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Yamaha Factory Racing Write History with Incredible Suzuka 8 Hours Victory

July 29, 2018


July 29, 2018 ― 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 a heroic effort today to secure an incredible fourth consecutive victory in the iconic Endurance World Championship (EWC) finale. Fellow Yamaha competitors GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team came tantalisingly close to securing the 2017-2018 EWC title, missing out by the narrowest of margins to take 2nd on the podium. The 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 Team 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 Le Mans start and opening stint, a major challenge itself with rapidly changing weather bringing full wet conditions just seconds before the lights went off.

Remaining calm, the Dutchman didn't put a foot wrong, working his way up from 5th to take his position as a race lead contender before handing the #21 YZF-R1 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, with rain, sun, crashes and spilt oil on track all causing the yellow flags to come out and a re-shuffle of the order. The time spent in between the safety cars was a pitched battle between the Yamaha Factory Racing Team and race rivals Kawasaki Team Green, 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 fourth consecutive Suzuka 8 Hours victory for the team. In doing so, he and van der Mark wrote yet another page in the history books for the Yamaha Factory Racing Team and confirmed their status as racing heroes, overcoming any challenge in their path to reach the top step of the podium.

The combination of the two Yamaha World Superbike riders, Nakasuga’s invaluable contribution in preparing the bike and work during the race week, and the efforts of the entire Yamaha Factory Racing Team have turned a Suzuka week of surprises, with rain, a typhoon and unforeseen challenges, into an incredible success story.

The GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team came to Suzuka determined to give their all in the fight for the World Championship victory. Starting from 14th on the grid, they were also faced with the same series of challenges that befell the #21 factory team, with the rapidly changing weather turning the track surface from dry to wet to dry again, and numerous extended safety car interruptions disrupting their rhythm. This all made the challenge of fighting for the title more difficult. The first four hours of racing saw a lower race pace as riders David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Mike Di Meglio worked through the weather. As the time tipped over the halfway mark, the team settled in, the pace picked up and their position climbed.

As the clock ticked down, the team found themselves in a battle with their title rivals FCC TSR Honda, the two machines less than a second apart at times. Unfortunately they were unable to best them, eventually crossing the line after eight hours in sixth position to claim a worthy runner-up position in the Endurance World Championship to end their season and also, sadly, their current EWC efforts.

The YART Yamaha Official EWC Team’s 2018 Suzuka 8 Hours proved a disappointing one, the promise of a strong result lost in the first half of the race. Australian Broc Parkes lost several positions from the start grid in the rain conditions, but was making up time before handing over to teammate Marvin Fritz who put the pressure on. Fritz delivered a highly competitive pace to ultimately bring the #7 YZF-R1 into seventh position.

Teammate Takuya Fujita then took his turn and was eager to make an impression in front of his home crowd. A combination of fresh tyres and nervousness at his first ride unfortunately led to a highside on his first lap, causing major damage to the bike. He was able to push it back to the pits and the team worked hard to rebuild it and re-join with Parkes back onboard down in 55th place. The Australian was however unable to find a rhythm with the quickly-built machine, and missing the proper setup of their race bike, the team made the decision to withdraw for safety reasons.

Yamaha Factory Racing Team
Race result: 1st (8:00’01.728, 199 laps)

Katsuyuki Nakasuga

“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

“I feel really good. Firstly, even though Nakasuga-san 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 so 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; it’s 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

“It’s been a really tough race today; it started yesterday when we knew that Nakasuga-san 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 it was 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 Nakasuga-san riding here again!”

Team Manager Wataru Yoshikawa

“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.”

GMT94 Yamaha EWC Official Team
Race result: 6th (8:01’48.403, 196 laps) EWC ranking: 2nd

David Checa

“When you lose it is not nice, but before you learn to win you have to lose some times. For three years we have had a really good run, two second positions and one world title in the championship. For sure I wanted to win but in the end it’s like this and we finish 2nd, but that is racing. I don't know what I will do next year, but I hope I will do my best in whatever I do and for the other teammates it is the same.”

Niccolò Canepa

“I’m really happy about the season and the last two years. They have been the best of my career, two second places and one championship title. This year we had some bad luck but we tried our best so we have no regrets. It is sad to end this page of my book with GMT but it has been an amazing time and now it’s time to think about the future, that is also Yamaha. I am so proud to continue to be part of the Yamaha family for one more year.”

