Suzuka 8 Hours 2015

By Trevor Hedge

The 38th running of the Suzuka 8 Hours has been run and won with Yamaha Factory Racing Team taking the first victory for Yamaha in two decades. The riders, Naksuga, Smith and Espargaro clearly the fastest on the circuit all day.

Second place went to the FCC TSR Honda Fireblade piloted by 22-year-old Australian Josh Hook and Swiss Moto2 rider Dominique Aegerter.

Rounding out the podium was Team Kagayama, the riders Yukio Kagayama, Noriyuki Haga and Ryuichi Kiyonari.

Suzuki Endurance Racing Team finished fourth ahead of Yoshimura Suzuki, so a fifth place for Josh Waters.

The Race – Suzuka 8 Hours 2015

Keanu Reeves dropped the flag to signal the race start at 1230 Eastern Australian time as riders and 70,000 spectators baked in 33-degrees ambient. The Suzuka track surface nudging 60-degrees.

Suzuka 8 Hours 2015
Suzuka 8 Hours 2015

Team Kagayama got away first but was quickly overtaken by the factory Honda and Yoshimura Suzuki.  Towards the end of the opening lap Alex Lowes on the Yoshimura Suzuki powered past the Fireblade to take the lead.

The Moriwaki Honda then moved past the Kagayama Suzuki for third place as Dominique Aegerter pushed the FCC TSR Honda through to fourth place. 

Pole sitters Yamaha were in 11th place at the end of the opening lap.

Takahashi took the lead back from Alex Lowes at the 7-minute mark and the leading riders had already started lapping riders only nine-minutes into the race.

33-year-old Nakasuga was up to fifth and closing on the tightly packed leading quartet, lapping a couple of tenths a lap faster than those in front of him. Nakasuga a five-time Japanese Superbike Champion and currently dominating the domestic Japanese Superbike season 2015.

Aegerter took third place from Toni Elias at the 10-minute mark.

At the 13-minute mark Alex Lowes took the lead from Takahashi, while Kagayama moved up fourth place ahead of Elias.

Lowes then started to pull away from his pursuers and had 1.3-seconds on Takahashi by the 22-minute mark.

Broc Parkes had a problem on the Pirelli shod YART Yamaha and returned to the pits for the team to investigate. Minutes later the team confirmed their withdrawal from the race with technical problems.

By the half hour mark the leading riders were lapping slower bikes left, right and centre. Alex Lowes continued to hold sway up front ahead of Takahashi, Aegerter and Nakasuga. A minute later Nakasuga moved past Aegerter for third place.

Ryuichi Kiyonari was all over the back of the fifth place Toni Elias.

After 40-minutes very little still separated the leading quartet. As lapped traffic interrupted their flow, the distance between that top four stretched away, then closed up again, the distance between them largely dictated by how each of the riders fared as they scythed their way through lapped traffic.

Jason O’Halloran moved up to tenth place.

Kiyonari moved up to fifth place 48-minutes in the race.

Alex Lowes was the first of the front runners to pit at the 54-minute mark, he was followed in by Takahashi. The Honda pit-stop marginally quicker and closely followed the Suzuki out of pitlane. Casey Stoner taking the controls of the #634 Honda and quickly overtook Takumi Tsuda, who looked to be starting his out-lap a little gingerly on the Yoshimura Suzuki after taking over from Lowes, while Stoner had got straight down to business. 

Leading the race however was Nakasuga on the YZF-R1M, who stayed out on the circuit for a few more laps than the Honda and Suzuki top men and pitted at the 61-minute mark of the race after completing a 28-lap first stint. Bradley Smith took charged of the YZF-R1 from Nakasuga and joined the race in fourth place behind second placed Tsuda, who was now up to full speed and matching the pace of race leader Casey Stoner.

At the 66-minute mark Tsuda ran off the circuit and across the gravel trap at 130R after nearly running into the rear of Stoner. The Yoshimura Suzuki lost a number of places from that mistake which had promoted Josh Hook on the FCC TSR Honda up to second place, and Nakasuga into third.

Casey Stoner had a frightening scare at the 70-minute mark with the throttle sticking on as he braked for a fast left hander. The result was a massive and sickening end over end tumble. The #634 Honda race leader out of the race, and with the bike on its side in the middle of the circuit the pace car came out to slow the pace as the carnage was cleared from the circuit.

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Read Casey Stoner’s comments about the crash here

Leading the race behind the pace car after inheriting the lead from Stoner was 22-year old Josh Hook. What a moment for the young man from Taree, a home town he shares with three-time World Superbike Champion Troy Bayliss.

