The Yamaha Factory Racing Team of Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark and Katsuyuki Nakasuga are aiming to make history this weekend at the Suzuka 8 Hours – the final round of the 2016/107 FIM Endurance World Championship – by becoming the first Yamaha team ever to complete a hat-trick of wins at the legendary endurance race. The GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team head to the season’s grand finale trailing the championship leaders by just one point and are the favourites to lift the title after winning the last three races. The YART Yamaha Official EWC Team are also in with a chance of becoming champions, as they are just 27-points behind the leaders with 45 points up for grabs during the race.
The 2017 Suzuka 8 Hours is the 40th edition of the iconic endurance race that was first held back in 1968 and over the years has not only become one of the biggest highlights of the racing calendar – with MotoGP and WorldSBK riders from all over the world taking part in factory teams alongside the usual competitors – but it has also established itself as the ultimate test of man and machine. The Yamaha Factory Racing Team are determined to make history themselves as they aim to achieve Yamaha’s first hat-trick of wins at Suzuka and to become the first team since 2002 to win the race for three years in succession. Nakasuga-san also has the chance to earn his place in history as the first Japanese rider to win the race three times in a row. The 35-year-old has emerged victorious with the Yamaha Factory Racing Team for the last two years and is focused and ready to bid for his third win with the team. Lowes was also part of the victorious team last year, so the 26-year-old British rider knows what it takes win at Suzuka and is hungry for more. Van der Mark is new to the team for 2017, but the 24-year-old Dutch rider has tasted victory at Suzuka before, winning in 2013 & 2014. All three riders took part in a very positive test recently at Suzuka and confidence is running high in the team. They feel they have the pace to challenge for victory, with both Lowes and van der Mark relishing the chance to race with each other instead of against each other, and Nakasuga-san determined to complete his dream of a hat-trick of wins at Suzuka.
The GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team of David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Mike Di Meglio want to leave Suzuka as 2016/2017 FIM Endurance World Champions. They missed out on the title by just one point to rivals SERT in 2016 and after enduring the pain of missing out on the title by such a small margin for the last 12 months, the team are out for revenge this year. They have bounced back brilliantly after a disastrous start to the season that saw them finish ninth at the Bol D’or, missing out on vital stage points after a crash and trailing SERT by 40 points. Since then they have been simply unstoppable, winning all three races since to closed the gap to championship leaders SERT by just one point coming into the grand finale. GMT94 are the only European team to have secured a podium at Suzuka in the last 30 years, when they finished third in 2012, and are solely focused on ensuring they finish in the points and ahead of their rivals SERT, knowing that if they do, they will be crowned World Champions.
The YART Yamaha Official EWC Team of Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz and Kohta Nozane currently sit third in the championship standings, just 27-points behind SERT with 45 up for grabs in the race. Despite the championship standings YART have been the biggest challenge to the GMT94 team in 2017 with less than 30 seconds separating them across the line as they finished in second place at Le Mans and Oschersleben. They were the favourites to win at the last round in Slovakia, before a faulty chain tensioner saw them have to pit from the lead, losing vital time towards the end of the race and the team had to settle for fourth. YART’s excellent rivalry with GMT94 has been even more intriguing because of the fact they share almost identical machinery, with the only difference being that YART run Bridgestone tyres while GMT94 use Dunlop’s. After a promising test, they feel confident they can challenge for the top five during the race and know that if the SERT and GMT94 teams fail to score points, and they can finish in fourth place or better, they would lift the 2016-2017 FIM Endurance World Championship.
The iconic Suzuka Circuit was originally built in 1962 as a test track, but became the first international race track in Japan and held its first 8-hour race in July 1978. It is 5.821km long, with 17 corners and is one of the few circuits around the world to have a ‘figure eight’ layout, meaning the 1.2km back straight actually crosses over an earlier part of the track thanks to an overpass. The Suzuka 8 Hours on-track action kicks off on Friday with Free Practice at 8.30am local time in Japan, with the Top Ten Trial scheduled for 15:30pm on Saturday and Sunday’s 8-hour race kicking off at 11.30am.
Yamaha Factory Racing Team
“I cannot wait for Suzuka! It’s such an amazing race and it will be an honour to represent Yamaha again. The tests have gone well and all three riders have been fast and consistent throughout. We know that if we all do our job to the best of our ability, then we will be challenging for Yamaha’s third straight win. I know what this race means to Yamaha and also to myself, so I’ll be giving 100 percent for our team to achieve victory. I enjoy the different challenge of riding with – not against – my teammate, so I can’t wait to get started!”
Michael van der Mark
Yamaha Factory Racing Team
“I am looking forward to the Suzuka 8 Hours. It will be my fifth time doing the race but this one will be more special because it’s the 40th Anniversary. To ride in the Yamaha Factory Racing Team with such strong teammates is a big honour. The good thing is that during the test we all had a similar pace and all three of us felt good with the setup of the bike, which is the most important thing in an endurance race. It’s going to be a tough race with so many strong teams and riders, but we are going to do everything we can to get the third victory in a row for Yamaha!”
