Jonathan Rea passed Honda’s Stefan Bradl on-track to put Kawasaki in the lead of the Suzuka 8 Hours at the halfway point of the race.
It was the #12 Yoshimura Suzuki which sprinted clear of the field at the start, before an early safety car dropped it into the clutches of the factory #21 Yamaha bike.
Sylvain Guintoli initially appeared to have enough in hand to fend off Katsuyuki Nakasuga, but his pace dropped off rapidly towards the end of his stint, allowing both Nakasuga and Honda’s Takumi Takahashi through into first and second.
Honda then got the jump on Yamaha by extending its first stint, with Kawasaki likewise leapfrogging the defending champions by staying out longer on track.
That left Bradl with a narrow lead in the fourth hour, with Rea under serious pressure from the Yamaha of Nakasuga.
However, the complexion of the race quickly changed when the trio approached backmarkers, as Bradl got bogged down behind a slower rider and Rea took full advantage of the opportunity to put the #10 Kawasaki he shares with Leon Haslam and Toprak Razgatlioglu in the lead.
Bradl also slipped behind the Yamaha of Nakasuga, Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes in traffic, although Honda’s superior fuel economy could potentially bring him and teammates Takahashi and Ryuichi Kiyonari back in contention for victory in the second half of the race.
The #1 FCC TSR trio of Josh Hook, Freddy Foray, Mike Di Meglio holds a steady fourth place ahead of the #12 Suzuki of Guintoli, Yukio Kagayama and Kazuki Watanabe, which has been unable to reproduce the same pace it showed in the first stint.
Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz, Niccolo Canepa were sixth on the #7 YART Yamaha, while the HARC-Pro Honda trio of Xavier Fores, Dominique Augerter and Ryo Mizuno initiated a stunning recovery to move up to seventh by the halfway point of the race.
The three-time race winning-team was not allowed to start the race until 90 seconds after the rest of the field after its #634 Honda Fireblade was found to have incorrect tyre stickers earlier in the weekend.