Yamaha sets Thursday Suzuka 8 Hour pace

By Trevor Hedge – Images by Jonathan Godin and Yamaha

The Yamaha Factory Racing Team dominated the opening day of practice on Thursday at the 38th “Coca-Cola Zero” Suzuka 8 Hour.

Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith were quick from the off before upping the pace with a 2’07.282 in the final session.

Pol Espargaro has been especially impressed on the YZF-R1M throughout testing but on Friday morning Katsuyuki Nakasuga put in a blistering 2m06.877 to lead the way on Friday morning. 

Pol Espargaro
Pol Espargaro

Second on the charts, and top Honda team on Thursday, was the Toho Moriwaki squad of Toni Elias, Ratthapark Wilairot and Tatsuya Yamaguchi, but that trio was a full-second behind the leading Yamaha team.

The Yoshimura Suzuki triumvirate of Josh Waters, Alex Lowes and Takuya Tsdua were third quickest.

Josh Waters
Josh Waters

The FCC TSR Honda entry piloted by Josh Hook, Kyle Smith and Dominique Aegerter was fourth quickest ahead of the high-profile Musashi Honda team consisting of Casey Stoner, Michael van der Mark and Takumi Takahashi.

Josh Hook
Josh Hook
Casey Stoner
Casey Stoner

After making their return last year, the domestic Kawasaki squad called Team Green are also competing again in 2015, with a three rider team consisting of Japanese stars Akira Yanagawa and Kazuki Watanabe plus talented Indonesian rider Haji Ahmed Yudhistira. This trio were the fastest Kawasaki entry on Thursday and sixth overall ahead of Team Kagayama Suzuki.

Team Green consists of Japanese stars Akira Yanagawa and Kazuki Watanabe plus talented Indonesian rider Haji Ahmed Yudhistira
Team Green consists of Japanese stars Akira Yanagawa and Kazuki Watanabe plus talented Indonesian rider Haji Ahmed Yudhistira

The top BMW entry was the Confia Flex squad in 11th place with a trio of Japanese riders.

The Honda Dream RT Sakurai team of Troy Herfoss, Jason O’Halloran and Naomichi Uramoto were 14th quickest with a 2m10.715. Herfoss was in the consistent 2m09s during recent testing so expect them to march up the order on Friday.

Troy Herfoss
Troy Herfoss

Australasian FX Superbike Championship privateer Phil Czaj is racing in the Nanotop HMF Suzuki squad with two Japanese riders. The #55 entry was well down the order with a 2m17.099 on the opening day of practice.

Phil Czaj
Phil Czaj
Suzuka 8 Hours 2015 – Thursday Free Practice Results
  1. #21 – Yamaha Factory Racing Team – 2m07.282
  2. #104 – TOHO Racing with Moriwaki Honda – 2m08.254
  3. #12 – Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance – 2m08.403
  4. #778 – FCC TSR Honda – 2m08.438
  5. 634 – Musashi RT HARC-Pro Honda – 2m08.462
  6. #87 – Team Green Kawasaki – 2m08.576
  7. #17 – Team Kagayama Suzuki – 2m08.660
  8. #090 – Teture Kohara RT Honda – 2m09.624
  9. #94 GMT 94 Yamaha – 2m10.094
  10. #30 – Suzuki Endurance Racing Team – 2m10.181
  11. #39 – Confia Flex Motorrad BMW – 2m10.411
  12. #22 – Satu Hati Team Asia Honda – 2m10.585
  13. #11 – SRC Kawasaki – 2m10.701
  14. #71 – Honda Dream RT Sakurai Honda – 2m10.715
  15. #111 – Honda Endurance Racing – 2m10.782

