MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Out there with the big boys – part 2
Part two of Mat Oxley's 1989 Suzuka 8 Hours: race day. This story is one of many that appear in Mat’s The Fast Stuff, available on Kindle
The Suzuka 8 Hours race celebrates its 40th anniversary this Sunday. I contested the race several times in the 1980s and 1990s, with a best finish of seventh in 1986, riding with Vesa Kultalahti for Team Howard Lees. This story, written at the time, tells the tale of the 1989 race, when I partnered French journalist Gilbert Roy to 12th. They were the boom years of the 8 Hours, when you got to share the track with Rainey, Schwantz, Doohan, Gardner and the rest
Race day dawns a little sunnier but a few clouds keep the temperature down to a ‘cool’ 30 degC. Normally Suzuka can be 35 degC with stifling humidity.
The hype fuels the tension as the 11.30am start approaches. I was slightly faster than Gilbert in practice so I’m doing the Le Mans start. And from where I stand it’s a long, long way to the front of the grid where Doohan stands on pole. After a few mouthfuls of electrolyte energy drink I line up for the sprint. My mouth is parched, my heart racing and my legs nervy like jelly as Suzuka’s electronic grandstand info board counts down to ‘GO!’.
I make a good getaway but within two seconds all hell breaks loose. Two bikes collide in the melee. I swerve wildly to avoid the exploding debris and I can’t believe it when another bike alongside me ploughs into the wreckage. The last I see of the rider he is six feet in the air hanging onto his motorcycle, upside down.
Incredibly the marshals have cleared the mess by the end of the first lap and the 8 Hours isn’t going to be stopped. The next lap brings more crashes as some riders get carried away with the occasion. I soon discover that riders who had qualified in front of me can’t keep up at that kind of pace for more than a few laps. I’m steadily making up places.
After five laps or so the heat is already getting to me. Sweat from my forehead is splashing like rain onto the inside of my visor and stinging my eyes. It’s also difficult to breathe when you’re under the bubble, because the heat is so intense that it’s like sticking your head in the oven. And the footpegs get so burning hot that I lift my boots off them on the straights.
I begin to wish I could crash and get it all over with. A few laps later the heat begins to take its toll on the tyres too. Another rash of crashes proves that some riders haven’t prepared themselves for this – it’s so hot and slippery at Suzuka that you have to slide the rear tyre to keep going at a decent pace.
My only worry is getting in the way of Doohan and the other GP stars when they lap me – and my pet nightmare is bringing down Rainey, currently locked in a duel with Eddie Lawson for the 500 world title. I can already see the headlines: ‘RAINEY BREAKS LEG AND RUINS WORLD TITLE CHANCE IN JOURNALIST SMASH’. So I take a few glances over my shoulder as the session draws on. Doohan is way ahead when he effortlessly swoops past, followed by Rainey. Kocinski comes by at the rapid turn one, puffs of smoke coming off his knee scraper as he chases the leaders.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.