26 July 2015
Suzuka 8 Hours: Smith, Espargaro salute historic Yamaha win
“I'm happy because I found two great friends, and we got the 8 hours Suzuka race victory” – Pol Espargaro.
MotoGP team-mates Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro wrote their names into Yamaha history on Sunday with victory, alongside Katsuyuki Nakasuga, in the Suzuka 8 Hours.
It was Smith's first major win since 125cc in 2010 and Espargaro's since Moto2 in 2013. But the biggest news was that they had given Yamaha glory in Japan's most prestigious race for the first time since 1996.
After Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo politely made clear their focus was on this year's MotoGP title, the satellite Tech 3 pairing were parachuted in to form the backbone of Yamaha's first factory Suzuka assault in 13 years.
They soon adapted to the alien environment, aided by the technical experience and advice of 33-year-old Japanese champion Nakasuga, who also finished runner-up as a replacement in the 2012 Valencia MotoGP.
Espargaro proved his raw speed with a record-breaking pole position on Saturday, while Nakasuga recovered from a poor start to put the team back into victory contention within ten minutes of the eight hours.
With main rivals Musashi Honda making a spectacular exit shortly after switching to star rider Casey Stoner, the #21 Yamaha spent the rest of the event monitoring its position with the #778 TSR Honda of Moto2's Dominque Aegerter and Australian Josh Hook.
Despite enjoying a fuel consumption and speed advantage, frequent safety cars and near misses with the constant stream of backmarkers meant nothing was guaranteed.
That was underlined when the team received a stop-go penalty, forcing them to remain stationary in pit lane for 30-seconds, for a pass by Espargaro under yellow flags during the middle stages of the race.
All three Yamaha riders pushed hard to recover the time lost and the advantage tipped back into their favour with just over an hour to go.
It was assumed veteran Nakasuga would be pencilled in for the high-stakes final leg, but the timing of the pit stops left the Japanese needing to pull in for fuel with 25 minutes remaining.
The Nakasuga-Smith-Espargaro riding order meant Smith duly stepped up to bring the bike home - in the dark.
Another safety car and more backmarkers caused some tense closing moments, but the Englishman never faltered and took the chequered flag 1m 17s clear of Aegerter, as Yamaha's celebrations erupted in pit lane.
“Since Tuesday night I went back to my hotel room and felt loaded up with pressure,” said Smith. “We stood in front of all the Yamaha staff and mister Kimura and everyone who works inside the factory. We stood on the stage in Iwata and promised that we would come back and give our best and we promised them a first place.
“We had only one small mistake during the race, which in the end was no problem at all. With the speed and the pace that my team-mates were able to do, we were able to overcome it.
“It's very special, the 60th anniversary for Yamaha, they are leading the MotoGP championship, but second to that was a focus to on the Suzuka 8 Hours and I'm glad that we were able to show the true potential of this bike and give them that victory after 19 years that they very well deserve,” added the Englishman, who is sixth and the top satellite rider in the MotoGP standings.
Espargaro, who has endured a mixed second season in MotoGP, stated: “I'm so happy. It was an unbelievable race. I have to say sorry to my team-mates because I made a mistake during the race. We had a stop-and-go penalty and we lost more than one minute. My team-mates were impressive, they were so fast. I gave 200% when I went out on the bike to recover this gap that we lost and we did.
“It's impressive what Yamaha as a factory team and a family did after so many years and I'm proud of Nakasuga-san that he rode out the first Suzuka 8 Hours with us and also of Bradley, that we share a pit box in MotoGP. Normally we have many activities and we don't get to speak often as friends. This weekend was so good for us. I'm happy because I found two great friends, and we got the 8 hours Suzuka race victory.”
Nakasuga and Smith each made three runs during the race, with two for Espargaro. Team manager Wataru Yoshikawa praised his riders.
“First, I just want to thank everyone involved and all of the fans who cheered us on. I have to say that I was really impressed by the high level of the MotoGP riders, and also I found myself full of admiration once again for Nakasuga's skills.
“Pol and Bradley had never ridden at Suzuka before our pre-race test sessions, and they had never ridden on an Endurance spec machine. But, in no time at all, they were running very fast lap times here, one after another. Also, in today's race we were surprised to see the impeccable skill with which Nakasuga handled the bike in the first stint and extend it all the way to the 28th lap. That made things easier for us as a team from that point onward.
“The way the characters of the three riders came together so well made this a wonderful team, and the team staff did their best the whole time to back up the riders. During the race weekend there were accidents like Pol's crash [in qualifying], and then in the race there was his penalty, so there were difficulties along the way but we still managed to win. This was a victory that the whole team won together, and once again I want to express my appreciation to all of the people who cheered us on.”
Both Smith and Espargaro are out of contract at the end of this season, but it would be hard to imagine they will not be getting at least an offer to consider after Sunday's result. Factory test rider Nakasuga probably has a job for life.
"I'm really glad that we have won after nineteen years," he said.
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