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Suzuka 8 Hours: Yamaha tops Friday qualifying

Yamaha team of Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Pol Espargaro and Alex Lowes edges out Honda during Friday qualifying for the Suzuka 8 Hours.
Updated with quotes...

Yamaha's Suzuka 8 Hour defence got off to a strong start with the #21 machine of Pol Espargaro, Katsuyuki Nakasuga and new arrival Alex Lowes topping the timesheets after Friday qualifying.

Having shared track time as they saw fit during Thursday practice - when the Factory Yamaha squad also topped the timesheets - each rider took part in two of the six 20-minute qualifying sessions.

MotoGP test rider and podium finisher Nakasuga set the tone with the first sub-2m 7s lap of the weekend in the opening qualifying run. Team-mate Espargaro, sixth in the MotoGP standings for Tech 3 Yamaha, then kept the R1 on top in his session, albeit with a slower lap time.

But World Superbike star Lowes, replacing Bradley Smith from the victorious 2015 line-up, was denied the chance to make it a Yamaha first qualifying sweep due to a fall.

"I made a small mistake and lost the front of the bike on my first lap in Q1. I was pushing a little bit, normally in endurance racing you find a nice rhythm but in the qualifying I wanted to try and do a good lap time and I made a mistake," Lowes said.

That left HRC test rider and MotoGP wild-card Takumi Takahashi to take the top spot for the factory Musashi RT Harc-Pro Honda team, although his time of 2m 8.373s made it the slowest of the three 'Q1' runs.

After a break of several hours, second qualifying began with Nakasuga edging out Yoshimura Suzuki's Takuya Tsuda, who fought back from a fall, although lap times again failed to break the 2m 8s barrier.

BSB star and former Suzuka winner Leon Haslam, second behind Espargaro in their earlier encounter, then set a 2m 7.563s flyer to put Kawasaki on top of the penultimate qualifying session.

Espargaro was visibly pushing, but forced to settle for second (+0.76s) with Moto2's Dominique Aegerter completing the top three for TSR Honda (+0.84s).

The sixth and final qualifying outing saw an impressive showing from Takahashi, who not only led the session but came within a fraction of cracking the 2m 7s mark. His efforts kept Lowes at bay by a considerable 0.687s, with Haslam's Team Green team-mate Kazuki Watanabe in third (+0.808s).

Again joining Takahashi on the #634 Fireblade is WSBK star Michael VD Mark, with 2006 MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden called-up in place of Casey Stoner. VD Mark was second and third in his qualifying sessions (against Nakasuga), with Hayden third and eighth (in the sessions led by Espargaro and Haslam).

WSBK racer and reigning BSB champion Josh Brookes is team-mate to Tsuda and Noriyuki Haga at Yoshimura Suzuki. The Australian was fifth quickest in his sessions.

The purpose of today's qualifying was to determine which teams go through to Saturday's Top 10 (pole position) Trial.

On combined times, Nakasuga's Qualifying 1 lap handed the Factory Yamaha Team the Friday top spot by just 0.118s from Musashi RT Harc-Pro Honda. The pre-race favourites, like most of the leading teams, are using Bridgestone tyres.

"In the first qualifying I set a 2m 6.908, but that was with slower riders in front of me, so if I'd had a clear track I could have gone even faster," Nakasuga declared. "Alex crashed in his first qualifying session, so my job in my second session was to do a shakedown run with the repaired bike to make sure everything was OK. I was in the 2'08s with it, so there aren't any problems."

Espargaro added: "It wasn't an amazing lap time for me but I'm quite happy with the result. The bike is working well and the team is working really good. Nakasuga-san was really fast and Alex was able to improve his lap time after his crash so it ended well.

"I missed some tenths in qualifying, I found some traffic at the end but tomorrow we have the track more empty for us. It's difficult with so many bikes on the track and some of them you just don't know what they are going to do! But this is racing, it's interesting and it makes this race special!"

Lowes was pleased to put the fall behind him with a strong showing in his Qualifying 2 run: "For the afternoon session I was happy, I made it into the 2m 7s on older tyres, and that was quite good. My rhythm was good and I felt the same on the bike as I did before the crash in the morning.

"The team did a fantastic job, this morning in the practice we did a good job together as a team, all the riders were very fast in the 2m 7s which is very fast. It's important that we have a consistent pace so it's looking promising.

"I'm really enjoying the experience, it is a real team event and it's very special. It's so different to normal racing, as you share the bike you have to compromise on set-up etc so I've learned a lot to take back with me to WorldSBK."

A clear best of the rest after Yamaha and Honda, over a single lap at least, was the Team Green entry, followed by EWC regulars YART.

Friday's track schedule ended with a night free practice session, to simulate conditions at the end of Sunday's 39th running of the iconic endurance race.

Suzuka 8 Hours: Top 10 teams through to Pole Shootout
1. #21 Yamaha Factory Racing Nakasuga*/Espargaro/Lowes 2m 6.908s
2. #634 Musashi RT Harc-Pro VD Mark/Hayden/Takahashi* 2m 7.026s
3. #87 Team Green Yanagawa/Haslam*/Watanabe 2m 7.563s
4. #7 YART Yamaha EWC Team Parkes*/Nozane/Fujita 2m 8.239s
5. #12 Yoshimura Suzuki Tsuda*/Brookes/Haga 2m 8.248s
6. #5 FCC TSR Honda Jacobsen/Aegerter*/Watanabe 2m 8.403s
7. #7 TOHO Honda G.Rea/Yamaguchi*/Wilairot 2m 8.426s
8. #17 Kagayama Suzuki Kagayama/Uramoto/Kiyonari* 2m 8.474s
9. #32 Moto Map Suzuki Waters*/Aoki/Konno 2m 9.227s
10 #83 DogFightRacing Australia Yamaha Aitchison*/Turner 2m 9.269s

*Set team's best lap time in qualifying.


Tagged as: Yamaha , Suzuka , Espargaro , lowes , Nakasuga

Related Pictures

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Nakasuga at Suzuka (pic: Yamaha)
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