Kawasaki’s Kazuki Watanabe tops Suzuka 8 hours Qualifying

By Trevor Hedge

While the Yamaha triumvirate of Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith had looked almost unbeatable thanks to dominant performances during Thursday practice, it was the Team Green trio of Akira Yanagawa and Kazuki Watanabe plus Indonesian up and comer Haji Ahmed Yudhistira that stole provisional pole position for the 38th running of the world’s most iconic motorcycle endurance race.

It was Kazuki Watanabe that set the scintillating 2m06.656 to put the Kawasaki ZX-10R on pole but with teammates Yanagawa onkly putting in a 2m08.841, and Yudhistra off the pace at 2m10.70, the overall strength of the team is perhaps left wanting in comparison to the lead Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda entrants.

Kazuki Watanabe and Akira Yanagawa
Kazuki Watanabe and Akira Yanagawa

Yoshimura Suzuka took second spot in the qualifying order thanks to a great 2m06.958 from Tsuda. Teammates Alex Lowes put in a very competitive 2m07.717 while Waters stopped the clocks with a 2m09.526.

Josh Waters
Josh Waters

The Yamaha Factory Racing Team’s preparation had some minor hiccups due to crashes by both Bradley Smith and a more spectacular tumble by Pol Espargaro but they regrouped to qualify third thanks to a 2m06.963 from Nakasuga. Overal the Yamaha trio are looking the strongest line-up as Espargaro also managed a 2m07.075 and Smith a 2m07.308. That is a very strong line-up indeed.

Pol Espargaro
Pol Espargaro

Katsuyuki Nakasuga – Yamaha Factory Racing Team – “I was able to get a lap time of 2’06.877 today even though the machine spec we were using was for the race and not for time trials. This really proves how well the machine has progressed. Yesterday, Pol [Espargaro] got the best time overall for the day with 2’07.282, and today I was out to set a top time, so you might say my lap in the 2’06 range was a show of my pride as a rider. I didn’t take risks in order to get that time either; it was a natural result of the way all three of us are inspiring each other. For the second session, the track temperature had risen and I was on used tires, so the 2’08 times I ran made it a good simulation of the race. Of course, we’re all motivated because we’re competing this time as Yamaha’s Factory team, and having two high-level MotoGP riders as my partners has created a great environment to compete in. These factors also bring pressure, but if all three of us do our jobs, I think a good result will follow naturally. We obviously will be going for pole position in the Top 10 Trial and we’ll be focused on getting good lap times.”

Pol Espargaró – Yamaha Factory Racing Team rider – “The bike is working very well and the lap times are good. This is the good part; the bad part was that I crashed. It’s difficult because in MotoGP when someone is slow, the difference is not this big and they usually go off the race line when they see you, while here it’s the opposite, but I’m learning. I don’t know what to expect for tomorrow, because here we ride short laps and tomorrow we have Superpole so we have just one lap, close your eyes and push until the end. It’s a new experience and I will give my 100%. I’m having so much fun and I’m riding this bike with a smile on my face!”

Bradley Smith
Bradley Smith

Bradley Smith – Yamaha Factory Racing Team Rider – “It was unfortunate I crashed this morning. I was playing around with the braking mark and lost the front of the bike. It’s good to have made that mistake, because it shows how easy those kinds of things can happen in the race. We worked on doing a race run first because it was around the same time of Sunday’s race, so it gave everybody an idea of what to expect. In the afternoon I wanted to push, and I was happy with my lap time 2’07,73, which is very close to Nakasuga and Pol’s. I didn’t want to take too many risks and was still third quickest, which is not bad. I was happy, because these were the first fast laps that I’ve done here, because before I’ve just been focusing on race pace. To have three riders within half a second is great, we are definitely the strongest team at the moment.”

Wataru Yoshikawa – Yamaha Factory Racing Team Team Manager – “Today Bradley [Smith] and Pol [Espargaro] each fell once, but the bike was heavily damaged in Pol’s crash. Just as Pol had started one of his flying laps he came up on a slower rider at the Degner Curve and fell when trying to avoid him. Fortunately, there were no rider injuries, but now the team has a lot of work to do to repair the machine. Still, as the air and track temperatures began to rise during the first qualifying session, Nakasuga was able to record a lap time of 2’06.877. Then Pol clocked a 2’07.075 lap in the second session. Bradley had to run the second session on the main machine and was extra careful, but still managed to record a time of 2’07.308. So overall, everything is going well. There are no doubts about the abilities of our three riders, so one thing I want to do is make sure that they remember to keep a good margin of space when they come up on slower riders and to ride without taking unnecessary risks.”

Josh Hook
Josh Hook

The first Honda entrant on the starting grid is the FCC TSR Honda squad comprising of Josh Hook, World Supersport rider Kyle Smith and Moto2 entrant Dominique Aegerter. It was the Swiss rider that proved fastest with a 2m07.798 ahead of Hook’s 2m08.678 and Smith’s 2m09.003.

Casey Stoner was the fastest Honda rider overall, punting the MuSashi RT HARC-Pro Fireblade to a 2m06.963, good enough for fourth fastest time, but due to the A and B group qualifying sessions the squad will start Superpole from fifth, one spot behind the FCC TSR entry. Teammates van der Mark and Takahashi put in 2m08.667 and 2m08.109 respectively.

Casey Stoner
Casey Stoner

Next in the qualifying order is the Honda RT Sakurai entry of Naomichi Uramoto, Jason O’Halloran and Troy Herfoss ahead of Team Kagayama.  Troy Herfoss is still suffering plenty of agony from broken ribs sustained in a recent practice crash.

