The line up for the Suzuka 8-Hour endurance race looks to be the strongest for years. Today, Yamaha confirmed that Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider pairing of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro are to race for the factory entry at Suzuka, alongside Yamaha test rider and Japanese Superbike champion Katsuyuki Nakasuga.
Smith and Espargaro will face Casey Stoner and Michael van der Mark, who will be racing for the Honda factory team.
Rumors that Yamaha were taking their entry for the race very seriously first emerged at Jerez, where paddock gossip had Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo entering the race in the factory team.
At the time, both men pleaded ignorance, saying that they had heard nothing about such a decision. Having the Movistar Yamaha riders race at Suzuka would have placed a massive strain on the team, as the race falls directly between the Sachsenring and Indianapolis MotoGP rounds.
With Rossi leading the title chase, and Lorenzo in second place, Yamaha appear to have decided on an alternative strategy, using the riders from the satellite teams instead.
That does not mean that the Movistar Yamaha men are not involved, however. Valentino Rossi has been testing the new Yamaha R1 in endurance trim at the Misano circuit on several occasions in recent months. Whether this is part of preparations for Suzuka is unknown, as those tests have been private.
The choice of Smith and Espargaro may also be a chance for Yamaha to assess the commitment of the Tech 3 pairing. Both men are in the final year of their contract, Smith on a one-year deal directly with Tech 3, Espargaro in the final year of a two-year contract directly with Yamaha.
So far this year, Smith has outperformed his teammate, leading Espargaro by 11 points in the championship. Winning the race for Yamaha would be a major boost for their chances of staying at the Tech 3 team, as the Japanese factory has not won there for 19 years, when Colin Edwards teamed up with Nori Haga.
Photo: © 2015 Tony Goldsmith / www.tonygoldsmith.net – All Rights Reserved
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.