The pace car left the circuit at 84-minutes and Bradley Smith was quickly all over the back of Hook and challenging for the race lead. It took both riders some time to get around Watanabe on the fast #87 Kawasaki.  Tsuda was running in third place on the Yoshimura Suzuki, two-seconds behind the leading duo.

24-year-old Bradley Smith took the lead on the Yamaha Factory Racing YZF-R1 from Hook at the 93-minute mark.

The safety car came out again one hour and 45 minutes into the race. The pace car stayed on circuit for around 13 minutes.

Josh Hook pitted two hours and 15 minutes into the race and handed over to Dominique Aegerter.

Five minutes later Pol Espargaro took charge of the leading #21 Yamaha and rejoined the circuit ahead of Alex Lowes, who had recently taken over the controls of the Yoshimura Suzuki from Tsuda.

Lowes quickly got the better of Espargaro, who was having his first stint on the YZF-R1 thus was building up to speed, while Lowes had already done a full stint at the start of the race.

With 2 hours and 25 minutes, and 61 laps down, Lowes still held the lead from Espargaro but on the next lap the Yamaha man demoted the Yoshimura Suzuki back to second place. Lowes looked to have had some issue with the bike and Espargaro slipped past easily as the pair negotiated a number of lapped riders.  Espargaro quickly built a two-second buffer over Lowes while Aegerter was three-seconds further back on the FCC TSR Honda.  After another six laps Espargaro extended his lead over Lowes by another second, the gap out to three-seconds.

With three hours down Espargaro had an 11-second lead over Lowes, who had 11-seconds on Aegerter. Noriyuki Haga was the only other rider on the same lap, 1minute-53-seconds behind the race leader.

Alex Lowes brought the Yoshimura Suzuki into pitlane three-hours and eight-minutes into the race and handed over once again to Tsuda. Josh Waters still had not had a turn on the bike.

The safety car was then brought out after a Ducati Panigale blew its engine spectacularly, leaving a trail of oil on the circuit.

Kazuki Watanabe entered pitlane and rode the bike straight in to the Team Garage for the mechanics to try and fix the machine after he had gone for a minor slide down the road on the oil left behind by the Ducati.

Pol Espargaro entered the pits and handed over the leading Yamaha to Nakasuga at the three-hour 27-minute mark, while still under the safety car.

The race got back underway at the three-hours 30-minute mark with Aegerter on the FCC TSR in the lead, but still requiring a stop. He had ten-seconds on the Yoshimura Suzuki ridden by Tsuda, who in turn had two-seconds on Nakasuga.   Three laps later Aegerter entered the pits to hand over to Josh Hook, the 22-year-old then rejoined the circuit in third place.

Tsuda ran off the circuit at the three-hour 40-minute mark and lost 30-seconds in the gravel trap at the final chicane before rejoining in second place, 35-seconds behind race leader Nakasuga on the Factory Yamaha. Tsuda had actually dropped the GSX-R and suffered a broken screen and ducktail in the fall. That damage, and the scare from his fall making him cautious, saw him lose a further 15-seconds on the Yamaha over the next couple of laps.

The safety car came out again at the three-hour 54-minute mark after a rider crashed at Spoon Curve, his machine was left stranded in the middle of the circuit. Naomichi Uramoto had gone down on the Dream RT Sakurai Fireblade he was sharing with Jason O’Halloran and Troy Herfoss. A little earlier the #55 Nanotop GSX-R shared by Phil Czaj had also gone down.

The race got back underway just after the halfway mark with Nakasuga leading Tsuda by a full minute, while Hook in third place was right on the tail of the Yoshimura Suzuki.

The SRC Kawasaki then crashed heavily, the ZX-10R in pieces after tumbling out of sixth place.

It was not long before the safety car was out again. Yoshimura Suzuki took the opportunity to pit and repair the damage from that earlier fall by Tsuda. Replacing various bits of bodywork and ensuring all the controls worked perfectly before Alex Lowes jump aboard for the next stint on the GSX-R1000.  A lot of time was lost in the pits repairing the machine and by the time Lowes rejoined the race he had lost six positions, the Yoshimura Suzuki demoted to eighth place, two laps behind the race leaders.

A few laps after the race got back underway the leading Yamaha entered the pits with Nakasuga handing over to Bradley Smith for his second stint on the #21 YZF-R1.  Not long after exiting pitlane the team were notified of a stop-go penalty for Espargaro overtaking a rider under a waved yellow flag. That handed Josh Hook the race lead once again on the FCC TSR Honda Fireblade.

Smith rejoined the race in second place 68-seconds behind Hook after serving his penalty in the pits.

As the shadows across the track started to grow the track temperature was falling, down to 50c after registering over 60c earlier in the race.

Josh Hook pitted from the race lead at four-hours 55-minutes. It was a good stop, teammate Dominique Aegerter rejoining the race still in the lead with a 14-second buffer over the #21 Yamaha. Smith of course was already at full speed, while Aegerter would take a lap or two to get fully back in the groove and thus the Yamaha quickly made another ten-seconds on the Swiss rider, reducing the margin to five-seconds as the race passed the five hour mark.

Eight minutes later Smith passed Aegerter for the race lead, and immediately started to pull away by almost two-seconds a lap.

Smith entered pitlane to hand over the leading Yamaha to Pol Espargaro at five-hours 42-minutes. Aegerter inheriting the race lead again as a result.

By the six hour mark Yoshimura Suzuki had climbed their way back up to fifth place. Dominique Aegerter remained in the lead but the gap had narrowed to 30-seconds. A couple of minutes later Aegerter entered pitlane for the fifth pit stop for the FCC TSR squad, handing over to Josh Hook. The team relinquished the lead to the Factory Yamaha still ridden by Pol Espargaro during their time in the pits and when back out on circuit and up to speed Hook was 40-seconds behind the Yamaha.  Team Kagayama were running in third place.

Espargaro was very quick in his last stint, regularly lapping three-seconds faster than Hook and as a result quickly built up a handy lead over the FCC TSR rider.

Yoshimura Suzuki passed GMT94 Yamaha for fourth place six-hours and 20-minutes into the race. The team lost that position 15 minutes later during a pit stop as Josh Waters took the controls for the first time.

As the race passed the six-hours 37-minutes mark Espargaro had extended his lead over Hook to a full minute before entering pit lane and handing over the YZF-R1 to Nakasuga. The Japanese rider exited pitlane and joined the circuit a few seconds behind race leader Josh Hook.  Nakasuga passed the Honda five minutes later, on lap 170, and quickly started pulling away.

Josh Hook pitted as the timer clocked over seven hours, when he entered the pits he was 18-seconds behind the race leader.   Hook handed over the FCC TSR Fireblade to Dominique Aegerter for the final stint as light really started to fade around the Suzuka circuit.  By the time Aegerter was back on the circuit and up to full speed they were 1-minute 23-seconds behind the #21 Yamaha piloted by Nakasuga.

Josh Waters pitted with 45 minutes remaining in the race and handed the Yoshimura Suzuki over to Tsuda for the final stint, rejoining the race in sixth place.

With half hour remaining Yamaha Factory Racing held a one-minute 39-second leader over FCC TSR. Team Kagayama much further back in third place ahead of GMT94 Yamaha.

The leading Yamaha pitted with 25 minutes remaining and Bradley Smith jumped aboard. Shortly after Smith rejoined the track the safety car came out to close the field back up, but across two groups. The race order remained, Yamaha leading from FCC TSR Honda.

The safety car left the circuit and the green flag came out with ten minutes remaining in the race as all sunlight completely disappeared and left the circuit in darkness. Smith on the Yamaha with more than 60-seconds on the FCC TSR Honda. The Oxfordshire man did not make a mistake and took a clear victory for Yamaha, their first at the Suzuka 8 Hour in two decades.

Katsuyuki Nakasuga – Yamaha Factory Racing Team rider – “As a team we started the race today with a set number of laps per rider and it was a lot of pressure for me to start the race but my first goal was that I had to finish this race. I’ve had times when I ended the race prematurely. I want to thank all the staff, the team and all the fans for their support. I’m really glad that we have won after nineteen years.”

Pol Espargaró – Yamaha Factory Racing Team rider – “I’m so happy. It was an unbelievable race. I have to say sorry to my teammates because I made a mistake during the race. We had a stop and go penalty and we lost more than one minute. My teammates were impressive, they were so fast. I gave 200% when I went out on the bike to recover this gap that we lost and we did. It’s impressive what Yamaha as a factory team and a family did after so many years and I’m proud of Nakasuga-san that he rode our the first Suzuka8hours with us and also of Bradley, that we share a pit box in MotoGP. Normally we have many activities and we don’t get to speak often as friends. This weekend was so good for us. I’m happy because I found two great friends, and we got the 8 hours Suzuka race victory.”

