While MotoGP takes a break, LCR Honda’s Johann Zarco is heading to Japan for the 45th edition of the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race.

Honda’s MotoGP project might still be struggling but the Frenchman can set his sights firmly on the top step in Japan, where he will be riding for Team HRC as it chases a third Suzuka victory in a row.

joining Zarco on the Bridgestone-shod Fireblade in the July 19-21 event will be five-time event winner Takumi Takahashi and fellow new Team HRC recruit Teppei Nagoe.

“I’m excited to be racing in the Suzuka 8 Hours,” said Zarco, winner of the 2023 Australian MotoGP for Pramac Ducati before joining Honda this year.

“It’s the biggest motorcycle race and also an important race for Honda.

“Just like many MotoGP legends have won the Suzuka 8 Hours before, I also would like to win as a Team HRC with Japan Post rider.

“I appreciate Honda and LCR for giving me this opportunity.”

Zarco got his first taste of the famous 5.821-kilometre Suzuka Circuit during testing last month. 

“Suzuka is quite impressive. So fast. And a good asphalt with good grip,” Zarco said.

“I was able to learn the track by riding a lot during the two days. Takahashi is very fast, so I tried to learn from him and keep as much as possible. I think we had a really enjoyable test.

“I was nervous on day one because it was all new to me, but gradually I became more relaxed and could ride better. I think I will be able to ride better in the race.

“The bike is competitive and [so] then you can just work on yourself. 

“MotoGP races last about 40 minutes, but a Suzuka 8 Hours stint lasts an hour. I have never raced for such a long time before. 

“But I knew the Suzuka 8 Hours is a race I would do one day, even the 24 Heures Motos and Bol d’Or are races I have said I would do.

“I was thinking maybe this year is possible because [the date doesn’t clash]. 

“When Honda asked me, I said I would love to do it because it’s an opportunity to get some freedom and to do other things and have fun.”

Johann Zarco at Suzuka 8 Hours test (FIM EWC)

Johann Zarco at Suzuka 8 Hours test (FIM EWC)

Guintoli: Awesome to share the track with Zarco

Among Zarco’s rivals at Suzuka will be countryman and former MotoGP rider Sylvain Guintoli, competing as part of the BMW Motorrad World Endurance line-up.

“Johann Zarco coming to race is great,” said Guintoli, frequently in the MotoGP paddock as part of his TV work for TNT Sports. “It’s great for the championship and for the race, the overall profile.

“It’s also going to be awesome to share the track with Johann and I am really looking forward to see what he can do on an endurance bike.

“I am sure he will enjoy it and it will be a great challenge for him. But it’s a race he can potentially win so it will be nice to see him sharing the track with us.”

F.C.C. TSR Honda France’s Josh Hook said: “He’s been around the traps long enough to know how to get on and do his job and I’m sure he’ll do well because he’s riding a great bike on great tyres.

“We’ve had MotoGP riders and World Superbike riders come in for this race many times before and it just brings a lot of hype. It’s also good to ride with those guys to see what they’re doing and not doing.”

Yoshimura SERT Motul rider Gregg Black, who will unfortunately miss next week’s race through injury, said it’s “good for everybody to see him in this race.

“We know his strong performances in MotoGP and now being with Honda it’s the perfect deal for him to come to the Suzuka 8 Hours.”

MotoGP riders that have won the Suzuka 8 Hours in the past include Pol Espargaro, Bradley Smith, Carlos Checa, Colin Edwards, Valentino Rossi, Alex Barros, Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey.