25 July 2015
Suzuka 8 Hours: Pole to Pol, 'big show' tomorrow
“Tomorrow we have the big show and anything can happen, but we are confident” - Pol Espargaro.
Yamaha Factory Racing's all-star line-up of MotoGP team-mates Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith, plus Japanese champion Katsuyuki Nakasuga will start the Suzuka 8 Hours from the front of the grid after a record lap by Espargaro.
The Spaniard did his chances of a new Tech 3 Yamaha contract no harm by putting the new R1 on pole for Japan's most prestigious motorcycle race with a stunning 2m 6.000s, despite no experience of the single-lap Superpole format or soft Bridgestone tyres.
"I feel very happy, because this was a challenge for me and I did not expect this result,” said Espargaro, riding with the spectacular elbow-down style seen in MotoGP. “When I saw my lap time I was a bit surprised because I never tested the softer rear tyre during the tests or this weekend and I never rode in Superpole before with only one lap.”
The 13th of 20 riders to take his turn on track, Espargaro's time initially put him a massive 1.7s clear of the field. But some of the fastest riders were still to come, including team-mate Nakasuga, Honda's Casey Stoner and Kawasaki's Friday pace setter Kazuki Watanabe.
Ultimately it was Nakasuga who got closest to toppling the Spaniard, missing out by just 0.059s. Watanabe was +0.287s from pole and retired double MotoGP champion Stoner +0.335s. Yoshimura Suzuki's Takuya Tsuda was the final rider within one-second of Espargaro.
“When I saw my time I said 'come on!', because it would be difficult for someone to beat it,” Espargaro said. “But when I saw the lap time of Nakasuga-san I was a bit scared.”
Only two of the three riders from each of Friday's ten fastest teams took part in Superpole, with Smith not getting the chance to ride. Espargaro believes all three are evenly matched and have a great chance of handing Yamaha its first Suzuka win since 1996.
“I'm happy because I did a good lap time, but Nakasuga was also under the record and Bradley showed good potential over the whole weekend,” said the Spaniard. “Our pace is really similar and this is more important than the pole.
“Tomorrow we have the big show and it will be difficult, because anything can happen, but we are confident.”
Suzuka and R1 veteran Nakasuga had admitted his pride took a knock when he was outpaced by Espargaro in Thursday practice. He responded by being the fastest Yamaha in Friday qualifying, but couldn't contain the Spaniard on Saturday.
"I'm really happy, but at the same time I wish my lap time had been faster,” said the 33-year-old. “I'm very happy for my team-mate [Espargaro], he did so well, but I wished I could have gone faster too, but I did my best. I'm not satisfied that Pol was faster than me, I tried to beat his time but I couldn't and that was unfortunate for me, but this is a good result for tomorrow and we are all going to try to do our best.”
Smith also congratulated Espargaro on his achievement, sportingly adding that the Saturday one-two vindicated the team's rider selection for Superpole.
"First of all a big congratulations to my team-mate, at the end of the day our team management made the right call with who they choose for the Superpole, both guys were riding extremely fast," said the Englishman.
“I'm happy to be starting the race from first position tomorrow for the team, but it's a bit different to do one lap compared to more than 200 in tomorrow's race. I hope we get a good night sleep, calm down from the excitement and be ready to do it all again tomorrow."
Team manager Wataru Yoshikawa said his main worry for the race is avoiding any mistakes or incidents with backmarkers.
“We are competing as a Yamaha Factory Team and our goal is to finish the race with the maximum laps of 218. If we can run that many laps, we believe we can win the race,” he said. “To do this, I am going to stress again in our final meeting that we want the riders to run cautiously, keeping safe margins of space between themselves and the other [slower] machines they will encounter."
The race starts at 11:30am but ends in darkness, adding a further level of apprehension for the leaders.
Suzuka 8 Hours: Top 10 grid positions
1. Espargaro*/Nakasuga/B. Smith Yamaha Factory #21 2m 6.000s
2. Watanabe*/Yanagawa/Yudhistira Team Green #87 2m 6.287s
3. Stoner*/Takahashi/VD Mark Musashi Honda #634 2m 6.335s
4. Tsuda*/Lowes/Waters Yoshimura Suzuki #12 2m 6.516s
5. Kagayama*/Kiyonari/Haga Team Kagayama #17 2m 7.990s
6. Aegerter*/K. Smith/Hook FCC TSR Honda #778 2m 8.076s
7. Yamaguchi*/Wilairot/Elias Toho with Moriwaki #104 2m 8.382s
8. Nigon*/Deguchi/Izutsu Trickstar Kawasaki #01 2m 8.950s
9. Uramoto*/O'Halloran/Herfoss Sakuri Honda #71 2m 9.409s
10. Ogata*/Aoki/Konno Motomap Suzuki #32 2m 11.019s
*Set the team's fastest lap in Superpole.
Superpole lap time by each rider
1. Espargaro Yamaha Factory #21 2m 6.000s
2. Nakasuga Yamaha Factory #21 2m 6.059s
3. Watanabe Team Green #87 2m 6.287s
4. Stoner Musashi Honda #634 2m 6.335s
5. Tsuda Yoshimura Suzuki #12 2m 6.516s
6. Lowes Yoshimura Suzuki #12 2m 7.144s
7. Takashashi Musashi Honda #634 2m 7.697s
8. Kagayama Team Kagayama #17 2m 7.990s
9. Aegerter FCC TSR Honda #778 2m 8.076s
10. Yamaguchi Toho with Moriwaki #104 2m 8.382s
11. Hook FCC TSR Honda #778 2m 8.472s
12. Kiyonari Team Kagayama #17 2m 8.806s
13. Nigon Trickstar Kawasaki #01 2m 8.950s
14. Yanagawa Team Green #87 2m 9.006s
15. Uramoto Sakuri Honda #71 2m 9.409s
16. Wilairot Toho with Moriwaki #104 2m 9.877s
17. O'Halloran Sakuri Honda #71 2m 10.391s
18. Deguchi Trickstar Kawasaki #01 2m 10.771s
19. Ogata Motomap Suzuki #32 2m 11.019s
20. Aoki Motomap Suzuki #32 2m 11.681s
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