Bradley Smith – Yamaha Factory Racing Team rider – “Since Tuesday night I went back to my hotel room and felt loaded up with pressure . We stood in front of all the Yamaha staff and mister Kimura and everyone who works inside the factory. We stood on the stage in Iwata and promised that we would come back and give our best and we promised them a first place and we definitely to potentially fail, but we had a great bike and teammates. We had only one small mistake during the race, which in the end was no problem at all. With the speed and the pace that my teammates were able to do, we were able to overcome it. It’s very special, the 60th anniversary for Yamaha, they are leading the MotoGP championship, but second to that was a focus to on the Suzuka8H and I’m glad that we were able to show the true potential of this bike and give them that victory after 19 years that they very well deserve.”

Wataru Yoshikawa – Yamaha Factory Racing Team Team Manager – “First, I just want to thank everyone involved and all of the fans who cheered us on. I have to say that I was really impressed by the [high][high] of the MotoGP riders, and also I found myself full of admiration once again for Nakasuga’s skills. Pol and Bradley [Smith[Smith]ever ridden at Suzuka before our pre-race test sessions, and they had never ridden on an Endurance spec machine. But, in no time at all, they were running very fast lap times here, one after another. Also, in today’s race we were surprised to see the impeccable skill with which Nakasuga handled the bike in the first stint and extend it all the way to the 28th lap. That made things easier for us as a team from that point onward. The way the characters of the three riders came together so well made this a wonderful team, and the team staff (crew) did their best the whole time to back up the riders. During the race weekend there were accidents like Pol [Espar[Espargaro]rash, and then in the race there was his penalty, so there were difficulties along the way but we still managed to win. This was a victory that the whole team won together, and once again I want to express my appreciation to al of the people who cheered us on.”

Second place after a flawless performance from both Josh Hook and Dominique Aegerter on the FCC TSR Honda Fireblade. The young pairing were the only other team to finish on the same lap as the race winners and both rode impressively and remained composed under pressure. The third member of the team, Kyle Smith, was kept in reserve and not used during the race.

Third place went to Team Kagayama, the riders Yukio Kagayama, Noriyuki Haga and Ryuichi Kiyonari.

Yukio Kagayama – “It’s great to get a podium again for our team, sponsors and supporters. I promised Noriyuki and Ryuichi to provide a great bike with the potential to win, but couldn’t quite manage this; so feel sorry for both our great riders. I also had a small crash, so a little disappointed, although very proud of our riders and team.”

Noriyuki Haga – “I am very happy with the podium result and Ryuichi really worked hard. He rode three stints and really appreciate his effort for our team, so would really like to thank him.”

Ryuichi Kiyonari – “I am very happy with third place on the podium. On my final stint I rode very carefully and always checking pit signals. My team mates are very great experienced riders, so was sure we would get a good result. I had small slip-offs on Thursday and Friday, so apologies to our team for the extra work I caused.”

Suzuki Endurance Racing Team finished fourth ahead of Yoshimura Suzuki, so a fifth place for Josh Waters. The might have done much better if not for the very fast Tsuda getting caught up in a few incidents. Alex Lowes did a great job for the team.

Josh Waters – “Again Suzuka was tough. Unfortunately we had a few problems, but that’s racing.”

The top finishing Kawasaki was the Team Green entry of Yanagawa, Watanabe and Yudhistira in ninth place.

The first non-Japanese machine home was the Confia Flex Motorrad BMW of Takeishi, Onishi and Sakai in 15th place.

The lone KTM entrant in the race finished in 31st place on the Team Hooters KTM 1190 RC8R ridden by Okuda, Toyoda and Dairaku.

The only Ducati Panigale in the field failed to finish after an engine failure but a previous generation 1098R entered by Team Sugai Racing Japan finished the race in 37th place.

Phil Czaj and the Nanotop Team he was riding for managed to get the GSX-R1000 back out on track after a hefty early crash and finished the race in 47th position, 40 laps behind the race winners.

Likewise the Dream RT Sakurai Honda squad comprised of Herfoss, O’Halloran and Uramoto managed to put their Fireblade back together after a massive tumble and finished the race in 48th position, 47 laps behind the race winners.

Broc Parkes and the Yamaha Austria Racing Team had retired with technical problems 10 laps into the race.

Broc Parkes – Monster Energy Yamaha Austria Racing Team (YART) rider – “I was happy with my pace and I showed good speed in qualifying and at the start of the race. I felt good on the bike, it was better than I expected, because even after some laps the tyres were still good and the grip was there. My lap times were consistent and we had a good start. I think we were up to eighth when we had a technical issue. It’s a bit frustrating, because I think we could have been in the top five, looking at the results now. That could have been good for the championship. I believe Yamaha was satisfied with the performance we gave before the DNF, because we were the first team on Pirelli tyres.”

