From left, Zaqhwan, Dimas, Ratthapong and Tamada.

THE picturesque and challenging Suzuka racetrack in Japan hosted a landmark 40th Suzuka 8 Hours race on July 30. The race was deemed the biggest and most important one in the Japanese motorcycle racing calendar.

Here on this twisting 5.807km ribbon of tarmac, racing legends are made and immortalised for posterity.

The 2017 edition saw 68 teams vying for the honours. Endurance World Championship teams like 2015/2016 champions Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, F.C.C. TSR Honda, GMT94 Yamaha and YART Yamaha competed with Japanese endurance teams like Moriwaki Motul Racing Team, Kawasaki Team Green, Mushashi RT-HARC-Pro Honda, Yamaha Factory Racing Team and Yoshimura Motul Suzuki.

Among them stood a team that went through a baptism of fire last year, finishing in a respectable eighth place. Satu Hati Honda Team Asia became serious contenders in the unfamiliar and challenging crucible called endurance racing by finishing in higher positions than the more experienced.

That year, riders Md Zaqhwan Zaidi, Dimas Ekky Pratama and Ratthapong Wilairot proved themselves up to the task in producing a top result for Honda.

This time, Honda Asia team manager Makoto Tamada retained the same line-up of riders for the 8 Hours challenge and also threw down the gauntlet to Boon Siew Honda; a full-fledged Asian team, from riders to mechanics.

Boon Siew Honda accepted the challenge by assigning Zulhelmi Ahmad (a former Boon Siew rider) to manage the Satu Hati team.

Boon Siew Honda also sent chief mechanic Muhamad Zarul Sirat and chief data engineer Mohamad Redzuan Kamis. All three were to help Team Satu Hati achieve a difficult target - a top 10 result and top four Honda team.

The rest of the team consisted of an Indonesian and a Vietnamese mechanic.

Tamada realised the enormity of the task.

“The mechanics are under a lot of pressure in an endurance race. Not only do they have to prepare a perfect racing machine but they have to perform 100 per cent perfect pit-stops as well. No mistakes or it will endanger the riders.”

In the highly charged atmosphere of an endurance race, it is an extremely difficult proposition.

During the race, Zulhelmi said: “I am very proud to have accepted the challenge of managing this team in such a prestigious event and hope to fulfil Honda’s expectations. The most difficult part is to understand the rules and regulations of endurance racing. They are complicated and it’s easy to make a mistake and penalise the team. Thankfully, all the mechanics and riders are communicating well and performing perfectly so far.”

The new CBR1000RR-SP2 was a new machine and more complicated to set up than the ordinary RR model, he added.

Qualifying for the 8 Hours was difficult and complicated as well. All three riders had to do qualifying laps and an average time would determine 10 teams which would compete in a one-lap shootout for the final grid positions.

Team Satu Hati was one of the 10 to reach the Superpole shootout, beating many favoured teams with famous riders from World Championship teams. During the shootout, the team only managed to clinch 10th place but earned the respect of a multitude of fans and other teams.

The race started slowly for Team Satu Hati. Initially settling into 13th position in the chaotic first few laps, the team concentrated on setting consistent lap times from all three riders and performing quick, fuss-free pit stops.

By the third hour, Satu Hati was climbing up the leaderboard as other teams ahead crashed, made mistakes and fumbled through their pit stops.

The 10th place came easily and the target was in sight even though there was a long way to go. By the fifth hour, the team was up at eighth place and closing on the faster, more powerful teams.

Dimas was the fastest of the three riders but the most consistent was Zaqhwan, who bore the brunt of doing the most stints on track. His consistency brought the team to fifth position by the seventh hour (around 6.30pm).

The team was now the second best Honda team and on the crux of making history. However, cruel luck robbed the team of this sterling result, when during Zaqhwan’s final stint amid darkening skies, a rear numberboard bulb blew up and forced the team to perform an unscheduled pit stop.

With barely 30 minutes remaining, Satu Hati had fallen to ninth place. Through sheer determination and speed, Zaqhwan managed to seize the eighth position in the final minutes of the race.

This was the culmination of Boon Siew Honda’s passion and enthusiasm in developing local young talent, from riders to mechanics and managers.

The opportunity at the Suzuka 8 Hours has only proven that Boon Siew Honda is on the right track by providing platforms such as the Asia Talent Cup and Asia Dream Cup.

Satu Hati Honda Team Asia serves to inspire local talents to take up the challenge of the world stage.

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