The Yamaha Factory Racing Team blew away the competition at Suzuka with a stunning 2’06.000 lap on the YZF-R1 to claim a superb pole position for the 38th “Coca-Cola Zero” Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race.
Hot and sweaty weather and a slippery track set the scene for qualifying at the legendary eight hours endurance race weekend. Riders Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith looked competitive during the morning Free Practice session, setting the second fastest time with a 2’08.074s, but didn’t take any risks as the real challenge was yet to come.
The chosen riders for the pole position shoot-out, Nakasuga and Espargaró, stunned the Suzuka crowd in the afternoon’s 8H Top10 Trial. During this session two riders per team are allowed to ride one flying lap each around the technically challenging 5807m Suzuka Circuit to fight for pole position.
Espargaró was the first YFRT rider to hit the clear track and set a hot lap. The Spaniard pushed to the absolute limit, using all his MotoGP experience to set a stunning 2’06.000 lap for provisional pole, which at the time was 1.697s faster than anyone so far.
Then it was local Yamaha hero Nakasuga’s turn to step aboard the YZF-R1. The experienced Japanese rider rode smoothly and aggressively through the twisty section, taking full advantage of the performance of Yamaha’s class leading Superbike to finish with an impressive lap just 0.059s off his teammate.
As none of the competitors were able to drop under the 2’06.2 mark, Espargaró’s incredible 2’06.000 becomes the new Endurance fastest lap at Suzuka, more than six-tenths of a second faster than the previous Endurance Pole Record, as Yamaha looks to end a 19-year drought.
Polesetter Espagaro said: “I feel very happy, because this was a challenge for me and I did not expect this result. We did just one test with Bradley and Nakasuga in the preseason on the dry and we didn’t ride a lot on this track. Bradley was also fast this weekend, his pace was very similar and the same with Nakasuga, he was also very fast.
“Tomorrow we have the big show and it will be difficult, because anything can happen, but we are confident. When I saw my lap time I was a bit surprised because I never tested the softer rear tyre during the tests or this weekend and I never rode in Superpole before with only one lap. Here today we had just one shot and in your mind you’re always checking the lap and thinking of where you could improve something. Maybe I could have improved in the last sector, because I relaxed a little bit and was wary of making a mistake in the chicane.
“When I saw the time I said “come on!”, because it would be difficult for someone to beat it, but when I saw the lap time of Nakasuga-san I was a bit scared, he was also very fast, but I was lucky that I was fast in T1 and this gave me a chance, but Nagasuga was very strong in T4 and I was worried again. I’m happy because I did a good lap time, but Nakasuga was also under the record and Bradley showed good potential over the whole weekend. Our pace is really similar and this is more important than the pole.”