Ego is a crucial part of the successful makeup of any world class racer. They need to have the belief that they are faster than everyone else on the grid. That they can do things that no one else can. That they’re the man for the job. What happens though when you’re forced to check that ego at the garage door? Having that ability can be the difference between winning and losing in Endurance race.
Adapt and survive. It’s rule of law in the natural world but it’s also the only way to be successful in endurance racing. Being a team and working together is the key success at the Suzuka 8 Hours. If you’re Yamaha Factory Racing Team rider Michael van der Mark, you know this better than most.
The Dutch star might be a four-time Suzuka winner, a WorldSBK race winner, and a World Supersport champion but he’s also cast in an unusual role in Japan; the outlier.
Standing six feet tall may not be unusual on the streets of Rotterdam, but it is unusual standing in pit lane waiting to step onto the Yamaha R1 for an hour around the Japanese circuit. Standing alongside his teammates Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Alex Lowes the difference is stark. All are top-tier racing talents - Nakasuga has a MotoGP podium finish to his name - but is the shortest rider of the trio by six inches. Lowes is a couple of inches taller.
When riders spend time testing new machinery during the winter days are set aside to ensure that the riding position is just perfect. That the handlebars are at the right distance, that brake levers are angled just such, that the foot pegs and rear sets are the right distance to ensure perfect balance on the bike for a rider. In endurance racing this isn’t so. Typically they’re set for one rider and everyone else has to adapt to survive.
“In WorldSBK I use a rear brake lever, Alex uses a thumb brake and in the Japanese Superbike championship Nakasuga-san uses a conventional foot brake. At Suzuka we all use the foot brake and that’s fine because you adapt to it. It’s not a big issue for myself or Alex to use this because it’s about having something that works for all of us.”
Being part of a team means sacrificing. It means understanding the greater good. It means being selfless. Those aren’t traits that come easy for any world class motorcyclist but they’re what you have to find for one week a year, Last year’s race saw Nakasuga ruled out and Yamaha fielding Lowes and Van der Mark. The Dutchman had been expected to do two stints and limit his time on the bike. Instead Yamaha stumbled onto a formula that could make all the difference in 2019.
“Last year because I had to ride for longer we made some changes to the bike,” said van der Mark. “We pushed the handlebars further forward and it gave me some more space on the bike. It made a big difference for me, I was able to find over half a second per lap, but over eight hours it’s about consistency and avoiding mistakes, not your best lap time. Every bike you ride at Suzuka is always a compromise and for me being a lot taller it means that I’ve always had this problem but the team understood this and helped me last year.
Adapt and survive and if you’re lucky it’ll lead to Suzuka success.
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