Yamaha claimed a third Top 10 Shootout victory on the bounce at Suzuka today, but the Yamaha Factory Team know that there's still plenty of work to do to claim victory at the Suzuka 8 Hours
There are no team sports quite like motorsports. Fans focus their attentions on the rider on track, but it truly is a team effort that drives performance. At the Suzuka 8 Hours teamwork becomes even more important, and how a trio of riders work together and gel can become the deciding factor between winning and losing.
For the last two years the faces in the Number 21 Yamaha crew have changed. Katsuyuki Nakasuga has been a constant in their run of success and the Japanese rider helped claim pole position once again for the team. Nakasuga will turn 36 next week, and with Alex Lowes having also shown a great turn of speed on his lap the team are well placed for the race.
A strange dynamic can develop within a Suzuka 8 Hours team. Humility can sometimes become more important than raw speed and that is always apparent during the Shootout. Each team can only compete with two riders so there is always one unlucky rider itching to be on track but forced to sit on the sidelines and watch on.
Michael van der Mark took on that role today, and the Dutchman, a two time winner at Suzuka, was keen to be on hand with his teammates.
“I had a really good day today,” joked Van der Mark in the press conference. “No, honestly I'm really happy. The guys did an amazing job today and they were really fast. It's good to have pole position but I think the best thing is the three of us are really fast and consistent. In every session we've been happy with the bike on used tires.
“I'm looking forward to tomorrow. It's going to be a long day though! If we can do the same thing that we have been doing, the pace we did during testing, we can be really fast and really consistent. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I'm happy with the result today but tomorrow is what counts for all three of us.”
Sunday is the focus for all the teams and working together is the key. Supporting each other and avoiding mistakes is the most important thing. For Sylvain Guintoli the Shootout session was marred by a crash, but he joked that it was nice to be able to rely on a teammate to set a fast time. “I really like that format of qualifying with the backup rider. I felt like I could have a free go! Maybe a little too much today though!”
Keeping that in check for tomorrow will be vital, because the signs are ominous from Yamaha that they still have a margin over the rest of the field. Last year, fuel economy gave them a prized edge in the race, but it's likely that Honda will be stronger in that regard this year, particularly with the Number 634 team. Setting the fifth fastest time, having left Jack Miller on the sidelines, raised eyebrows and will certainly increase the pressure ahead of the race. The pole-sitting Yamaha squad has had a quiet confidence all weekend but now are ready to show their speed.
“What's important is that we have to be fast for eight hours tomorrow,” said Lowes. “I really think that with these two guys next to me we've got a really strong team. Michael could have ridden the bike today and done the same lap time as me, or maybe even faster. The atmosphere is good, I'm enjoying riding the bike, I'm enjoying riding the event and tomorrow we'll see what the weather does. I think in any conditions we're prepared quite well. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be tough. The 8 Hours is always tough but I'm ready for tomorrow.”
A lot can happen in 8 hours of racing and it would be foolish to discount the Yoshimura Suzuki and Team Green Kawasaki squads repeating last year's podiums. It looks like they might need some fortune on their side to challenge Yamaha for the top step of the podium but expect a very strong start to the race from both crews.
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