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2017 Suzuka 8-Hours

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The day is done and the battle is won. Yamaha claimed its third-consecutive Suzuka 8-Hours on Sunday. The victory put a stamp on their dominance of the one race each year that the Japanese manufacturers place more emphasis on than any other. As such, Asphalt & Rubber takes a look at the winning machine, the Yamaha Factory Racing Team’s YZF-R1. It’s often said that endurance racing is the last bastion of design and technological freedom in motorsport. Whether it was Audi’s decision to use a diesel engine on four wheels, or the current breed of two-wheeled endurance bike, i i’s clear that there is plenty of innovation on the grid.

Vince Lombardi once said that he “firmly believes that any man’s finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out for a good cause and he lies exhausted on the field of battle. Victorious.” The day is done, the battle is won, and for a third consecutive year, Yamaha lifted the Suzuka 8-Hours trophy. It was a dominant performance by the #21 crew, and in the aftermath they sat and enjoyed their success. They weren’t exhausted, but for Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark, and Katsuyuki Nakasuga this was the final moment of their 2017 in Suzuka, Japan. Sitting in their paddock office, the trio of riders were relaxed, but the emotions of the day were starting to take hold.

Yamaha claimed its third Top 10 Shootout victory on the bounce at Suzuka today, but the Yamaha Factory Team know that there is still plenty of work to do to claim victory at the Suzuka 8-Hours

There are no team sports quite like motorsport. Fans focus their attentions on the riders on track, but it truly is a team effort that drives performance.

At the Suzuka 8-Hours, teamwork becomes even more important, and how a trio of riders work together and gel can become the deciding factor between winning and losing.

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.”

On first glance, the field looks to be close ahead of this weekend’s Suzuka 8-Hours. Yamaha led the opening session, Honda topped the second, and there are four manufacturers inside the Top 5, and all within a second of the pace.

It seems to be setting up for a great weekend of racing, but when you delve into the times it’s clear that, while Honda has made progress, they are still playing catch up with their CBR1000RR SP2.

Despite a crash for Jack Miller, the #634 machine led the way in the afternoon session, but with Yamaha electing to use only one set of tires in the session, their true one-lap pace is still unknown.

There aren’t many circuits as challenging as the Suzuka International Racing Course. So what’s the key to a quick lap?

Suzuka is a real rollercoaster racetrack. The unique figure-of-eight layout ensures that it is unlike any other circuit on the racing calendar, but the Japanese venue isn’t a gimmick, it’s a true test of skill and bravery for every rider.

As riders come across the start-finish line, it is a rare chance to catch their breath as they look across for their pitboard – and the Suzuka 8-Hours is not a short race.

The mental challenge of Suzuka is huge, and it’s easy to get fatigued. The heat and humidity play havoc with the riders, but the 20 corners, with most linked together, mean that mental errors are heavily punished. With such a long lap and stifling conditions, the lap counter seems to grow at a snail’s pace.

When Glenn Frey released one of the biggest hits of the 80s, the Suzuka 8-Hours was on the verge of its glory days. Those days are now being repeated.

In 1984, the Suzuka 8-Hours was on the cusp of being the biggest race of the season for the Japanese manufacturers, and that year’s edition was won by double WorldSBK champion Fred Merkel and 500GP rostrum finisher Mike Baldwin.

The win was Baldwin’s third and final victory, but started a run of success by the world’s biggest names in racing. The following six years saw riders such as Wayne Gardner, Kevin Magee, Wayne Rainey, and Eddie Lawson all have their name etched on the winners’ trophy, and in 1991 the first “Suzuka Super Team” emerged victorious.

With Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner winning, the all-Australian team was a 500GP dream team taking on the rest of the field. With Doohan sidelined by his horrific Assen crash the following year, Gardner nevertheless claimed his third win in Japan, with Daryl Beattie as his teammate.

The run of Grand Prix winners then came to an abrupt end in 1993 with Superbike stars Scott Russell and Aaron Slight delivering Kawasaki’s only victory in the race.

It was an era of exotica, with the Japanese manufacturers using incredible machinery to try and win the race; an era of big budgets and no holds barred racing – a true golden era of motorcycle racing.