championship, and in the end they did it.
"Basically, it's all about people. One person alone can't do anything. For me, people are the key," says Fujii. Though he has made every decision a practical one, he enjoys the fact that he is surrounded by people.
That moment when you are able to share your happiness with everyone makes all the hard work worth it
The decision to race in the EWC was made when a Bridgestone staff member suggested entering, but the reason Fujii wanted to win a championship was to share the joy and excitement with everyone around him.
One of those people was Bridgestone's Hiroshi Yamada. Bridgestone entered World GP competition in 1991 paired with TSR, and this year, 27 years later, they became world champions together with TSR, which makes their success even sweeter.
When it was done, Fujii and Yamada said "Thank you!" as they hugged each other. To win races, cool-headed strategy and planning is needed. However, that in itself is not enough. The kind of powerful enthusiasm that makes people want to get involved is also crucial.
Source：RIDERS CLUB October 2018