Yamaha claims victory at Suzuka 8 Hour motorcycle race
On their return to the Suzuka 8 Hour as a factory effort, Yamaha claimed pole position with a 2:06.000 by Pol Espargaro. This incredible lap set a new record time around the iconic Japanese track as both he and teammate Katsuyuki Nakasuga set times faster than all other riders in the qualifying shootout. The majority of the MotoGP riders participating in the Suzuka 8 Hour made it to the top 10 final qualifying shootout, many setting times within just a few tenths of their highly experienced Japanese teammates.
A race filled with six safety cars saw the Yamaha Factory team come out on top at the end of the 8 hours, completing 204 laps. This is Yamaha’s first win at the legendary Japanese endurance race since 1996 when Noriyuki Haga and Colin Edwards won. Bradley Smith was given the honor of ending the race on the bike, the team’s reactions on the podium demonstrating exactly how important the race is.
The 2015 edition of the Suzuka 8 Hour got off to a dramatic start with all the major teams starting well, apart from the Yamaha Factory Team who struggled to get the bike started. Many of the big names battled for the early lead with Alex Lowes on the Yoshimura Suzuki leading as riders begun to end their first stints.
Takumi Takahashi brought the No. 634 MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO Honda into the pits and Casey Stoner made his much anticipated return to motorcycle racing, quickly making up positions. His return was short lived as the double MotoGP champion fell at the Hairpin Corner after his throttle stuck open, resulting in a massive bike-destroying crash that brought out the safety car. Stoner had completed five laps of his stint and was stretchered off, sustaining a broken right shoulder blade and left tibia.
As the safety car returned to the pits, Bradley Smith and Australian Josh Hook – on the F.C.C TSR Honda – began a heated battle for the lead. Smith proved himself a quick learner as he adapted to the unique challenges of an endurance race such as the safety car and passing multiple backmarkers, some up to 10 seconds a lap slower.
From here the race settled for the remaining six hours with the Factory Yamaha squad battling with F.C.C TSR Honda for the overall lead, although Yoshimura Suzuki remained within striking distance. Espargaro would lead unchallenged as he set a stream of 2:09s during his first stint and built the lead for his team before a third safety car saw Espargaro’s lead reduced from over 20 seconds to just two.
Smith was awarded a 30-second stop-and-go penalty for a teammate overtaking under yellow flags mid-race, demoting the team to second and promoting F.C.C TSR and Dominique Aegerter to first. This lead did not last as Smith quickly caught his former Moto2 competitor and passed him. The two teams swapped positions occasionally around pit stops but Yamaha came out on top at the end, clearly having the fastest pace throughout the race.
Dominique Aegerter and his F.C.C TSR Honda squad finished in second, he and Josh Hook running a two-rider strategy as opposed to Yamaha’s three-rider version. The podium was completed by Team Kagayama in what was their third podium in a row at the Suzuka 8 Hour.
This is also Bridgestone’s 10th consecutive win, their prototype tires the rubber of choice for the legendary race.