The Yamaha Factory Racing Team wrote an incredible page in the endurance racing history after taking their third consecutive win at the 2017 Coca-Cola Suzuka 8 Hours.
It was a double celebration for the manufacturer as the The GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team secured the 2016-2017 FIM Endurance World Championship title after a strategic race performance.
The race itself saw lead rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga initially swallowed by the lead pack into Turn One as the race got underway, but the experienced test rider quickly began fighting his way back to the front to sit just behind the #634 bike going into the second lap. Never more than 0.1 or 0.2 seconds behind, the hunt ran on until Lap 16 when the local hero took the lead briefly before hitting heavy traffic with backmarkers and some light rain on parts of the track.The first hour was soon up and Nakasuga returned to the pits to hand the YZF-R1 over to teammate Alex Lowes.
The British rider was quick to get up to pace and was soon leading a highly competitive pack by a little over a second. Hard work saw that build to nearly four seconds before it was time to hand over to the team’s third rider, Michael van der Mark. The Dutchman put his head down and was working hard to maintain the lead built by Lowes when disaster struck for the chasing #634 bike, giving the Yamaha Factory Racing Team a big time gap at the front.
From then on, the trio were never troubled by the competition, keeping up their dominant weekend-long pace and building up to a lap clear of the rest of the pack by the end of the race. Lowes took the honour of the last hour’s ride, slightly calmer than his previous stint that saw him break the race record not once, but twice. First smashing the standing 2:07.943 with a 2:07.402, then later delivering an unbelievable 2:06.932 lap.The factory YZF-R1 crossed the line in first to the delight of the thousands of Japanese race fans present, writing a historic page in the endurance racing book with the second ever consecutive triple race win by one team in the history of the race. Nakasuga added to the honours by becoming the first Japanese rider to ever win the Suzuka 8 Hours three times in a row.
Alex Lowes said: “I’m really happy to win the Suzuka 8 Hours again, it’s a fantastic event. I was a little bit nervous in the last hour; because these two guys did a fantastic job, we had a little bit of a lead which makes you a little bit more nervous because it’s easy to lose your concentration. The Yamaha Factory Racing Team did a fantastic job, I really enjoyed the bike, I enjoyed the experience again and I’m looking forward to coming back next year to do it again!”
The GMT94 Official EWC Team started the eight-hour race from 15th on the grid with Niccolò Canepa lining up for the Le Mans dash to the #94 YZF-R1. The Italian started climbing through the order just 30 minutes into the race despite the less-than-ideal conditions with intermittent rain falling in sections of Suzuka Circuit’s west course.
The Italian then came in for the first pit stop, passing the bike to his veteran teammate David Checa, who kept up the pace set in the first hour.As the hours wound down, the French team were able to reel off consistent laps in the 2’10s as they focused not on winning the race, but on controlling the point difference to their championship title rivals.Third team rider Mike Di Meglio made a strong impression on his Suzuka debut in the Endurance World Championship, bringing the team as high as eighth before a 30-second stop-and-go penalty relegated them back to 11th.
This was still well ahead of their main title rivals, however, and the team carried on with their strategy and focused on maintaining their pace. As evening fell on the track, Checa went out for the final stint, coming in for a brief pit stop before taking the checkered flag and clinching the Endurance World Championship title, the third one to the team’s name.