The Yamaha Factory Racing Team went above and beyond all expectations today at the Suzuka Circuit, riding the new YZF-R1 to a phenomenal victory at the 38th “Coca-Cola Zero” Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race.
Riders Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith gave an outstanding performance in the hottest and most challenging conditions of the weekend.
It was the trio’s unbreakable determination, team spirit and the stunning performance of the YZF-R1 that saw them overcome all obstacles and win Yamaha its first victory in this event in 19 years and its fifth in the race’s history. Losing a couple of positions from pole, first rider Nakasuga was quick to carve his way to the front as he chased down the race leaders. By lap three he had climbed up to sixth and kept the pressure on. He made his move as one by one the competitors went into the pits, showing the incredible potential of the YZF-R1 when he dropped a stunning 2’08.496s on his sixth lap, the fastest lap time of the race.
Nakasuga was scheduled to come in after 25 laps but completed an extra two before heading in as the race leader and handing the YZF-R1 to Smith. The British rider re-entered in third position, but soon moved up when the race leader crashed out of the race. Smith then had to deal with two separate safety car stints before finally taking the front a little more than two hours into the race.
It was then Espargarò’s turn to take the YZF-R1 for a spin. The Spaniard had been consistently fast all weekend and didn’t disappoint today. He and Nakasuga created a comfortable margin before it was time for Smith to ride again. He was only able to complete a few laps before being called in for a 30 second ‘Stop and Go’ penalty for Espargaró having passed under a yellow flag. The penalty cost them a position but it wasn’t long before Smith was back in first place and building a healthy gap before handing the bike over to Espargaró for a second time. He and Nakasuga gave their all in their final riding stints before handing over to Smith for the last leg.
The Brit’s final ride of the race was far from simple as a third safety car caused some last-minute tension. Smith was again able to manage the situation perfectly and rode his factory Yamaha YZF-R1 through the last corner to the deafening sound of cheering from the many thousand race fans as he took the chequered flag with a 1’17.411s advantage.
Reigning Endurance World Champions GMT94 Yamaha proved today that their strategy of focusing on the race set-up during qualifying had been the right one. Originally their first rider David Checa, decided to let Kenny Foray fill in for him at the start as he had only recently recovered from a knee injury. Foray was quick to adapt to the choatic first lap and started to make his way to the front. He and teammates Kenny Foray and Mathieu Gines showed how effective a strong team can be as they battled the entire eight hours to ride from 20th to fourth.
It was a disappointing day for the Monster Energy Yamaha Austria Racing Team (YART). Having qualified 11th on the grid Broc Parkes had a good start and was quick to move up the order. He had a strong and consistent pace of 2’11.0 but his challenge came to a premature end when a technical issue made it improssible for the team to continue.
Besides the success of the Factory team, team R1 & YAMALUBE also gave Yamaha fans reasons to cheer. They crossed the finish line in 21st position, thereby coming out victorious the Superstock class.