Yoshimura Suzuki Racing Team set the pace in first practice for this weekend's Suzuka 8 Hours, the third round of the 2011 FIM World Endurance Championship. Unsurprisingly, there was a strong Japanese presence at the top of the leaderboard with eight home riders among the three quickest teams on Thursday.
The Yoshimura trio of Yukio Kagayama, Josh Waters and Nobuatsu Aoki set a fastest lap between them of 2:10.336, giving them the smallest of advantages over FCC TSR Honda's all Japanese line-up of Kousuke Akiyoshi, Shinichi Ito and reigning British Superbike champion Ryuichi Kiyonari.
Honda, owners of the Suzuka circuit, saw their CBR1000RR machines fill the next three places with Musashi RT HARC-PRO third, Honda SuzukaRacing Team in fourth and Teluru-HoneyBee Racing in fifth position, 1.731s off the pace.
The leading championship contenders are all European based and didn't make the strongest of starts to the weekend. Series leaders Suzuki Endurance Racing Team were down in 13th, a full four seconds behind the pacesetters with BMW Motorrad France 99, two points behind in the standings, even further down in 15th.
Yamaha Racing France GMT94 Ipone followed the BMW squad home in the Albacete 8 Hour and enter this weekend 19 points of the lead. David Checa, Kenny Foray and Matthieu Lagrive were 14th quickest on Thursday.
The Honda TT Legends team also made a quiet start with John McGuinness, Keith Amor and Australian Cameron Donald in 32nd place. As reserve rider, Donald has been called in to replace the injured Steve Plater who suffered a broken arm in a Supersport accident in May.
The race will go ahead despite the recent natural disasters that have had such an effect on the country but so as not to waste electrical supply, the race will take place during the daylight hours on Sunday, starting at 11am local time. The weather forecast is uncertain for the weekend ahead though, and rain may well throw another variable into the event.