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Old 07-27-2015, 05:30 PM   #1
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Suzuka 8 Hours: Yamaha Factory Racing Team overcomes difficulties to win

After two days of practice and qualifying for the 38th running of the Suzuka 8 Hours race, the Yamaha Factory Racing Team of Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith were the clear favorite to win. And this time the reality came out in their favor, although it was colored with a certain dose of suspense. The trio of Nakasuga/Espargaró/Smith became the first Yamaha team to win the Suzuka 8 Hours since Colin Edwards/Noriyuki Haga’s triumph back in 1996—breaking a 19-year drought. The largely overlooked F.C.C. TSR Honda squad of Josh Hook, Dominique Aegerter, and Kyle Smith took second place, while the privateer Team Kagayama squad of Yukio Kagayama, Haga, and Ryuichi Kiyonari once again grabbed third.

The Yamaha Factory Racing Team’s first problem happened at the start of the race. As Nakasuga ran over to the R1 in the “Le Mans style” start, it refused to run properly as he began to let out the clutch. It finally cleared up a few seconds later, but not until a good many riders had already got past. By the time he headed into the first turn, Nakasuga was mired down around 20th place. By the end of the first hour, the Japanese rider had scythed his way up to third.

Drama then ensued when Casey Stoner took the lead in his first stint on the MuSashi RT HARC-Pro Honda CBR, only to crash heavily several laps later in exactly the same spot as Espargaró on Friday when the bike’s throttle inexplicably stuck open. Video of the crash shows Stoner pulling in the clutch but running out of pavement, then being forced to lowside the Honda to avoid a frontal impact with the wall outside of the wide-open fourth-gear corner. Unfortunately, Stoner wasn’t as lucky as Espargaró; the Australian suffered a fracture of his right shoulder blade and his left tibia in the crash. The Honda was too heavily damaged in the incident for the team to continue in the race, ending the day prematurely for the MuSashi RT HARC-Pro Honda team.

More problems ensued for the Yamaha Factory Racing Team during Espargaró’s first stint when he was penalized with a “ride through” penalty imposed because he had passed a rider while circulating behind a safety car (one of six safety car periods during the 2015 Suzuka 8 Hours, one of the largest number of interruptions in memory). Having scheduled the race perfectly to compensate for their need of one more pit stop than the other teams—fuel consumption showed to be the only weak point of the extremely fast and competitive new Yamaha R1—the time lost from the ride-through penalty was equivalent to an extra pit stop. This caused a lot of consternation in the Yamaha garage.

When Espargaró went out for his last run in the 5th hour with two more pit stops to still be done (versus one for the F.C.C. TSR Honda Team that was in second position), their lead was a little more than 30 seconds. Considering that the time lost in every pit stop was around one minute, the Yamaha team was in a do-or-die situation. Thus, Espargaró jumped on the R1 with clear instructions: to push as hard as he could to increase the gap to at least a minute and hand the bike over to Nakasuga. The Japanese rider would then have to make the difference before Bradley Smith’s last half-hour night run.

Despite two more safety car periods that closed up the pack, Bradley Smith eventually crossed the finish line for the victory with Yamaha’s pitbox exploding in happiness. The second main goal of Yamaha Motors 60 Anniversary year had been reached. The F.C.C. TSR Honda team comprised a group of young guns—Australian Josh Hook (22), Brit Kyle Smith (23) and Swiss Dominique Aegerter (24)—finished in second position, somewhat saving a little honor for Honda. By contrast, Team Katayama—made up of veterans Yukio Kagayama (41), Noriyuki Haga (40), and Ryuichi Kiyonari (32)—took their privateer GSXR to the third step of the podium by managing the race beautifully.

2015 Suzuka 8 Hours race results:
1. Yamaha Factory Racing Team | Katsuyuki Nakasuga (JPN)/Pol Espargaró (SPA) /Bradley Smith (GBR) | Yamaha
2. F.C.C. TSR Honda | Josh Hook (AUS) /Dominique Aegerter (SUI)/Kyle Smith (GBR) | Honda
3. Team Kagayama | Yukio Kagayama (JPN)/Noriyuki Haga (JPN)/Ryuichi Kiyonari (JPN) | Suzuki
4. Suzuki Endurance Racing Team | Vincente Philippe (FRA)/Anthony Delhalle (FRA)/Etienne Masson (FRA) | Suzuki
5. Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance | Takuya Tsuda (JPN)/Alex Lowes (GBR)/Josh Waters (AUS)| Suzuki
6. GMT94 Yamaha | David Checa (SPA)/Kenny Foray (FRA)/Mathieu Gines (FRA) | Yamaha
7. Honda Endurance Racing | Julian Da Costa (FRA)/Sebastian Gimbert (FRA)/Freddy Foray (FRA) | Honda
8. Honda Suzuka Racing Team | Daijiro Hiura (JPN)/Takashi Yasuda (JPN)/Yudai Kamei (JPN) | Honda
9. Team Green | Akira Yanagawa (JPN)/Kazuki Watanabe (JPN)/Haji Ahmad Yudhistira (IDN) | Kawasaki
10. MotoMap Supply | Yoshihiro Konno (JPN)/Nobuatsu Aoki (JPN)/Hideyuki Ogata (JPN) | Suzuki

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