24 July 2015
Suzuka 8 Hours: Spills but ‘strongest team’ for Espargaro, Smith
“To have three riders within half a second is great, we are definitely the strongest team at the moment” - Bradley Smith.
MotoGP riders Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith each suffered a fall during the second day of preparations for their debut in the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race.
But both escaped injury and, led by experienced team-mate Katsuyuki Nakasuga, the Factory Yamaha squad safely claimed the top 10 place needed for Saturday's Superpole.
While only the best time by each team counted towards Superpole entry, all three Yamaha riders set a high standard in their individual qualifying sessions.
Nakasuga delivered the second best time of the day, 0.221s behind Kawasaki's Kazuki Watanabe. Espargaro was just 0.198s slower than Nakasuga for the fifth fastest combined time and Smith 0.233s further back in sixth.
No other team saw all its riders feature in the top ten Friday lap times.
But the day wasn't without incident for the #21 R1: Smith slipped off in free practice, while Espargaro suffered a big accident in the second of his two qualifying sessions.
"The bike is working very well and the lap times are good. This is the good part; the bad part was that I crashed,” said the Spaniard, who was caught out while trying to pass a slower rider on the approach to the hairpin.
“It's difficult because in MotoGP when someone is slow, the difference is not this big and they usually go off the race line when they see you, while here it's the opposite, but I'm learning.”
Smith said his morning fall acted as a kind of wake-up call for how easily things can go wrong.
“I was playing around with the braking mark and lost the front of the bike. It's good to have made that mistake, because it shows how easy those kinds of things can happen in the race,” he said.
The Englishman, who was pitted against retired double MotoGP champion Casey Stoner for his qualifying sessions, added:
“In the afternoon I wanted to push, and I was happy with my lap time [2m 7.308], which is very close to Nakasuga and Pol's. I didn't want to take too many risks and was still third quickest, which is not bad. I was happy, because these were the first fast laps that I've done here, because before I've just been focusing on race pace.
“To have three riders within half a second is great, we are definitely the strongest team at the moment,” Smith confirmed.
Looking ahead to Saturday, Espargaro said: “I don't know what to expect for tomorrow, because here we ride short laps and tomorrow we have Superpole so we have just one lap, close your eyes and push until the end.
“It's a new experience and I will give my 100%. I'm having so much fun and I'm riding this bike with a smile on my face!"
Nakasuga admitted he had been out to salvage some pride after being outpaced by Espargaro on day one.
"I was able to get a lap time of 2m 6.877 today even though the machine spec we were using was for the race and not for time trials. This really proves how well the machine has progressed,” he began.
“Yesterday, Pol [Espargaro] got the best time overall for the day with 2'07.282, and today I was out to set a top time, so you might say my lap in the 2m 6s range was a show of my pride as a rider. I didn't take risks in order to get that time either; it was a natural result of the way all three of us are inspiring each other.
“Of course, we're all motivated because we're competing this time as Yamaha's Factory team, and having two high-level MotoGP riders as my partners has created a great environment to compete in.
“These factors also bring pressure, but if all three of us do our jobs, I think a good result will follow naturally. We obviously will be going for pole position in the Top 10 Trial and we'll be focused on getting good lap times."
Team manager Wataru Yoshikawa summed up the highs and lows from Friday:
"Today Bradley [Smith] and Pol [Espargaro] each fell once, but the bike was heavily damaged in Pol's crash. Just as Pol had started one of his flying laps he came up on a slower rider at the Degner Curve and fell when trying to avoid him. Fortunately, there were no rider injuries, but now the team has a lot of work to do to repair the machine.
“Still, as the air and track temperatures began to rise during the first qualifying session, Nakasuga was able to record a lap time of 2m 6.877s. Then Pol clocked a 2m 7.075s lap in the second session [just before his fall]. Bradley had to run the second session on the main machine and was extra careful, but still managed to record a time of 2m 7.308s.
“So overall, everything is going well. There are no doubts about the abilities of our three riders, so one thing I want to do is make sure that they remember to keep a good margin of space when they come up on slower riders and to ride without taking unnecessary risks."
Yamaha has put together a full factory entry to try and claim its first Suzuka win since 1996. Stoner has joined reigning champion's Musashi RT Harc-Pro Honda for his first two-wheel race since the 2012 Valencia MotoGP.
Suzuka 8 Hours: Top 10 teams through to Pole Shootout
1. #87 Team Green Yanagawa/Watanabe/Yudhistira (Group A)
2. #12 Yoshimura Suzuki Tsuda/Lowes/Waters (Group B)
3. #21 Yamaha Factory Racing Nakasuga/Espargaro/Smith (Group A)
4. #778 FCC TSR Honda Hook/Aegerter/Smith (Group B)
5. #634 Musashi RT Harc-Pro Takahashi/VD Mark/Stoner (Group A)
6. #71 Sakurai Honda Herfoss/O'Halloran/Uramoto (Group B)
7. #17 Team Kagayama Kagayama/Haga/Kiyonari (Group A)
8. #01 Trickstar Deguchi/Izutsu/Nigon (Group B)
9. #104 Toho with Moriwaki Yamaguchi/Elias/Wilairot (Group A)
10. #32 MotoMap Supply Konno/Aoki/Ogata (Group B)
Unofficial top 10 riders list:
Ranking by best lap time set during qualifying
1. Watanabe Kawasaki 2m 6.656s
2. Nakasuga Yamaha 2m 6.877s
3. Tsuda Suzuki 2m 6.958s
4. Stoner Honda 2m 6.963s
5. Espargaro Yamaha 2m 7.075s
6. B. Smith Yamaha 2m 7.308s
7. Kagayama Suzuki 2m 7.594s
8. Yamaguchi Honda 2m 7.622s
9. Lowes Suzuki 2m 7.717s
10. Aegerter Honda 2m 7.798s
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