Mike Di Meglio

“Today was a very good race, it was very hard because conditions changed every time with the rain. We tried our hardest and pushed for the top six. As the end for GMT here in Suzuka, we would have liked to be world champions but when we crashed in Le Mans we were in a difficult position. Every race we have recovered some points and I think we can be happy with our result. I want to say thank you to GMT94 and my teammates for two fantastic years in endurance. I am disappointed for them to stop in this championship, and I wish them the best for their future in their new challenge. Thank you to Yamaha for giving me such an amazing opportunity. Here in Japan we have felt like superstars and anything we have needed we have been given.”

Team Manager Christophe Guyot

“It was a very difficult start for us, I don't know what happened because it was difficult for us to find a good pace and the first hours were complicated. Then, we found a good pace, a good strategy, and we were able to be so fast at the end of the race. My mechanics’ efforts in the pit stops were incredible, I’m very happy because in the four last hours we were very strong. The weather was very difficult and the track conditions were tough and there was a lot of pressure. In the end we can be very proud because we finished all races since 2015 with the YZF-R1. We have in the four years with this bike been runner-up three times in the title chase and one time World Champion. We have also been World Champion with the previous R1. We can be happy, and of course congratulations to the incredible Yamaha factory team for four consecutive wins in a row. It is fantastic! Congratulations to Yamaha and to the YZF-R1!”

YART Yamaha Official EWC Team
Race result: RETIRED EWC ranking: 16th

Broc Parkes

“It was disappointing unfortunately that Takuya crashed. I think he had a lot of pressure for his home race. He crashed on the first flying lap, maybe a combination of new tyres, too much angle and opened the gas too much. From my side, my first stint I was a little bit slow from the start but I didn’t know that they didn't have tyre warmers on the wet tyres so that’s probably why the first laps were a bit slow. Later in my ride I got my rhythm and was one of the fastest guys on track when the track was dry. In general we were in a good position after the second stint, in 7th, which is good for the Suzuka 8 Hours. It’s unfortunate that Takuya crashed otherwise I think we could have been in fourth or fifth position at the end if I look at the final times now.”

Marvin Fritz

“It was a really tough race today with the track conditions always changing, but I was able to get a good rhythm with my riding and I did my best. I passed the bike to Takuya after my stint but I think the track was much more slippery than he thought it would be, and it’s really a shame that he crashed, but this is how things can go in racing. But I knew that if we were able to keep riding at our pace, we could reach the leaders and I think we had a good race week overall. For me, it’s my second time to ride at the Suzuka 8 Hours for Yamaha and there was a lot of pressure, but I was able to do my best-ever lap here so I think I’ve made a good step forward.”

Takuya Fujita

“I crashed shortly after beginning my first stint... The team worked so hard to fix the bike but my crash was the reason we had to retire from the race. We were in range to aim for the top five, so I feel incredibly sorry to the team, my teammates and Mandy for the way things ended. I’m also disappointed that I couldn’t answer the expectations of our fans, but I want to say thank you to them all for cheering for YART right to the end.”

Team Manager Mandy Kainz

“This season has been so up and down, it’s a season we can move forward from. This is Suzuka, for sure Takuya tried to do his best, he risked probably too much and that was unfortunately it. Both Broc and Marvin did a great job to get us into good contention but unfortunately that was the end of our chances here today. Now we are already looking forward to the new season.”

2018 Suzuka 8 Hours Race Results
Pos. # Riders Machine Team Laps
1 21 Katsuyuki NAKASUGA Yamaha Factory Racing Team Yamaha 199 laps
2 33 Takumi TAKAHASHI Red Bull Honda with Japan Post Honda 199 laps
3 11 Kazuma WATANABE Kawasaki Team GREEN Kawasaki 198 laps
Jonathan REA
4 95 Hideyuki OGATA S-PULSE DREAM RACING・IAI Suzuki 196 laps
5 5 Freddy FORAY F.C.C.TSR Honda France Honda 196 laps
6 94 Mike DI MEGLIO GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team Yamaha 196 laps
Niccolō CANEPA
7 22 Md. Zaqhwan ZAIDI Honda Asia-Dream Racing Honda 195 laps
Andi Farid IZDIHAR
Ratthapark WILAIROT
Sebastien GIMBERT
10 12 Sylvain GUINTOLI YOSHIMURA SUZUKI MOTUL Suzuki 194 laps
Takuya TSUDA
Bradley RAY
R 7 Broc PARKES YART Yamaha Official EWC Team Yamaha 65 laps
Marvin FRITZ
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