2015 Suzuka 8 Hour Image Gallery A

2015 Suzuka 8 Hour Image Gallery B

Katsuyuki Nakasuga
Katsuyuki Nakasuga

Katsuyuki Nakasuga – Yamaha Factory Racing Team rider – “From (last week’s) pre-race tests, I have been working on the machine set-up and we have had Pol [Espargaro] and Bradley [Smith] concentrating on getting used to the Suzuka track and the machine. We have done this because we think it is best from the team’s standpoint. The riding position is set according to my preferences, but with regard to the machine settings, since I have been doing development work on the MotoGP machine, we know a lot about the preferences of Pol and Bradley. So, we have been working on the set-up with those preferences in mind, and in fact they both appear to be riding it without feeling any significant problems. This morning’s practice was in the rain, but the afternoon session was run on a dry track and all three of us were able to get good times. So, we were able to end the first day of practice feeling good about the way things are going. Still, even though we know that Pol and Bradley are MotoGP riders of the highest level, we can’t help but be impressed by the fact that after only having run here at Suzuka a few times, they are already recording lap times in the 2’07 range. We three riders all respect each other and have all taken our roles on the team to heart. And, with their speed and me being pulled along by them, I feel an amazing synergistic effect. The team is undoubtedly at a very high level.”

Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Pol Espargaro
Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Pol Espargaro

Pol Espargaró – Yamaha Factory Racing Team rider – “I think I made good progress. The bike was very good and we improved some points we found during the test. I think today the track was competitive, because it wasn’t really hot or slippery. I did the fastest lap time today, so the bike and the team are working well and it all looks really good. I have some confidence, but the race is another thing; in the tests you can make mistakes without many consequences, but in the race you have to be consistent and pay a lot of attention to make sure you don’t crash, as afterall this is a team. The YZF-R1 gives us no excuses as riders, it’s working so good and so are the team. All my teammates are really fast and our pace is good for the race, I can’t ask for anything more. I have a good feeling with the bike. It’s not easy to ride with so many riders on the track, but we are adapting to this other type of racing. It’s a characteristic of this race that there are many riders on the track and if we want to win, we have to compete with them and we are learning to overtake and not be too aggressive and crash, but overtake them fast. Nakasuga set up the base setting and he did a really good job. Bradley and I gave a little bit of input, coming from MotoGP, thinking this could help a little bit, but mainly Nakasuga did the job as he is always riding the bike. Maybe the one with the most challenges is Bradley, because he is tall, while Nakasuga and I are of similar height and weight. Bradley weighs about the same, but is a little bit taller, for sure his style is a bit different, but it was no problem, he is adapting really well and is fast like me. The balance of the team is really good and we all have the same pace and riding similar lap times and it’s all really good.”

Pol Espargaro
Pol Espargaro

Bradley Smith – Yamaha Factory Racing Team rider – “Today was good. I think it was good to train in the rain again this morning, because we tested here in the wet on the first two days of the first test and it was nice to refresh our memories, also to gain a little bit of information in case it does rain on raceday. We got a few different ideas on settings and tyre strategy in case it does rain, that was interesting. In this afternoon the conditions were really good with the lower temperature on the racetrack. It looks like we have a more or less clear which direction to go for with the race tyres, which is also good. Obviously we have to confirm that over the next two days and check the track and ambiance temperature. From what we learned from the last test and this afternoon I think we are 95% ready for the race. I was a little bit nervous this morning, because this is not the same structure that I’m used to, so I woke up this morning a didn’t know exactly when I was going to ride or the program. Small details, like trying to get ready and the time to get into your leathers is difficult to judge, also being here in a slight different environment, are small details that make you feel abnormal and when you go inside the garage you know there are big expectations and you see all the riders riding here so it’s a little bit different. I’m sure tomorrow and day by day it will get easier, but this race means a lot and is really important for our team and Yamaha. When you want to do such a good job you feel a bit of pressure and nerves but it’s good for performance. Today we were the top three riders, so from that point of view it seems to be working.”

Pol Espargaro
Pol Espargaro

Wataru Yoshikawa – Yamaha Factory Racing Team Team Manager – “In the afternoon session Nakasuga, Pol [Espargaro] and Bradley [Smith] all ran times in the 2’07 range, which shows that all three are very fast. As for the machine, we are getting a variety of requests from Pol and Bradley, and since Nakasuga knows the YZF-R1 so well, we are having him deal with their requests and verifying what needs to be done. Through our tests until now, we have made good progress in the machine development and set-up. Today we worked hard on the final aspects of the set-up, and of course this work will continue in tomorrow’s sessions. The atmosphere on the team is very good and the riders respect each other. All three of them are specialists in sprint races, and that means they naturally have a strong desire to be the fastest. But this time, for the sake of the team effort, they are restraining themselves in that respect. I really want to see us win the race with this fantastic team.”

