As the WorldSBK paddock enjoys its summer break, yamaha-racing.com caught up with Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team’s Michael van der Mark to get his assessment of the season so far, find out what his highlights have been and what is like to be bidding for a hat-trick of wins at the Suzuka 8 Hours with the Yamaha Factory Racing Team.
The 2017 season is van der Mark’s first with the Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team and after 8 rounds, the 24-year-old Dutch rider currently lies seventh in the 2017 FIM Superbike World Championship with 129 points and has three fourth-place finishes to his name. Van der Mark will also be riding in the Suzuka 8 Hours for the Yamaha Factory Racing Team as they aim to make it three wins in a row at the legendary endurance race. Yamaha-racing.com caught up with van der Mark for a chat before after the Laguna Seca WorldSBK round and ahead of Suzuka:
Talk us through the 2017 season so far?
“It is my first season with the Pata Yamaha Team and it has been a bit mixed so far! We knew that we wouldn’t be fighting for the win straight away, so the main focus has been to improve the bike. To be honest, we did a lot of testing in the winter and I didn’t make a huge amount of progress, but from Race 2 at Phillip Island onwards we started to make big steps forward and seeing huge improvements with the bike. After that, we have had some ups and downs, but every weekend and every session we have been getting faster and faster as I adapt to the R1. I thought I would adapt to the bike quicker and it was difficult for me to understand why I wasn’t at the start, but now each time we arrive at a track I am fast from the start and that means we can focus on working on the setup of the bike.”
What’s been your highlight of the season so far?
“The results have been getting better and better and I wish I had already secured a podium for Yamaha but it is good to see that we are making progress and we just have to figure out a way to make sure we have the same speed at every track. One of my highlights was at Misano, which was also one of my worst races of the year too! During the weekend we were okay, we had a good pace. In Race 1, I took the lead on the second lap, and while I didn’t think my pace was particularly impressive, we were pulling away from everyone else and that shows how much progress we have made and that we had made a big step. For sure this is my highlight of the year, leading the race for 13 laps. Okay after that we had a problem that was out of our hands, but it was good to see that if everything is working well we can be fighting for the podium.”
Are you looking forward to the second part of the season?
“The remaining tracks are pretty cool. Portimao is a really nice track and I really enjoy riding there. Another circuit I am really looking forward to is the last race at Qatar. It’s a track the bike really suits and the team had a great result there last year. It’s a fast and flowing circuit and I think this will be one of the best tracks for the R1.”
What’s it like to be racing for the Yamaha Factory Racing Team at the Suzuka 8 Hours?
“Most of the other riders in the WorldSBK paddock are heading off on their holidays now, but Suzuka to me is something much more special. It is such a big honour to race there and when you get asked to ride for a factory team it is an even bigger honour, so you can’t really say no! It’s an incredible experience. They say it is an 8-hour endurance race but, to be honest, it is more like an 8-hour sprint! When you are on the bike, pushing as hard as you can for one hour it is so tough, but at the end, if you get a good result there is no other feeling like it! Every year I have done the Suzuka 8 Hours, I say to myself afterwards, “never again,” as it is so hard! But then, after a few weeks, I am already thinking about the next year and wanting to do it again. Sometimes you think it would be nice to have a summer holiday, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
What is the main difference between your WorldSBK-spec R1 and the Suzuka-spec R1?
“There are a number of differences. The bike is much heavier in endurance, as you have a bigger tank, and the tyres are obviously different. I think the biggest change is the fact that all three riders in the team have to ride the same bike, so you can’t change the riding position or any settings, so everything feels different. This one of the most difficult parts of endurance racing, as you need to find a compromise. This year, I am quite a lot taller than my teammates Alex Lowes and Katsuyuki Nakasuga, so for me it is a bit harder to ride the bike, but it is all about being consistent. You need to put in as many laps as possible on the bike, because another big difference is the fuel load from the start of your stint to the end, so the better you understand how that affects the bike the quicker you can be.”
Can you make it a hat-trick of wins for the Yamaha Factory Racing Team?
“I have been lucky to have won at Suzuka twice before in 2013 and 2014, the first two times I raced there. For the last two years, the Yamaha has been so strong and has dominated the race, so the aim for everyone in the team is to try and make it three victories in a row! I would be so proud to win the Suzuka 8 Hours with the team so that is our goal and there are not many riders who have won there three times. It would be amazing to make it three wins in a row for Yamaha and also to record my third victory at the race. It would be a very special feeling!”