Bridgestone took the top two positions in the race.

Shinji Aoki – Manager, Bridgestone Motorcycle Tyre Development Department – “Congratulations to Yamaha on their first 8Tai victory in nineteen years! Everyone in the Yamaha Factory Racing Team worked very hard to achieve their goal and Bridgestone is proud to have supported them in this venture. This is a very challenging event and the team managed their tyre allocation very well. Bradley, Katsuyuki and Pol have a lot of experience with Bridgestone tyres and although the tyres we develop for the Suzuka 8 Hours are unique, they share the same excellent grip and consistency as our other race tyres and I believe this helped them extract maximum performance from their R1 throughout the whole race. Congratulations also to F.C.C. TSR Honda on their impressive second place. The race was run in extreme conditions and due to the numerous safety car periods, both of our teams on the podium utilised different strategies during the race. However, despite these challenges the strong and consistent performance of our tyres meant they could achieve excellent results.”

Read Casey Stoner’s comments about the crash here

Yamaha reflect on Suzuka 8 Hours success

Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Pol Espargaro with Bradley Smith win Suzuka 8 Hours 2015
Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Pol Espargaro with Bradley Smith win Suzuka 8 Hours 2015
Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race 2015 Results

1st – #21 – YAMAHA FACTORY (Nakasuga, Espargarò, Smith) – Yamaha YZF-R1 – Laps 204 – Total Time 8:00’29.708 (Bridgestone)

2nd – #778 – F.C.C. TSR Honda (Hook, Smith, Aegerter) – Honda CBR1000RR – Laps 204 – +1’17.411 (Bridgestone)

3rd – #17 – Team KAGAYAMA (Kagayama, Haga, Riyonary) – Suzuki GSX-R1000 – Laps 203 – +1lap (Dunlop)

4th – #30 – Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (Philippe, Delhalle, Masson) – Suzuki GSX-R1000 – Laps 202 – +2laps (Dunlop)

5th – #12 – Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance (Tsuda, Waters, Lowes) – Suzuki GSX-R1000 – Laps 201 – +3laps (Bridgestone)

6th – #94 – GMT94 YAMAHA (Checa, Foray, Gines) – Yamaha YZF-R1 – Laps 201 – +3laps (Dunlop)

7th – Honda Endurance Team (Da Costa, Gimbert, Foray) – Honda CBR1000RR – Laps 201 – +3laps (Dunlop)

8th – Honda Suzuka Racing Team (Hiura, Kamei, Yasuda) – Honda CBR1000RR – Laps 200 – +4laps (Bridgestone)

9th – #87 – Team GREEN (Yanagawa, Yudhistira, Watanabe) – Kawasaki ZX-10R – Laps 199 – +5laps (Bridgestone)

10th – #32 – MotoMap SUPPLY (Konno, Aoki, Ogata) – Suzuki GSX-R1000 – Laps 199 – +5laps (Bridgestone)

World Endurance Championship Standings

1   Suzuki Endurance Racing Team 81 pts FRA SUZUKI Suzuki Endurance Racing Team

2   GMT94 Yamaha 52 pts NA YAMAHA GMT94 Yamaha

3   Team Bolliger Switzerland 50 pts NA KAWASAKI Team Bolliger Switzerland

4   SRC Kawasaki 42 pts FRA KAWASAKI SRC Kawasaki

5   Yamaha Factory Racing Team 35 pts YAMAHA FAC YAMAHA Yamaha Factory Racing Team

6   Junior Team Le Mans Sud Suzuki 33 pts NA SUZUKI Junior Team Le Mans Sud Suzuki

7   F.C.C. TSR Honda 29 pts JPN HONDA F.C.C. TSR Honda

8   Team KAGAYAMA 25 pts TEAM KAGAY SUZUKI Team KAGAYAMA

9   BMW MOTORRAD France TEAM PENZ13 22 pts NA BMW BMW MOTORRAD France TEAM PENZ13

10   National Motos 21 pts NA HONDA National Motos

11   YOSHIMURA SUZUKI Shell ADVANCE 18 pts YOSHIMURA SUZUKI YOSHIMURA SUZUKI Shell ADVANCE

12   Team April Moto/Motors Events 16 pts NA SUZUKI Team April Moto/Motors Events

13   Honda Endurance Racing CBR 14 pts GBR HONDA Honda Endurance Racing EWC

Yamaha reflect on Suzuka 8 Hours success

Casey Stoner on that sickening Suzuka 8 Hour crash