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Team Shinsuke and its association with SNK and the NEO·GEO

So what exactly is Team Shinsuke that you've heard so much about, and what about this 8-hour race? Why did SNK promote them?

Team Shinsuke was a motorcycle racing team which competed in the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Championship (鈴鹿8時間耐久ロードレース) which is held annually at the Suzuka International Racing Course in Suzuka City, Mie pref., Japan, as a date on the F.I.M. Endurance World Championship calendar. The race itself is in fact 8 hours long with at least two drivers, who can switch during pitstops. The track has seen minor modifications in its half-century-plus of existence and even the racing calendar and the type of championship awarded have all changed over time.

Team Shinsuke was formed in 1985 by Shimada Shinsuke who sent veteran rider Sengoku Seiichi to the Suzuka 8 Hours first in 1985. The team competed there against such heavyweights as the "big 4" of Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha amongst others.

Shinsuke and Seiichi —who were good friends at the time— worked together to achieve the goal of making it to the Suzuka race on their own and by first participating in 1986, a dream was realized. High school classmates comprised members of the original team (which included builders & firemen for starters), with Seiichi the only member with any racing experience whatsoever, although they all grew closer to each other during their experience.

The team, then with Japanese food giant Aji no moto (味の素) as its main sponsor, debuted with a good preliminary round in 1986 although ended up retiring half-way through the race proper. Seiichi's original racing partner (minimum 2 drivers, remember) was Ootsuka Shigeharu, and they raced a Suzuki GXS-R750. 1987 was more or less a disaster, falling at the preliminary round, where Seiichi was partnered by Yamada Jun (again on the GXS-R750), while 1988 (main sponsor now Chiquita Brands) was their first-ever finish in the race (27th place), showcasing this private team's ability and stability and augmenting its profile, this time on a Yamaha FZR750. In 1989 Seiichi again partnered Shigeharu, this time on the FZR750R, and they finished in 15th place. All this was occurring during the bubble economy of the Japanese mid~late 80's where even the Suzuka race found itself as a major venue for celebrities and other famous athletes to be seen —which coincided with the race's highest general turnouts— although Shinsuke himself wasn't there for the vanity. Fueled by his fighting spirit he simply wanted to represent his team seriously, never surrendering in this nearly-impossible environment where he was up against competitors with limitless budgets. His valiant efforts earned him continual praise from other racers.

In 1990 Seiichi had a new partner by the name of Yamamoto Takayoshi (they finished 31st), and the team actually had a second bike in the race, with Ootsuka Shigeharu and Canadian Mario Duhamel racing it (who finished in 22nd). 1991 also saw Team Shinsuke race two bikes, with Sengoku Seiichi and Yamamoto Takayoshi returning as a team (retired), alongside Nakai Naomichi and Arai Shinya (18th place). In both 1990 and 1991, they raced the Moriwaki ZERO-VX7.

Seiichi decided to retire from competitive riding after the conclusion of the 1991 race and instead became a team supervisor (although he carried on as a "marshal rider", until 2003). He paralleled his Shinsuke work with marshalling the Suzuka 8 Hours as well as other Japanese road races. Seiichi wanted to continue to help directly and such was his stance however Shinsuke began to consider the events of that year as the beginning of the end of the team and considered pulling the plug. In the end he decided to keep the team going until 1995 which would represent the team's 10th anniversary, after which it would disband.

Bobson (the jeans company) was Team Shinsuke's main sponsor from 1989~1992. 1992 was also the year when Team Shinsuke switched to the Honda VFR750R and was the last year they raced two teams, with Yamamoto Takayoshi and Miyagi Hikaru on one team (they finished in 23rd), and Arai Shinya and Tamura Keiji on the other, ranking 24th.

So where does SNK fit into this story? SNK became the team's main sponsor in 1993 and remained so throughout 1994 and until the team's demise in 1995, during which time they finished 25th, 14th and retired, respectively. Thus it happened that in the team's final 3 years, they were blessed with the lovely NEO·GEO branding and loads of SNK charm. At the time SNK began to promote Team Shinsuke, the two riders employed were the aforementioned Tamura Keiji and Arai Shinya. In 1994 the team switched to the Honda RVF/RC45 with which it continued until its final race the following year. In both 1994 and 1995, the two riders were Osaka Kenji and Tamura Keiji.

Having secured the loan of an H.R.C. bike in 1995, with Tamura Keiji aboard they raced their last race, with the team officially disbanding after the checkered flag brought the 1995 Suzuka 8 Hours to a close, and so came to an end Team Shinsuke's 10 years of commendable effort. There was no storybook ending either with the team having to retire in its final race. Its best finish was 14th place, achieved in 1994.

16 years later, Team Shinsuke made its One Time Revival at the 2011 Suzuka 8 Hours. The team's participation differed greatly from their past exploits however, as rather than Shinsuke's burning spirit guiding the team, instead he, along with Seiichi and others combined to raise support for victims of the March 11, 2011 Touhoku earthquake (which led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster). This time they raced the Honda CBR1000PR, for the first time with 3 riders: Nakaki Ryosuke, Tsuda Kazuma and Suzuki Shingo. The team actually did rather well for itself, matching its best-placed finish of 14th.

Now it's picture time. This section is focused on Team Shinsuke's SNK era. Enjoy!
(click for larger images)
Sengoku Seiichi and Shimada Shinsuke, about to take part in their first Suzuka 8 hours (1986). Then, Shinsuke making a banana sandwich with gropies at the team's next Suzuka 8, in 1988.
Team Shinsuke bikes, in the shop. The last two photos feature Sengoku Seiichi, though I'm not sure from when.
Team Shinsuke magazine reports, while it was sponsored by SNK. That's actually Shimada Shinsuke hurriedly signing autographs in the first picture, below the race queens.
Trackside with Team Shinsuke's mechanics and other members, and loads of NEO·GEO memorabilia that you will probably never, ever find!
No racing team is ever complete without its race queens!
Team Shinsuke racing the Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Championship. The second-last picture is a race Marshal, which Seiichi became. That's actually him in the last photo in said role.
Left to right:
The Team Shinsuke bicycle. I mean if ever you needed a reason to get some exercise, this is it!
The shirts are of course of 3 of Team Shinsuke's main sponsors at different times. The NG shirt is different from other ones below.
Busy preparing the bike for the Team Shinsuke One Time Revival.
Shimada Shinsuke (centre) at a 2011 Suzuka 8 hours press conference. Next, Seiichi as part of the 2011 mechanic team and finally some racing notes.
Official SNK-sponsored Team Shinsuke merchandise. In other words, you actually stand a chance of owning some of these!
Team Shinsuke visor. I presume that's a caricature of Shinsuke himself on there. Who autographed the pink hat? Your guess is as good as mine.
Team Shinsuke polo shirt, Last Run t-shirt and 1993 Suzuka 8 Hours Guest t-shirt.
Team Shinsuke logo stickers, NEO·GEO Team Shinsuke logo stickers, Team Shinsuke Last Run sticker and a generic SNK / NEO·GEO Team Shinsuke sticker.
Some SNK Team Shinsuke fan art I found and like. This is the Honda RVF/RC45 which the Team used in 1994 & 1995.
Videos! See Team Shinsuke and its members in action.
Team Shinsuke @ Suzuka overview/retrospective
75.9MB/mp4 -view in browser or right-click, Save As

Credit inukoya from YouTube.

Pre-race pep talk by Shinsuke himself.
38.3MB/mp4 -view in browser or right-click, Save As

Credit tomoaki0815tennis from YouTube.