SERT’s two-rider set-up stymied by rain in EWC Suzuka qualifying
Yoshimura Suzuki Endurance Racing Team Motul will have it all to do in Sunday’s third round of the FIM Endurance World Championship after the rain-affected Red Rider Qualifying sessions for the Coca-Cola Suzuka 8 Hours.
The championship-leading squad has dropped to a two-rider line-up following Sylvain Guintoli’s withdrawal after a hand injury sustained in testing. With just two riders – Kazuki Watanabe and Gregg Black – only two qualifying groups could be used by the team, with Watanabe a Red Rider and Black Yellow.
Sadly for the squad, both Red Qualifying sessions were wet, meaning slower times. Despite Watanabe setting the second fastest time in Q2, the average of his and Black’s time was naturally slower than the times of rivals with an average taken across three sessions, with the Blue and Yellow sessions relatively dry.
“The conditions were really not favourable for us,” explained Team Manager, Damen Saulnier. “Gregg did good times, but Kazuki rode in the rain. Since we only have two riders, our ranking in practice is not good.
“The main thing is going to be the race. The fact that we only have two riders in such a tough race means we have to adopt a special strategy. But it will be difficult for all the teams. Our goal is to keep an eye on our rivals in the championship, to score as many points as possible and to go to the Bol d’Or still leading the standings.”
The SERT squad had already been dealt a double-blow with first Belgian Xavier Simeon withdrawn after contracting COVID, then Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli withdrawn following a hand injury.
“We have been unlucky since the beginning of the week,” said Team Director, Yohei Kato, gave his take.
“In qualifying, the rain prevented Kazuki from setting a good time, which gave an advantage to the teams with three riders, two of whom were able to ride in dry conditions. But we showed good things during practice and the race is a completely different story! We will do everything to try to defend our title.”
For Black, it was a short-lived role as Rider Captain, but he was soon in the groove back in his regular role as rider.
“The first few days in Suzuka were a bit difficult because we don’t often get the chance to ride in such hot weather. But the free practice ended on a good note. So we were quite confident for qualifying,” he said.
“I benefited from cloudy weather, but the temperature was decreasing, which allowed me to have a good pace and to get some good lap times. We were confident to enter the top 5 but unfortunately Kazuki could never ride in dry conditions. It’s a pity because there were 1 or 2 points to take in qualifying. But the most important thing is the race. It will be very difficult for us. It is a physical race, and we are only two riders. The objective will be to score as many points as possible.”
For Watanabe, it was a frustrating time for his home qualifying.
“We couldn’t apply our initial strategy in qualifying and the weather conditions were bad during my sessions,” he explained.
“The rain came and I couldn’t do anything. I am really sorry for the team and for the many fans who support us. We will start from far back on the grid and that will make the race more difficult. But tomorrow is another day and we will do our best.”