David Checa – GMT94 Yamaha Rider – “I did my job and the crash was not my fault at all. We are happy and today’s results are ok. We expected to be a little bit faster than the time we did today, but we will see what happens tomorrow. I’m happy because I didn’t break anything, though I have pain everywhere on my body, but I hope I will sleep well today and will feel better tomorrow. We want to take a little bit of a risk, because we don’t know the bike well. We ride with a standard engine and the gearbox as well, so we are happy and our performance is good. It’s also a first time for us riders on these tyres, so we have to create an understanding of how to manage that, but we are happy. For sure, we have to improve some things, but our pace now is not so bad. Honestly, we normally have to be inside the top ten and today we are four, so that’s positive, but we don’t think too much about the results. For the moment we focus on finding solutions and aim to find half a second more.”

Christophe Guyot – GMT94 Yamaha Team Manager – “The crash was a bit difficult for David because he didn’t understand why it happened. We need to check, but the good thing is that after the crash we were still fast, so I think everything is ok. I’m not looking at the results as much as I’m looking for our position compared to the permanent teams. Here in Japan the endurance race is completely different and we have a new YZF-R1 and new tyres. The new bike is very good, but with the new tyres it’s not so easy and we are far away in another country so we can’t take many risks and we don’t have every thing with us to try. The goal for me is to be in front of the World Championship competing teams and today we did that. It will be the most important to be like this after the race, but we know this is possible and today we got a good view of our potential. When you start from between tenth and twelfth here in Suzuka, that’s good. I would like to keep the title and that’s still possible. Having the title is a pleasure and we enjoy it. Our plan for tomorrow is to take care. We have a good pace for the race and to be between tenth and fifteenth in qualifying would be good. We worked a lot on the electronics today and that is key for our performance. The bike’s advantage is that there is nothing wrong with the chassis and engine; it’s light and powerful and all is perfect. To find a set-up for the chassis is really easy. What we have to do now is find the right compromise between the electronics and the tyres. We had that with the previous bike with which we rode for five years, but with the new YZF-R1 we started on a higher level.”

Broc Parkes – Monster Energy Yamaha Austria Racing Team rider – “I had to have an operation last week so I didn’t get to take part in the test and today was my first time on the bike. In the previous years I was on different tyres this was the first time on Pirelli tyres and I had to feel what they were like.  It was the first time for me with the endurance bike this year, but it felt pretty good and the bike was nice, though this morning we didn’t have so much grip. After the rain the grip went down a bit, but I know the tyres pretty well because I race on them in the British Superbike championship. For Pirelli it’s difficult and a big ask for them here because this is Bridgestone’s back yard. They have quite a few tyres to test which is best for the race. You spend a lot of time on one side of the tyre so you need a lot of edge grip and these hot conditions are not really normal. However the bike feels good, though it’s quite a bit different from the Factory bike. If we had different tyres I think we would be quite strong. It would be nice to get inside the top ten, it’s possible, but difficult and in the race you never know.”

Mandy Kainz – Monster Energy Yamaha Austria Racing Team Team Manager – “It was a so-so day, because the last session was our first go at trying the dry setting because we always had mixed conditions before. We had a good experience with mixed conditions, as seen in the first practice when we finished third, but we have to work on the performance, the set-up and the Pirelli tyres in the hotter and dryer conditions. We struggled a bit with higher temperatures and the bike moved and span a lot, so we will have to improve this. Suzuka8h is our favourite race and more or less our home race, because we feel like we are close to home. This is the first year that we focus on just the #7 bike with Pirelli tyres and it’s quite hard, but the whole team is like a family. Broc Parkes already rode a few seasons for us, but this year has a lot of clashing races so he could only take part in Suzuka while normally he is a regular in our team. He knows the team quite well and that makes it easier, but with this configuration and with these tyres it’s a first for him. In BSB he is not allowed electronics so he just completed the first dry laps for him, which is not easy, but we improved quite a lot. Sheridan and Ivan as well, they know the bike and all was good. Nothing got destroyed today and we didn’t take any risks, all parts are in one piece and we are ready for qualifying.”

2015 Suzuka 8 Hour Image Gallery A

2015 Suzuka 8 Hour Image Gallery B