Troy Herfoss
Troy Herfoss

While the majority of the most competitive teams in the field are riding on Bridgestone rubber, a fact that helps the MotoGP regulars that are making one-off appearances in this Superbike endurance race, Pirelli are also represented by the Monster Energy Yamaha team comprising of Broc Parkes, Ivan Silva and Sheridan Morais. Broc Parkes proved to be the fastest Pirelli rider with his 2m08.973 putting the #7 Yamaha squad 11th on the grid.

Broc Parkes
Broc Parkes

Broc Parkes – Monster Energy Yamaha Austria Racing Team (YART) – “The morning practice was pretty good, we didn’t get many laps in, but we found a bike setting that worked for me, so we went straight in for the qualifier and felt pretty confident. In the first qualifying session I didn’t find a good way, I tried a qualify tyre, but I didn’t get the best from it. In the second session we started on a race tyre and changed the bike a little and then used the qualifying tyre at the end and I was pretty happy with the time. I didn’t expect to do a 2’08 around here, because Pirelli have never been that fast and for us that was a good achievement.  It’s unfortunate that we were in the A group and the level was much faster than the B group else we would have made superpole. We missed it by one place, but in general the team is happy.”

However, also amongst the Bridgestone runners there is a distinct pecking order of who got what tyre in qualifying, not just from team to team, but rider to rider. As in a favoured member of a particular team will get access to better qualifying rubber than the other members of theat same team. This needs to be taken into account when comparing qualifying times in the same team across three different riders, as only one of those three riders might have been given access to the top-spec qualifying tyre.

Victorian Phil Czaj is competing with the Nanotop HMF Suzuki squad and the team will start from 30th on the grid.

Phil Czaj
Phil Czaj

Superpole Trials for the Top Ten will take place from 1530 on Saturday afternoon while the race is schedule to get underway at 1130 Sunday morning.

Suzuka 8 Hours 2015 – Qualifying Results

1   Team Green 2’06.656 TEAM GREEN KAWASAKI Team Green

2   YOSHIMURA SUZUKI Shell ADVANCE 2’06.958 YOSHIMURA SUZUKI YOSHIMURA SUZUKI Shell ADVANCE

3   Yamaha Factory Racing Team 2’06.877 YAMAHA FAC YAMAHA Yamaha Factory Racing Team

4   F.C.C. TSR Honda 2’07.798 JPN HONDA F.C.C. TSR Honda

5   MuSashi RT HARC-PRO 2’06.963 JPN HONDA MuSashi RT HARC-PRO

6   Honda DREAM RT SAKURAI 2’08.693 HONDA DREA HONDA Honda DREAM RT SAKURAI

7   Team KAGAYAMA 2’07.594 TEAM KAGAY SUZUKI Team KAGAYAMA

8   EVA RT TEST TYPE-01 TRICK STAR 2’09.117 EVA RT TES KAWASAKI EVA RT TEST TYPE-01 TRICK STAR

9   TOHO Racing with MORIWAKI 2’07.622 TOHO RACIN HONDA TOHO Racing with MORIWAKI

10   MotoMap SUPPLY 2’09.215 JPN SUZUKI MotoMap SUPPLY

11   Monster Energy Yamaha-YART 2’08.973 FRA YAMAHA Monster Energy Yamaha-YART

12   Au & Teluru Kohara RT 2’09.278 JPN HONDA Au & Teluru Kohara RT

13   Satu HATI Honda Team Asia 2’09.432 SATU HATI HONDA Satu HATI Honda Team Asia

14   BMW MOTORRAD France TEAM PENZ13 2’09.325 NA BMW BMW MOTORRAD France TEAM PENZ13

15   Honda Suzuka Racing Team 2’09.432 HONDA SUZU HONDA Honda Suzuka Racing Team

16   GMT94 Yamaha 2’09.871 NA YAMAHA GMT94 Yamaha

17   SRC Kawasaki 2’09.556 FRA KAWASAKI SRC Kawasaki

18   Suzuki Endurance Racing Team 2’10.222 FRA SUZUKI Suzuki Endurance Racing Team

19   CONFIA Flex Motorrad39 2’10.169 JPN BMW CONFIA Flex Motorrad39

20   Honda Endurance Racing CBR 2’10.342 GBR HONDA Honda Endurance Racing EWC

21   Team Bolliger Switzerland 2’12.099 NA KAWASAKI Team Bolliger Switzerland

22   Team Tenmei Sakura Project 2’10.971 JPN KAWASAKI Team Tenmei Sakura Project

23   Team Tras 135HP 2’12.548 TEAM TRAS BMW Team Tras 135HP

24   Honda Kumamoto Racing 2’11.512 HONDA KUMA HONDA Honda Kumamoto Racing

25   Team Hashimotogumi 2’12.845 TEAM HASHI SUZUKI Team Hashimotogumi

26   Y’s distraction Racing 2’11.833 JPN HONDA Y’s distraction Racing

27   HLO Racing with RANGER & Garage36 2’13.001 JPN SUZUKI HLO Racing with RANGER & Garage36

28   Team Honda Technical College 2’13.351 JPN HONDA Team Honda Technical College

29   Team April Moto/Motors Events 2’13.173 NA SUZUKI Team April Moto/Motors Events

30   TEAM HOOTERS KTM with Syota SAITO 2’13.558 TEAM HOOTE KTM TEAM HOOTERS KTM with Syota SAITO

Kazuki Watanabe
Kazuki Watanabe
Casey Stoner
Casey Stoner
Troy Herfoss
Troy Herfoss