Yamaha Press Office
Rising above what has been one of the most challenging Coca-Cola Suzuka 8 Hours weeks of recent years, the Yamaha Factory Racing Team delivered an heroic effort today to secure an incredible fourth consecutive victory in the iconic World Endurance race. Fellow Yamaha competitors GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team came tantalizingly close to securing the 2017/18 Endurance World title, missing out by the narrowest of margins to take second on the podium. YART Yamaha Official EWC Team had a less fortunate Suzuka 8 Hours experience, forced to retire before the halfway point.
As race day dawned this morning, Yamaha Factory Racing riders Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark prepared for the 2018 Suzuka 8 Hours with a huge challenge in front of them. Following a big crash in practice, it was decided that key team member and local hero Katsuyuki Nakasuga would not ride in the race as a shoulder injury prevented him from riding at 100% fitness. Undaunted by the setback, Van der Mark took control for the opening stint, a race start that was itself a major challenge with rapidly changing weather bringing full wet conditions just seconds before the off.
Remaining calm the Dutchman didn't put a foot wrong, working his way up from fifth to take his position as a race lead contender before handing over to teammate Lowes. The Brit picked up where Van der Mark left off, and was leading the race two hours in. The team would quickly encounter a safety car, which proved to be the first of many over the next hours, rain, sun, crashes and spilt oil on track all causing the yellow flags and a re-shuffle of the order. The time spent in between the safety cars was a pitched battle between Yamaha Factory Racing and race rivals Kawasaki, the two racing less than a second apart for countless laps as they fought for the lead.
A combination of race strategy, safety car interventions and pure consistent race speed ultimately gave Lowes and Van der Mark the edge over their rivals in green, however the final hour of the race saw the Factory Honda effort give it their best shot to close the gap. Having made it this far, the two Yamaha heroes, supported in spirit by Nakasuga-san in the pit garage, kept an unbeatable pace on their YZF-R1. Lowes eventually crossed the finish line after eight hours over 30 seconds clear at the front to record the team‘s incredible fourth consecutive Suzuka 8 Hours victory. In doing so, he and Van der Mark wrote yet another page in the history books for Yamaha Factory Racing and confirmed their status as heroes, overcoming any challenge in their path to reach the top step of the podium.
The Yamaha Factory Racing Team Manager, Wataru Yoshikawa, commented:
"Alex and Michael raced really well right from the start against our chief rivals that were also fielding riders from the World Superbike Championship and from the British Superbike Championship. I actually think that helped them focus right off the bat. The weather kept changing all the time during the race and our team obviously doesn‘t have a bird‘s-eye-view of the circuit, so we believed in the skills and judgement of our riders, and that worked really well for us. We had no mistakes and fought well the whole race and I think that‘s what helped us get this win, and though he didn‘t enter the race, Nakasuga was behind Alex and Michael the whole time and I feel that was the biggest factor for this fourth victory."
The combination of the two World Superbike riders, Nakasuga‘s invaluable contribution over the race week and the efforts of the entire Yamaha Factory Racing Team have turned a Suzuka week of surprises, rain, a typhoon and unforeseen challenges into an incredible success story.
KATSUYUKI NAKASUGA - 41ST SUZUKA 8 HOURS ENDURANCE ROAD RACE - YAMAHA FACTORY RACING TEAM
I didn‘t race at all today so I feel a bit stressed about that but I am happy that throughout the year in the All Japan Series I have been able to build a bike that got us to the win here at the 8 Hours. I am also so pleased and really excited about the two wonderful riders that rode today. It was a very exciting race and I really wanted to race too, so I regret that, but I‘m so happy that, we Yamaha, made new history in the 8 Hours of Suzuka. We won‘t stop here, we will continue to develop the bike and continue to try and win more races here.
ALEX LOWES - 41ST SUZUKA 8 HOURS ENDURANCE ROAD RACE - YAMAHA FACTORY RACING TEAM
I feel really good. Firstly, even though Nakasuga didn't ride today, he is a massive part of the project. I really enjoy coming here, the atmosphere we have in the team is really great. In today‘s race the bike was amazing; it was working really well. It was nice to have a strong fast bike; it made it easier to pass in the race, so a massive thank you to Yamaha for giving it to us. Obviously the race was quite stressful at times, lots of safety cars and lots of difficult weather conditions but it all seemed to fall when Michael was riding the bike. I certainly had a lot easier race than him, so a massive thank you to him also for his effort. The second half of the race we just had to be smart and get the bike to the finish. For me to win three in a row is fantastic, its four for the team and three for me so I‘m really happy, hopefully I can come back and do it again next year.
MICHAEL VAN DER MARK - YAMAHA FACTORY RACING TEAM
It‘s been a really tough race today, it started yesterday when we knew that Nakasuga was unfortunately not fit to ride, then I was told I was going to start the race, that was a bit stressful! I think it has been my most difficult Suzuka 8 Hours with all the conditions, it kept changing so quickly, and the first stint I think was one and a half stints, where I thought I had the worst but then when I did my third one I was on the bike for an hour and 40 minutes because of safety cars, rain, then dry so it was really tough. At the end we managed a nice gap and Alex finished it off really nicely. I‘m really happy with the weekend, the team had a plan and they never changed it. Even though some other bikes looked stronger at times we always kept doing our thing and the results are clear. Next year I hope to be back with Alex and Katsuyuki riding here again!