Honda pairing grab honours

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The Independent Online

Honda's dream ticket pairing of Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards lived up to expectations by clinching the blue riband event of the Japanese racing calendar, the Suzuka Eight-Hours race.

Rossi, leading the 500cc grand prix championship, and Edwards, the reigning World Superbike champion, teamed up in gruelling, humid conditions to complete a fifth victory in five attempts for Honda in the discipline.

Their greatest threat came from another Cabin Honda pairing of Brazil's 500cc rider Alex Barros and Tady Okada, the team-mate of Edwards in world Superbikes, with the victory margin of just 14.286 seconds over a total of 217 completed laps. With Edwards going head-to-head with Barros, Rossi was left to fend off the determined efforts of Okada as the riders alternated their time spent in the saddle.

The aggressive nature of that battle proved decisive when Okada fell at the chicane 117 laps into the race while attempting to overtake the Italian, losing 15 seconds on him. However, Okada and Barros were later to benefit from the misfortune of a privateer Kawasaki rider, whose 157th lap crash at Dunlop Curve necessitated the use of the pace car.

The episode not only allowed Okada and Barros to close the developing gap on Rossi and Edwards, but also permitted the eventual third place finishers, the three-man Team Suzuki squad of Akiro Ryo, Yukio Kagayama and Atsushi Watanabe, to catch and pass the other Cabin Honda team of Daijiro Katoh and Tohru Ukawa.

The official Kawasaki team of superbike riders Akira Yanagawa and Hitoyasu Izutsu, who led the race into the first corner, were both early fallers and spent much of the day in pit-lane carrying out running repairs to their machine.