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Old 07-25-2015, 04:50 PM   #1
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Suzuka 8 Hours Top Ten Trial: Espargaró stuns with record lap

Just a handful of hours after surviving a scary crash, Pol Espargaró manage to beat all his rivals in today’s spectacular one-shot qualifying session reserved for the 10 quickest teams in yesterday’s provisional qualifying for the 38th running of the Suzuka 8 Hours. Each team fielded two riders for one flying lap each, alone on the track as it used to be with Superpole.

This year’s 8 Hours edition managed to bring together riders from championships as different as MotoGP, Moto2, World Superbike, the MFJ Japanese National Championship, Asian Championship, Australian Championship, British SBK, and even retired riders. The list of name included Espargaró, Bradley Smith, Dominique Aegerter, Alex Lowes, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Kazuki Watanabe, Takumi Takahashi, Katsuyuki Nakasuga…and Casey Stoner.

With names like this, expectations were high, and the best thing to say is that nobody was disappointed; the show was simply amazing. Three riders basically got all the attention: Espargaró, his teammate in the Yamaha Factory Racing Team squad, Nakasuga, and obviously Stoner. All three were to run in the second group of riders, which represented the first five classified teams.

Espargaró was the first to get on the track, and on his flying lap he gave absolutely all he had inside. Using soft tires he had tried for the first time in the morning warm-up, he literally flew at Suzuka. The provisional pole was Kagayama’s 2:07.697…Espargaró smashed it with an unbelievable lap of 2:06.00.

“The tires gave me incredible traction”, explained the Spaniard later of the ultra-soft compound Bridgestones. “I knew that I had done a very good first T1 (split), so arriving at the chicane I said to myself not to be stupid throwing it all away under braking to gain a tenth. So I braked quite conservatively…I probably lost two-tenths. But on the rest of the track I had been so fast than even so, I did a very good lap time.”

A hush came over the Suzuka circuit when Stoner jumped on the track. After more then two years, it was the first time he raced anyone, and for the very first time in his life he participated in a one-lap timing challenge…and Stoner didn’t disappoint. The two-time MotoGP champion wasn’t able to beat Espargaro’s lap time, finishing three tenths behind…but he was by far the quickest rider on any Honda in the field. Frustration for some, maybe, but “chapeau” (“respect”) for his performance. Once again Stoner showed he still has the speed and competitive instinct.

But the real tension came when Espargaro’s teammate Nakasuga entered the track. He had seen Espargaró’s astonishing lap, and right after coming out of his “concentration room,” in a somewhat stoic scene, he said goodbye to his two sons and his wife. Nakasuga had shown the capability to be incredible quick on the R1 that was developed under his watch during all the practice sessions, so if there was anyone who was going to beat Espargaró’s time, it was the Japanese rider.

He rode pushing his bike and the extra-soft Bridgestone race tires to the limit. In the final T4 split, which includes Suzuka’s legendary chicane, he had been by far the quickest the whole weekend; it was Nakasuga’s ace up his sleeve. But even doing this part of the track better then ever, Nakasuga came up 0.059 seconds short. The Japanese rider’s frustration was visibly immense; in “his house” and with the bike he helped develop, he was beaten by his teammate, something that cannot be crueler to a rider as competitive as he is.

How this jealousy will affect the team performance tomorrow in the race—if it even does—remains to be seen. The Yamaha Factory Racing Team starts the 38th edition of the Suzuka 8 Hours as the clear favorite. They have been the fastest throughout practice. The question mark is how they manage the necessary rhythm for an endurance race. Because it cannot be forgotten that the 8 Hours is an endurance race, so consistency and staying upright is what’s all about.

Stoner’s MuSASHI RT HARC-Pro Honda team and Yoshimura Suzuki look on the paper to be the Yamaha team’s biggest threats. But also on this list is the Kawasaki Team Green squad, the Fujiwara Suzuki team, and the FCC TSR Honda team will be ready to take advantage of any mistakes or mishaps. Tomorrow’s Suzuka 8 Hours race looks to be another epic event.

Suzuka 8 Hours Final Qualifying Top Ten Trial teams:
1. Yamaha Factory Racing Team | Katsuyuki Nakasuga/Pol Espargaró/Bradley Smith | Yamaha | 2:06.000
2. Team Green | Akira Yanagawa/Kazuki Watanabe/Haji Ahmad Yudhistira | Kawasaki | 2:06.287
3. MuSASHI RT HARC-Pro | Takumi Takahashi/Michael Van der Mark/Casey Stoner | Honda | 2:06.335
4. Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance | Takuya Tsuda/Alex Lowes/Josh Waters | Suzuki | 2:06.516
5. Team Kagayama | Yukio Kagayama/Noriyuki Haga/Ryuichi Kiyonari | Suzuki | 2:07.990
6. FCC TSR Honda | Josh Hook/Dominique Aegerter/Kyle Smith | Honda | 2:08.076
7. Toho Racing Moriwaki | Tatsuya Yamaguchi/Toni Elias/Ratthapark Wilairot | Honda | 2:08.382
8. EVA RT Test Type-01 Trick Star | Osamu Deguchi/Hitoyasu Izutsu/Erwan Nigon | Kawasaki | 2:08.950
9. Honda Dream RT Sakurai Honda | Troy Herfoss/Jason O'Halloran/Naomichi Uramoto | Honda | 2:09.409
10. MotoMap Supply | Yoshihiro Konno/Nobuatsu Aoki/Hideyuki Ogata | Suzuki | 2:11.019

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