July 2017

The Suzuka 8 Hour Yamaha R1 and the art of compromise: speed vs stamina over 220 laps

The day is done and the battle is won. Yamaha claimed their third consecutive Suzuka 8 Hours on Sunday. The victory put a stamp on their dominance of the one race each year that the Japanese manufacturers place more emphasis on than any other. We take a look at the Yamaha Factory Racing Team's YZF-R1.

It's often said that endurance racing is the last bastion of design and technological freedom in motor sport. Whether it was Audi's decision to use a diesel engine on four wheels or the current breed of two-wheeled endurance bike, it's clear that there is plenty of innovation on the grid.

At this weekend's Suzuka 8 Hours, the Yamaha Factory Racing Team fielded arguably the most advanced YZF-R1 on the planet. With open regulations for electronics, a tire war and plenty of scope for innovation in the rulebook, the machine raced by Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark is very different to their regular WorldSBK mount.

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Suzuka 8 Hours Interview: Michael van der Mark on winning for the third time in Japan

Michael van der Mark joined illustrious company by claiming a third Suzuka 8 Hours success

Michael van der Mark left Japan with a smile on his face, another victory and a reflective mood. The Suzuka 8 Hours winner knows how difficult it is to win the biggest single race of the year - he's done it three times.

There was a time when Suzuka was considered a hindrance on the racing calendar and it had lost its luster, but with 80,000 fans packing the grandstands this year it was clear that the revival of the race, which began in 2015, has returned it to prominence. For the victor it was a special day, not only because of the win but also because he remembers the heartbreak of losing there for the last two years.

“This race is such a big event that it takes a long time for the result to sink in,” said Van der Mark. “It's been a few years since I won and it's great to be back on the top step of the podium. I've been so lucky to win this race three times now and it's amazing. This race can give you such a good feeling, but I think that it's only when you win that you really feel that.

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Suzuka 8 Hours Race Round Up: Triple top for Yamaha as they sweep to Suzuka success

Smooth day at Suzuka for Yamaha as they wrap up a third consecutive 8 Hours success

Vince Lombardi once said that he “firmly believes that any man's finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out for a good cause and he lies exhausted on the field of battle. Victorious.”

The day is done, the battle is won, and for a third consecutive year Yamaha lifted the Suzuka 8 Hours trophy. It was a dominant performance by the Number 21 crew, and in the aftermath they sat and enjoyed their success. They weren't exhausted, but for Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark, and Katsuyuki Nakasuga, this was the final moment of their 2017 Suzuka.

Sitting in their paddock office the trio of riders were relaxed but the emotions of the day were starting to take hold. For Van der Mark it was the realization that for a third time he had stood on the top step of the podium. It was a case of “job done” for Lowes, whose trio of stints were a superb display of speed, consistency, and maturity. Nakasuga joins Van der Mark as a three-time winner, and his status as the King of Suzuka is retained. Indeed, it was his opening stint that laid the foundations of their success.

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Suzuka 8 Hours Saturday Round Up: Yamaha lay the foundations with pole position

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.

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Suzuka 8 Hours Friday Round Up: Honda lurking in the shadows as Yamaha set the pace

Yamaha retained its vice-like grip on the Suzuka 8 Hours by leading the way in qualifying ahead of this weekend's 40th edition of the legendary race but Honda's consistency could be a real threat.

Alex Lowes was the pacesetter for the Factory Yamaha Team with the WorldSBK star setting his fastest ever lap of the Japanese circuit. His 2m06.4 was marginally faster than his teammate, Katsuyuki Nakasuga and afterwards Lowes was pleased with their efforts and excited for the weekend.

“I'm really happy with today,” said a smiling Lowes. “I did a 2'06.4 on the same tires that we will be using for the race, so that's very positive. It's also the first time that I've done a 2'06 around here. Today was difficult in the morning because there were some damp patches, but the bike is really good here.

“I think that all three of us are doing a really good job so far this weekend and that's the most important thing. It's great to set a fast time like today and I'm pleased with how I'm riding the bike. In an 8 hour race, it's not about your pace on one lap, it's about winning across the 8 hours, and that's what we're focused on.”

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American Joe Roberts To Replace Yonny Hernandez In AGR Moto2 Team

The MotoGP championship is to get an American rider once again. Joe Roberts, currently racing with the AGR team in the FIM CEV Moto2 championship, is to replace Yonny Hernandez for the next five rounds of the Moto2 World Championship. Roberts will ride the AGR Team's Kalex Moto2 machine.

Roberts starts from a strong position to replace Hernandez. The American is already familiar with most of the tracks the series will visit, having raced at them during his stint as a Red Bull Rookie. He is already familiar with the bike, having ridden it in the FIM CEV championship. That leaves only the fiercely competitive nature of the World Championship to get used to, something which has caught out other riders in the past. 

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Suzuka 8 Hours Thursday Round Up: Yamaha strike first at Suzuka

On first glance the field looks to be close ahead of this weekend's Suzuka 8 Hours. Yamaha led the opening session, Honda topped the second, and there are four manufacturers inside the top five and all within a second of the pace.

It seems to be setting up for a great weekend of racing, but when you delve into the times it's clear that, while Honda has made progress, they are still playing catch up with their CBR1000RR SP2. Despite a crash for Jack Miller the 634 machine led the way in the afternoon session but with Yamaha electing to use only one set of tires in the session their true one lap pace is still unknown. Miller's crash came on what would have been his fastest lap of the day but having rolled off on his previous lap may have been caught out by a slightly cold tire. There were plenty of positives on the opening day for Honda and while they probably need to make a small step to compete with Yamaha they are in the ballpark.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Out there with the big boys – part 2

Part two of Mat Oxley's 1989 Suzuka 8 Hours: race day. This story is one of many that appear in Mat’s The Fast Stuff, available on Kindle

The Suzuka 8 Hours race celebrates its 40th anniversary this Sunday. I contested the race several times in the 1980s and 1990s, with a best finish of seventh in 1986, riding with Vesa Kultalahti for Team Howard Lees. This story, written at the time, tells the tale of the 1989 race, when I partnered French journalist Gilbert Roy to 12th. They were the boom years of the 8 Hours, when you got to share the track with Rainey, Schwantz, Doohan, Gardner and the rest

Read part one

Race day dawns a little sunnier but a few clouds keep the temperature down to a ‘cool’ 30 degC. Normally Suzuka can be 35 degC with stifling humidity.

The hype fuels the tension as the 11.30am start approaches. I was slightly faster than Gilbert in practice so I’m doing the Le Mans start. And from where I stand it’s a long, long way to the front of the grid where Doohan stands on pole. After a few mouthfuls of electrolyte energy drink I line up for the sprint. My mouth is parched, my heart racing and my legs nervy like jelly as Suzuka’s electronic grandstand info board counts down to ‘GO!’.

I make a good getaway but within two seconds all hell breaks loose. Two bikes collide in the melee. I swerve wildly to avoid the exploding debris and I can’t believe it when another bike alongside me ploughs into the wreckage. The last I see of the rider he is six feet in the air hanging onto his motorcycle, upside down.

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