Pol Espargaro is fired up for the 'big challenge' of trying to wrestle Suzuka 8 Hours glory from Honda this weekend.
The Spaniard and Tech 3 MotoGP team-mate Bradley Smith are joining Japanese champion Katsuyuki Nakasuga for the first Factory Yamaha entry at the prestigious endurance race in 13 years.
But Honda - beaten just twice in the last 18 races, including the last five editions - has bolstered its own Suzuka line-up in the form of retired MotoGP superstar Casey Stoner.
The Australian will make his motorcycle racing comeback alongside Takumi Takahashi and Michael Van Der Mark at the Musashi RT Harc-Pro team. Takahashi and van der Mark have won the last two Suzuka races, when they were teamed with Leon Haslam.
“For sure the HARC-Pro Honda team will be hard to beat as they have factory support from Honda, they won the last two years and this year they have some great riders,” Espargaro said.
“We are keeping a close eye on them, but we have to believe in our own bike, team and motivation and believe that we can beat them. It will be a big challenge as this is a new race for me and Bradley but we will do everything we can to win this race for Yamaha.”
Between their MotoGP duties, Espargaro and Smith have completed two Suzuka test sessions. Having never raced a Superbike, Espargaro is still tweaking his elbow-down style but is prepared to adapt if needed.
“If it is not effective, I will change my riding style a bit compared to MotoGP but either way I will manage. The important thing is I have a good feeling on the bike.”
As in MotoGP Espargaro will be racing with Bridgestone tyres.
“The tyres felt really good, quite similar to the MotoGP tyres actually,” he said. “Before I got on the bike I knew the tyres would work well because they're Bridgestone, but the level of grip and feel was actually quite similar to what I have in MotoGP.”
Espargaro also has no doubts over his level of physical fitness for the traditionally sweltering event, but admits recent arm pump issues could be a question mark.
“At the moment I have some problems with arm pump, but in terms of preparing for Suzuka I haven't had to do anything different with my training compared to MotoGP as this is already at a very high level.”
Yamaha hasn't won the Suzuka 8 Hours since Colin Edwards and Noriyuki Haga in 1996.
The full interview with Pol Espargaro can be viewed on the Bridgestone Motorsport website.