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Michael van der Mark

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The 2018 Suzuka 8-Hours is in the books, and it was one to remember. In a lot of ways, this was Suzuka back in its heyday. Factory bikes, world-class riders, and a flat-out sprint race between the best of the best.

It was a shame that the weather interrupted what had looked set to be a classic 8-Hours. With Jonathan Rea hitting the deck in the treacherous conditions, it took a potential race-winner out of contention, and ended three and a half hours of toe-to-toe, bar-to-bar between Kawasaki and Yamaha.

For the first time since 2015, Yamaha was challenged, but Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark weren’t rattled.

Prior to the race Van der Mark joked that “I don’t get scared on a bike, I scare the others!” and on Sunday the two-time WorldSBK race-winner certainly wasn’t scared of the reputation that Rea brings as a three-time world champion.

The Dutchman’s opening stint was superb, and his fight with Rea was something unlike any seen we have at the 8-Hours in recent years. When they pitted, it was up to Lowes and Leon Haslam to continue the fight and that’s exactly what happened.

Over the course of those opening hours, we were treated to the full spectacle of motorcycle racing, and it was everything it should be. With that in mind, here are some of the biggest talking points of the 2018 Suzuka 8 Hours.

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.

The WorldSBK series may be on its summer hiatus, but there is still plenty of news going on. After the official announcement that Tom Sykes would not be back with the KRT Kawasaki team, it is the turn of the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK squad to make announcements.

Today, the team issued a statement saying that current riders Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes will remain with the team for the 2019 season.

Though the announcement did not come as a surprise, it does close the door to Tom Sykes, who had been linked to a possible ride with Pata Yamaha, had either Van der Mark or Lowes moved to the Kawasaki team to replace him.

But with Leon Haslam set to take the second seat next to Jonathan Rea, Sykes will have to look elsewhere.

These are the first signs that WorldSBK’s silly season is about to accelerate over the summer. There are still a lot of open questions left in the WorldSBK series, and a lot of open seats.

Five riders from four manufacturers stood on the Misano podium to show the strength and depth of WorldSBK.

“This is the real Superbike racing” was how Marco Melandri assessed the Sunday’s racing at Misano, and it was hard to argue with the Italian.

Under blue skies and a burning sun, the action on track was just as hot with Jonathan Rea, Michael van der Mark, and Melandri all fighting it out for the win.

With Chaz Davies keeping a watching brief following his Saturday podium, and Eugene Laverty having stood on the Race 1 rostrum, it was clear this was the best race weekend of the 2018 season.

Five riders spraying Prosecco on the podium, and four manufacturers able to see their riders on the box, it was a fantastic weekend to bring a close to racing before the summer break.

The US Round of the 2018 WorldSBK season highlighted, once again, the importance of hard work in motorcycle racing.

Last year, it was hard to imagine Milwaukee Aprilia standing on the podium on merit; on Sunday Eugene Laverty made his long-awaited return to the rostrum.

We have seen in recent rounds Yamaha win three races with the R1, but last weekend’s races arguably did more to prove the potential of the bike.

“I was going to make it…or I wasn’t,” was how King Kenny Roberts summed up one of his Grand Prix victories in the late seventies.

The three-time 500GP world champion knew the importance of momentum and psychology on a race track better than anyone, and knew that at times, riders need to take a win it or bin it mentality.

That mentality was at the front everyone’s minds as they watched last weekend’s Czech WorldSBK round, where the importance of coming out on top of an internal team battle bubbled under the surface.

On Saturday, Jonathan Rea claimed his 60th career victory, but on Sunday the tensions of four years at Kawasaki overflowed.

Round seven of the 2018 WorldSBK season will see the paddock head to Brno in the Czech Republic.

The fast and flowing circuit is a firm favorite with MotoGP riders and fans, and is sure to be well received by the Superbike riders when they return to action in the hills and valleys for the first time since 2011.

That season saw Marco Melandri do the double for Yamaha, but will that past form materialize this weekend?