Although MotoGP is on summer break, two of its premier-class pilots continue to compete at the 38th Coca-Cola Zero Suzuka 8 Hours race, round two of the 2015 Endurance World Championship.Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith – MotoGP teammates for Monster Yamaha Tech 3 – joined Katsuyuki Nakasuga on the Yamaha Factory Racing Team YZF-R1. This was Yamaha’s first factory effort at the Suzuka 8 Hours since 2002, and it got off to a fast start Thursday.
During the Suzuka 8 Hours Thursday practice, the Yamaha Factory Racing Team claimed the provisional pole. The opened the morning session as the quickest bike, but dropped back to third. Under hotter afternoon conditions, the three-man team stormed to the front, eventually earning the top spot with a strong 2:07.282.The Yamaha Factory Racing team finished nearly a second ahead of rivals Toho Racing with Morwaki, a team that includes Moto2 Champion Toni Elias, Moto2’s Ratthapark Wilairot, and Tatsuya Yamaguchi. Earning third after Suzuka 8 Hours Thursday practice was the Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance team of Alex Lowes, Josh Waters and Takuya Tsuda.Fifth went to the reigning Suzuki 8 Hour Champions, Musashi RT Harc-Pro Honda’s factory team, which includes two-time MotoGP Champion Casey Stoner, MotoGP’s Michael van der Mark and Moto2’s Takumi Takahashi. The Honda CBR1000RR riders finished just behind FCC TSR Honda’s Dominique Aegerter, Kyle Smith and Josh Hook.As for Stoner, he has experience at the Suzuka 8 Hours circuit due to racing 125GP there before it was dropped from the MotoGP calendar in 2003.The riders will return to the Suzuka 8 Hours track Friday for additional practice and qualifying.
2015 Suzuki 8 Hours Thursday Practice Quotes:
Katsuyuki Nakasuga says: “From (last week‘s) pre-race tests, I have been working on the machine set-up and we have had Pol [Espargarò] and Bradley [Smith] concentrating on getting used to the Suzuka track and the machine. We have done this because we think it is best from the team‘s standpoint. The riding position is set according to my preferences, but with regard to the machine settings, since I have been doing development work on the MotoGP machine, we know a lot about the preferences of Pol and Bradley. So, we have been working on the set-up with those preferences in mind, and in fact they both appear to be riding it without feeling any significant problems.“This morning‘s practice was in the rain, but the afternoon session was run on a dry track and all three of us were able to get good times. So, we were able to end the first day of practice feeling good about the way things are going. Still, even though we know that Pol and Bradley are MotoGP riders of the highest level, we can‘t help but be impressed by the fact that after only having run here at Suzuka a few times, they are already recording lap times in the 2:07 range. We three riders all respect each other and have all taken our roles on the team to heart. And, with their speed and me being pulled along by them, I feel an amazing synergistic effect. The team is undoubtedly at a very high level.”Pol Espargaro says: “I think I made good progress. The bike was very good and we improved some points we found during the test. I think today the track was competitive, because it wasn’t really hot or slippery. I did the fastest lap time today, so the bike and the team are working well and it all looks really good. I have some confidence, but the race is another thing, in the tests you can make mistakes without many consequences, but in the race you have to be consistent and pay a lot of attention to make sure you don‘t crash, as afterall this is a team.“The YZF-R1 gives us no excuses as riders, it‘s working so good and so are the team. All my teammates are really fast and our pace is good for the race, I can‘t ask for anything more. I have a good feeling with the bike. It‘s not easy to ride with so many riders on the track, but we are adapting to this other type of racing. It‘s a characteristic of this race that there are many riders on the track and if we want to win, we have to compete with them and we are learning to overtake and not be too aggressive and crash, but overtake them fast.“Nakasuga set up the base setting and he did a really good job. Bradley and I gave a little bit of input, coming from MotoGP, thinking this could help a little bit, but mainly Nakasuga did the job as he is always riding the bike. Maybe the one with the most challenges is Bradley, because he is tall, while Nakasuga and I are of similar height and weight. Bradley weighs about the same, but is a little bit taller, for sure his style is a bit different, but it was no problem, he is adapting really well and is fast like me. The balance of the team is really good and we all have the same pace and riding similar lap times and it‘s all really good.”Bradley Smith says: “Today was good. I think it was good to train in the rain again this morning, because we tested here in the wet on the first two days of the first test and it was nice to refresh our memories, also to gain a little bit of information in case it does rain on raceday. We got a few different ideas on settings and tire strategy in case it does rain, that was interesting. In this afternoon the conditions were really good with the lower temperature on the racetrack. It looks like we have a more or less clear which direction to go for with the race tires, which is also good. Obviously we have to confirm that over the next two days and check the track and ambiance temperature.“From what we learned from the last test and this afternoon I think we are 95 percent ready for the race. I was a little bit nervous this morning, because this is not the same structure that I‘m used to, so I woke up this morning a didn’t know exactly when I was going to ride or the program, because I ride as the third rider. Small details, like trying to get ready and the time to get into your leathers is difficult to judge, also being here in a slight different environment, are small details that make you feel abnormal and when you go inside the garage you know there are big expectations and you see all the riders riding here so it‘s a little bit different. I‘m sure tomorrow and day by day it will get easier, but this race means a lot and is really important for our team and Yamaha. When you want such a good job you feel a bit of pressure and nerves but it‘s good for performance. Today we were the top three riders, so from that point of view it seems to be working.”