Yamaha Factory triumphs again at Suzuka
Yamaha Factory Racing Team has won the Suzuka 8 Hours for the second consecutive year. Pol Espargaró, Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Alex Lowes steered the Yamaha #21 to victory, ahead of Kawasaki’s factory Team Green and Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance.
As in 2015, Yamaha Factory Racing Team swept the board at the Suzuka 8 Hours, claiming both pole position and a win. Pol Espargaró, Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Alex Lowes led the race for practically all of the 218 laps. Ryuichi Kiyonari, who got off to a brilliant start in the saddle of Team Kagayama’s Suzuki, was the only one to briefly wrest the lead out of their grasp. Head and shoulders above the others with a fastest lap of 2’08.411, Yamaha Factory Racing Team widened the gap with the other potential winners as the hours slipped by. Second past the finish line, Team Green ran a superb race with riders Akira Yanagawa, Leon Haslam and Kazuki Watanabe. Team Green and Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance had waged a heated battle for the second step of the podium in the final few hours of the race, but Team Green managed to turn the duel to its advantage. 2009 was the last time there was a Kawasaki on the Suzuka 8 Hours podium. Eva RT Trick Star too had finished second that year. Musashi RT Harc-Pro was missing from the roll call of favourites. The Honda #634 had to withdraw because of engine failure.
FIM EWC championship thrown wide open
YART Yamaha Official EWC Team finished fourth – the best-placed of the FIM EWC championship teams – and is now back in the running for the world title, on par with Team SRC Kawasaki and just ahead of Suzuki Endurance Racing Team and F.C.C. TSR Honda. All three teams, likely candidates for a FIM EWC 2016 championship win, had a tough time of it at Suzuka. Team SRC Kawasaki looked settled in 10th place after a very focused start by Gregory Leblanc, Matthieu Lagrive and Jérémy Guarnoni. But a rear wheel axle issue forced them to withdraw six hours into the race. Suzuki Endurance Racing Team was among the top 10 in the first hour, but after a stop-and-go penalty for a jump start and Vincent Philippe crashing due to a passing backmarker, the team finished 23rd. F.C.C. TSR Honda started from 4th on the grid and did battle with the leading pack for the first few laps, but slid down the rankings after Dominique Aegerter crashed on the 5th lap. F.C.C. TSR Honda finished 18th.
Team April Moto Motors Events still leading the championship
Moto Map Supply were fifth past the finish line with Josh Waters, Nobuatsu Aoki and Yoshihiro Konno, ahead of another Suzuki – the Team Kagayama machine. Yukio Kagayama, Naomichi Uramoto and Ryuichi Kiyonari were slowed down by an especially laborious refuelling stop, followed by a flat tyre. Eva RT Trick Star finished 7th with riders Osamu Deguchi, Hitoyasu Izutsu and Erwan Nigon. This competitive Japanese team has announced its intention of taking part in the entire FIM EWC championship next season.
A tight group of four Japanese teams on Hondas finished in 8th to 11th place: Honda Team Asia, Mistresa with ATS, Teluru Kohara RT (who’d got Damian Cudlin on board) and Toho Racing. Team R2CL, Honda Endurance Racing, GMT94 Yamaha and Team Bolliger Switzerland finished in the top 15. GMT94 Yamaha had the best grid position of these four permanent FIM EWC teams, but a rear wheel issue followed by electrical problems slowed them down. Team April Moto Motors Events was 19th at the finish. The upsets that afflicted the favourites at Suzuka enabled this French privateer to hold on to the top spot in the provisional FIM EWC championship standings, with an 8-point lead over Team SRC Kawasaki and YART Yamaha Official EWC Team.
So the teams will have to do all their catching up in the last round of the season: the Oschersleben 8 Hours, scheduled for Saturday 27 August. With only 17 points separating the top seven teams, the last race of the season is set to be a thrilling one. The Oschersleben 8 Hours winner will pick up 35 points.