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 pace-setter for the Factory Yamaha Team with the WorldSBK star setting his fastest ever lap of the Japanese circuit. His 2’06.4 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 eight hours, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
At Suzuka, the average time from your three riders is your qualifying time, and while Michael van der Mark couldn’t match the pace of his teammates, their average was comfortably better than the rest of the field.
The Yoshimura Suzuki was second fastest, with a gap of four tenths of a second. It was a strong effort from the #12 crew, and shows once again that they will be in with a shout this weekend.
“It’s been another great day today and I’m really enjoying my time here at Suzuka,” said Sylvain Guintoli. “The bike is working well and I managed to get into the 2’07’s today.”
“We’re second overall, and that’s very positive for tomorrow’s Superpole session, and I’m really looking forward to that. We’re pretty much ready for the race now and we’ve all done long runs, so for us it’s all about getting that quick lap time in Superpole tomorrow!”
The most consistent bike in the field was the #634 Honda of Takumi Takahashi, Takaaki Nakagami, and Jack Miller. The trio were all within one tenth of a second of each other, and that consistency could be a huge benefit in the race, even if their average pace was four tenths of a second adrift of the Yamaha.
Speaking to Miller before the night practice session he was relaxed and confident for the weekend.
“I’m really happy with the bike and the team,” said Miller. “It’s working well and it’s a fun bike to ride with how it slides. I’m really enjoying Suzuka too because it’s a really cool event. I’m looking forward to the weekend.”
The Team Green Kawasaki led the way in night practice but was fourth fastest in qualifying. Their efforts put them 0.75s off the pace-setters, but their form throughout the weekend has been strong, and they certainly look to be a real contender.
With Leon Haslam, they have a vastly experienced rider who is clearly highly motivated for this weekend, and in tomorrow’s Superpole session the BSB regular could spring a surprise.
“There were a lot of red flags today which wasn’t ideal, but even so it was good,” said Haslam. “I set my fastest time of the week on race tires in the qualifying session and it felt good in the dark too. I’m feeling good for tomorrow and hopefully we can get a good grid position from the top ten shootout.”
Also joining the Top 4 in the shootout will be the TSR squad, who were within one second of the leading time, and the #7 YART team, the leading EWC squad. Team Kagayama, Moriwaki, Honda-Suzuka and the #22 Honda Team Asia entries will round out the top of the order.
Photo: © 2017 Steve English – All Rights Reserved
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