2016 Suzuka 8 Hours Preview
Last year, Yamaha returned to the famed Suzuka 8 Hours following a 12-year hiatus with its revamped YZF-R1.
The Yamaha Factory Racing Team lineup included Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Monster Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP competitors Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. The trio dominated, winning the 2015 Suzuka 8 Hours from the pole ahead of F.C.C. TSR Honda and Team Kagayama Suzuki. It was Yamaha’s first FIM Endurance World Championship win in 19 years, and the fifth in Suzuka 8 Hour history.
And for the 39th “Coca-Cola Zero” Suzuka 8 Hours, set for July 28-31 at the 3.617-mile Suzuka International Racing Course in Mie Prefecture, Japan, the Yamaha Factory Racing Team is looking to secure its trophy. The team lineup includes Nakasuga and Espargaro, but no Smith. The third rider on the team for this weekend’s Suzuka 8 hours is Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK pilot Alex Lowes, who, like Smith, also made his endurance debut last season (GMT94 Yamaha).
Under the guidance of Team Manager Wataru Yoshikawa, the current manager of Yamaha’s All Japan Race Championship factory team, the three riders helped secure this week the top spot in pre-race tests.
The Yamaha Factory Racing Team is not only a favorite due to winning last year’s Suzuka 8 Hours, but also the 12 Hours of Portimao seven weeks ago.
The Yamaha may be the favorite team to win, but the Americans will be cheering on the MuSHASHi RT HARC-Pro Honda team, which won the Suzuka 8 Hours in 2010, 2013, 2014. The lineup features two Americans – Honda WorldSBK’s Nicky Hayden – and World Supersport Champion Michael van der Mark, currently Hayden’s teammate in WSBK.
Both riders flew directly to Japan following Laguna Seca SBK for the traditional two-day manufacturer’s test at Suzuka in preparation for the 8-hour race.
Since its creation in 1962, the Suzuka Circuit has been a popular venue for motorcycle racing events and endurance is no exception. The first edition of the Suzuka 8 Hours race was contested in July 1978 and the circuit remains one of the few tracks to offer an eight-hour race over 3.6 miles. The track is well known for its relentless speed and tricky direction changes, which is made an even bigger challenge by the extreme heat and humidity during the eight-hours of racing. This all adds to the electric atmosphere of the Suzuka8H event and with the Yamaha grand stand conveniently positioned right across the Yamaha pit box at the longest straight, fans can follow the race from start to finish, and see every pit stop in-between.
2016 Suzuka 8 Hours – Pre-Race Rider Quotes:
Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Yamaha Factory Racing Team: “Last year was a really successful year for me, Yamaha came back as a Factory team and we won after 19 years of absence. There is some pressure to do it again but I’m confident as we have tested properly and the team is strong. We welcome Alex who was also very fast here last year in Suzuka, in the first stint he was top so I have confidence in our new teammate. If we do our best I believe we can win a second consecutive Suzuka victory.”
Pol Espargaró, Yamaha Factory Racing Team: “I’m really excited to be here again. I’m looking forward to starting and to see what we can do this time after an amazing result last year. We have a new teammate with Alex which is very exciting so I can’t wait to start the weekend with positive vibes.”
Alex Lowes, Yamaha Factory Racing Team: “Last year was my first experience at the Suzuka8hrs and I’m really happy to be here this time with the winning team! To be here with Yamaha is a great honor for me, I have a really strong set of teammates around me so I can’t wait to get started this weekend and looking forward to doing the best I can.”
Nicky Hayden, MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO Honda: “I’m very honored to take part in the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race and being invited by the MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO team. They’ve had some good success in the last years but I realize how much of a challenge it’ll be. It’s a long race with a bike that you have to share with your teammates, so the set-up surely is a compromise.
“We did a two-day test at Suzuka last week, but unfortunately it wasn’t as productive as we would have liked with the limited time available; the weather surely didn’t help and the track was very crowded. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the challenge: I’ve always followed the 8 Hour and it would be amazing to add one of those trophies to the trophy case. I know it’s going to be a big job but I look forward to the opportunity and to see again first-hand how passionate Japanese people are about this race.”
Michael van der Mark, MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO Honda: “After how things went last year, it is quite clear what we want to achieve: we need to get the Suzuka victory back. I think Takumi, Nicky and myself form a great line-up within the MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO squad and we surely don’t lack chemistry.
“We had a good test last week but it was a shame we couldn’t test more before the 8 Hours race. But anyway, the team has got a lot of experience and we will do everything in our power to get that trophy back this year, although we’re aware of the usual strong competition. I have been part of the winning team twice already and I know how great it feels to step atop the podium there, so all I’m thinking of is doing the same all over again.”