Yamaha Factory Racing Team
“This is my third year in the Yamaha Factory Racing Team and it also the bikes third Suzuka 8 Hours. So, we have lots of data from Suzuka for the bike and having won the last two races here, we know what it takes to get the victory. We have an excellent team this year. I won with Alex Lowes last year, plus this year we have Michael van der Mark joining us who has won at Suzuka twice before as well. The combination worked well in testing and we feel that we are prepped and fully ready to fight for our third straight victory!”
Yamaha Factory Racing Team Manager
“The last two years we had a MotoGP rider in the team, but this year we have gone for the WorldSBK guys in Alex and Michael who ride the R1 week in and week out, so we feel we have a very strong team and the perfect combination of riders to fight for our third straight victory. There are a lot of new bikes on the grid this year, so strangely the Yamaha R1 is actually one of the oldest bikes on the grid. The advantage to this is that we have lots of data from our previous two races at Suzuka, plus we have a lot more reliability as we have more experience with the bike, so we feel that we are at a higher level than before. Yamaha has never won the Suzuka 8 Hours three times in a row before so there is a lot of pressure and expectation on our shoulders but if we perform at the level we know we can, the results will look after themselves, so we are heading into the race with a calm and clear mind.”
GMT94 Official Yamaha EWC Team
“Suzuka is the only race I have never won. I would love one day to win this race but at the moment its tricky, because the electronics are more advanced on the factory bikes, so it will be hard to try and fight with them. The important thing is that last year we lost the championship by just one point, this year we have another chance to win it and are only one-point behind our rivals. The good thing is that our rivals are on the same tyres as us so it will be good battle, and after the tests, I think we can take the fight to them. It feels kind of strange after winning three races in a row to go there and not be thinking of winning the race, but obviously, the main goal is to win the championship, so that has to be our focus. You never know what can happen in endurance racing. The Yamaha R1 is a great bike and the Dunlop tyres work well, so we will try to go and win the championship as a team!”
GMT94 Official Yamaha EWC Team Manager
“We are very excited for Suzuka. After the three victories in the last three races, we have made up the points from the Bol D’or where we finished in ninth, but we missed out on the stage points due to a crash. This meant we were 40 points behind SERT after the first race, but we have fought back to win the last three races. We are now just one point behind and we are in a very good position. The only issue is if we both crash out and YART finish fourth, then they will be crowned champions. From the start, our biggest rivals have been YART. They have been very strong since Le Mans and during the last three races we have had incredibly close battles, plus they will be strong here. We have to be clever, I hope the best for YART. I want them to be on the podium as our only goal is to beat the SERT team and lift the title. No matter what happens, if we are both in the points, we just have to finish ahead of the them to win the title. Position doesn’t matter. Our riders are great, the bike is perfect, we just have to make sure we make no mistakes as a team and the only target is to get the title. Suzuka is a good track for the team, but last year we were unlucky as we had a light problem and had to bring the bike in for an extra pit stop but we are still the only European team to have a podium at the Suzuka 8 Hours in the last 30 years, back in 2012. We can be very proud of that, so Suzuka is a very good track for us! For the riders and the team, we have to be clever, because everyone dreams of a podium but the championship has to be our only goal. We are short of practice, so we will use the qualifying sessions to help us setup the bike. The factory team often treat qualifying like a mini-race, but we will be happy if we can be 12-15th position. Of course, we will push but for us the most important thing is to spend as much time preparing for the race on our new Dunlop tyres as possible. In the race, I think we the pace to be in the top five, but we have to be clever. All we need is to be faster than SERT at the end of the day, but you have to be careful in endurance, a small problem can cost you lots of time so you can’t be complacent! It is going to be a great race and we will give everything, as a team, to become World Champions!”
YART Yamaha Official EWC Team
“We are really looking forward to the race and I am honoured to be riding here again for Yamaha! Testing went really well and I think this year we have a really strong team. All three of us have shown good pace, and we have also been very consistent, which is so key in endurance racing. Our aim is to try and fight in the top five and push for the podium if at all possible. For us, it is a case of just going all out to get the best result possible in the race and trying to not worry about the championship. Of course, at the back of our minds will be the thought we could be champions, but honestly, our focus is just to go all out for this race and then we will see what happens with the championship.”
YART Yamaha Official EWC Team Manager
“We are looking forward to the getting the best result! The competition this year is a lot stronger than before, there is a lot of pressure on everybody. Any forecast would be very hard to make. Every manufacturer has a factory bike in the race, so in reality the big pressure is on them. It’s almost like we are watching the race from the second row! We are strong enough to finish in the top five but a podium would be perfect and nothing is impossible in endurance racing. If we produce the pace we have shown in testing, everything is open, we will give it our all to try and do the best we can. There is not as much pressure on my team, as all eyes are on the Yamaha factory team, so we can go out and give our best and see what unfolds. There is a small chance of us being champions, but we are not thinking about this, as we just want to go and put on the best performance we can. It has been GMT94’s year and they will be the team to beat in the championship but they would have to make a big mistake, therefore we are just focusing on going out, enjoying the race, and getting the best result possible.”