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Katsuyuki Nakasuga

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This is it. This is the biggest, baddest, meanest superbike on the Suzuka 8-Hours grid. Setting the high-water mark in Japan FOUR YEARS IN A ROW now, the Yamaha YZF-R1 from the Yamaha Factory Racing Team is the pinnacle of the sport.

You may not have known it, but things didn’t quite go Yamaha’s way this year at the Suzuka 8-Hours though, with Katsuyuki Nakasuga having to sit out the race because of injury.

This left Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark to carry the load between the two of them, a tiring job at Suzuka.

Winning by only 30 seconds in an eight-hour race is still called winning though, and in doing so the Yamaha Factory Racing Team showed the depth and talent of its team. This is a high-level, high-functioning, endurance racing outfit, and it comes straight from the factory in Iwata, Japan.

And while the Yamaha YZF-R1 is a motorcycle that you can pick up at any dealership in the United States (so long as it isn’t for a Superbike Deathmatch), the machine on the Suzuka Circuit this past weekend is anything but ordinary.

I sent our man Steve English down to the pits to get some shots of this mysterious machine, and the Japanese team was being “very Japanese” about letting us taking photos, as Steve puts it.

That didn’t stop us from getting some photos though. Go ahead, go get a towel before you continue further. We’ll wait.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQtPvixTL_g&feature=youtu.be

Yamaha Factory Racing made history at the Suzuka 8-Hours today, claiming their fourth consecutive victory in the great race.

This Japanese endurance race has become one of the biggest spectacles on the motorcycling calendar, and there were moments of today’s 199 laps that would have felt like an eternity for Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes.

With Katsuyuki Nakasuga ruled out with a shoulder injury following a crash in yesterday’s practice session, the burden fell on his teammates to deliver success.

They duly did, but not until they had overcome a huge challenge from Kawasaki.

With the holiday season receding into the rear view mirror, that means that we are getting closer to seeing bikes on tracks.

Testing starts this week for both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, and before testing, the Movistar Yamaha team will present their 2018 livery later on this week as well.

The action starts on Tuesday in Jerez, where virtually the entire WorldSBK paddock is gathered for a two-day test.

The Andalusian track will see the first real test of the 2018 WorldSBK machines, with the teams all having had the winter break to develop their bikes under the new technical regulations – new rev limits, and better access to cheaper parts.

All eyes will once again be on triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, the man who dominated at Jerez in November.

The rain in Japan is separating the sheep from the goats. There are bikes that work well in the rain, and they are up at the front, and there are bikes that don’t, and they are struggling. Including, well, the GOAT, to extend a metaphor.

The 2017 Yamaha M1 simply does not work well in the wet. “Sincerely we tried to do a lot of things with the bike but we are in trouble,” Valentino Rossi said after finishing the day in twelfth, over a second and a half slower than the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso.

“We don’t understand why. Because last year I was very competitive in the wet. I had a good feeling with the old bike. But this year we are struggling. Something strange.”

The problem is mainly wheelspin and rear traction. “We’ve been struggling all the time with rear grip,” Maverick Viñales said, agreeing with his Movistar Yamaha teammate.

“We change a lot the bike during all the practices but finally the same problem remains. It’s been very difficult for us during all of this year trying to be fast and competitive.”

In the week in which MotoGP marks ten years since the remarkable Norick Abe tragically died in a traffic accident (an occasion which MotoGP.com is marking by posting videoes of some of Abe’s career highlights on their Facebook page, news comes of extra Japanese presence at the Motegi round of MotoGP.

There will be at least two Japanese riders on the grid for the start of the race on Sunday, 15th October.

With Australian rider Jack Miller out through injury, the Marc VDS Honda team will be fielding Hiroshi Aoyama as a replacement at Motegi.

The choice of Aoyama should come as no real surprise: the former 250cc champion is one of HRC’s official test riders, and still heavily involved in Honda’s MotoGP effort, and especially with the development of the Honda RC213V.

What happened when Valentino Rossi crashed? How serious is his injury? When will he be back? Who will replace Rossi, if he doesn’t return at Aragon? And what does Yamaha think of Rossi’s training methods? Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis spoke to a small group of journalists at Misano on Saturday morning, to answer these questions and much more. Jarvis knew about the accident very shortly after it had happened. “I knew before he got to the hospital,” Jarvis told us. “Albi [Tebaldi] called Maio Meregalli as soon as he got the news that Vale was on the way to the hospital. Maio called me straight away.” The good news was that Rossi’s injury was not as bad as the last time he broke his leg, at Mugello in 2010. “It’s much less serious,” Jarvis told us, “but probably just as irritating.

MotoGP is fated not to escape the influence of the weather this season. There has barely been a race which has not been affected in one way or another. Even when it hasn’t rained, it has been stiflingly hot, sizzling tracks causing tires to wilt. So why should things be any different at Misano?

Heavy overnight rain left the track still spotty and damp in patches in the morning, Moto3 getting the worst of it, MotoGP just being left to deal with the occasional stubborn spot of dampness where the water took longer to dry.

It caused a spate of crashes in the morning, and though the track dried nicely and blue skies dominated, it was cooler than normal. When Marc Márquez tried the hardest front tire, that proved just a little too critical, the Repsol Honda rider washing out the front in the final corner.

The rain had also washed any residual rubber from the track, radically altering the grip level. That was a major setback for the factories which had tested at Misano prior to Silverstone, in preparation for this Grand Prix.

“The feeling is completely different than at the test,” Aleix Espargaro complained. “It looks like all the settings we had were not working. The grip is completely different. No grip at all. It feels like ice.”

Does the absence of Valentino Rossi from the Misano race make much difference? It is too early to tell. Certainly the media center feels a little more empty, but this is a trend which has been underway for a while.

Print media has less money to spend, and non-specialist media is increasingly choosing not to report from the race track, taking their information from publicly available sources such as the ever-expanding TV coverage.

Specialist print media and websites are also suffering, though their very rationale depends on being at the track, and so they have little choice.

So maybe a more empty press room is a sign that Italian newspapers have decided against sending a correspondent because Valentino Rossi is not racing. Alternatively, it could just be a sign of a more general decline in media presence.

The paddock feels pretty busy, but then it was only Thursday, and the real frenzy doesn’t start until the bikes hit the track. We won’t really know how badly Rossi absence affects the Misano race until the flag drops on Sunday, and official figures and empty spots on grandstands tell the true tale.

The Movistar Yamaha team have today confirmed that Valentino Rossi is to miss the Misano round of MotoGP. The injury the Italian sustained in a training accident last week is sufficiently severe that he will not be fit for his home round.

Yamaha had widely been expected to withdraw Rossi from Misano, given the fact that he had broken both the tibia and fibula of his right leg, and only had surgery to pin the bones in the early hours of Friday morning.