Following the three-day official test in Japan, a hierarchy is emerging for the Suzuka 8 Hours race on 29 July.
Yamaha Factory Racing Team, the winner of the past three editions, has consolidated its status as the favourite, but will likely face stiff competition from Kawasaki Team Green and Honda HRC.
The highlight of the 2018 Suzuka 8 Hours official tests has been the sterling performance of Yamaha Factory Racing Team’s Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark.
All three YFRT pilots were extremely quick but it was Katsuyuki Nakasuga’s 2:06.273 lap leading the way. Quicker than current teammate Alex Lowes’s record for the fastest lap set in the race last year and on course to best former teammate Pol Espargaró’s 2015 lap record (2:06.000) recorded during the Top Ten qualifying shootout.
“We finished everything we needed to cover over these three days. The track temperature was close to what it’ll be for the race, so this was a perfect day for testing. All we have to do now is make minor setup adjustments to suit the weather during the race weekend, whatever that may be. Our rivals for the win are strong this year, so we’ll stay focused and keep our eyes on the goal.”
The second day of tests yesterday provided the most excitement, with the Japanese factory teams waging a war of nerves to clock the fastest lap time. Yamaha Factory Racing Team consolidated its position as leader.
The fastest counter-strike (2:06.838) came from Kawasaki Team Green’s Kazuma Watanabe, Leon Haslam and Jonathan Rea, ahead of Honda HRC (2:07.500).
“The test is really positive – as this was my first test with Team Green Japan it was important to see the bike set up that Leon and Kazuma were working on. A really good sign is that I jumped on and with only a few tweaks l was up to speed. I basically worked on re-learning the track – it’s been four years since I’ve been here. Also I am learning about the Ninja ZX-10RR Suzuka endurance spec machine. I’ve ridden six of the last seven days, so it’s still fun but also hard work. The bike is working in a good window and we are competitive in all temperatures. The bike is very agile and good in traffic. At the final part of day three we did a race simulation and we had a lot of positive input. To be honest, all three of us in the team have been fast so that’s a good sign. All members of the team have been welcoming and I am looking forward to coming back for the race and doing the best we can.”
Honda’s factory team will have to make do without Leon Camier. Following his crash during testing, a medical examination has revealed that the British rider has sustained back injuries. HRC will have to find a new teammate for Takumi Takahashi and Takaaki Nakagami.
Yoshimura Suzuki Motul Racing (Sylvain Guintoli, Takuya Tsuda and Bradley Ray) found themselves amongst the top quartet in the lead after posting a 2:07.838 best lap, ahead of Suzuka regulars Honda Suzuka Racing Team and S-Pulse Dream Racing (Suzuki).
YART Yamaha is leading the other FIM EWC full-season teams, and significantly upped their performance on the third day of tests. Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz and Takuya Fujita set a 2:08.005 quickest lap today with the Australian at the controls.
“We changed the electronics quite a lot from yesterday to today, and this was a lot better. And we changed the setup of the bike a little bit just from our feeling and what we’d seen from yesterday, and we made a big step there as well. This afternoon we just did a long run to check for the race and we did it with a full tank of fuel so we can make a setup change on the front to compensate. That’s basically just to get some more data for the team for when we come back for the race. But in general, to do a 2’08 flat I’m really happy and that makes us the fastest non-full-factory-supported team. I think, looking at the times, for the race we can aim for the top five at the moment. Right now it’s just the four official teams in front of us, so if we’re running in 5th or 6th and something happens to one of them, we could aim for the podium.”
World Endurance Championship leads F.C.C. TSR Honda France were also quicker today with a 2:09.186, ahead of GMT94 Yamaha (2:09.315) and Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (2:10.581).
Meanwhile, manufacturer Bridgestone dominated proceedings at the Suzuka tests. All nine teams on the top of the timesheets are using Bridgestone tyres. Team Kagayama was the quickest Dunlop-shod team with a 2:08.562, while KYB Moriwaki Motul Racing posted the fastest lap of the Pirelli-shod teams.
The 64 teams competing in the 41st Suzuka 8 Hours will be back on the track for free practice on Thursday 26 July.
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