Pol Espargaro brought a short but spectacular Suzuka 8 Hours career to at least a temporary close having set pole position and been part of the winning team in both appearances at the iconic Japanese endurance race.

Espargaro joined Tech 3 MotoGP team-mate Bradley Smith and local star Katsuyuki Nakasuga to give Yamaha its first victory since 1996 in last season's event.

The Spaniard and Nakasuga then returned for 2016, with WSBK's Alex Lowes in place of Smith.

But Espargaro, like Smith, has signed for KTM in MotoGP next season and since the Austrian factory doesn't have an official Suzuka programme this was Espargaro's last appearance for the foreseeable future.

The former Moto2 world champion admitted to being wary of spoiling last year's perfect performance when quizzed on the possibility of a 2016 Suzuka return by Crash.net at Qatar in March.

But he need not have worried.

Not only did Espargaro repeat his pole feat of one year ago, but the R1 riders would dominate the race to an even greater extent.

The trio led for all but the opening 39-minutes, when a fast-starting Ryuichi Kiyonari put up a determined defence. But Nakasuga steered the #21 bike ahead by the first pit stop, while the challenge of main rivals Musashi RT Harc Pro Honda once again collapsed due to a technical problem, this time for Nicky Hayden.

Thereafter backmarkers and the risk of mechanical problems in the sweltering heat were the Yamaha squad's main concerns, having lapped all but the second place Kawasaki entry of Leon Haslam, Akira Yanagawa and Kazuki Watanabe.

But even the factory Team Green machine was left 2m 17.8s behind Lowes as he took the chequered flag under floodlights to start the Yamaha celebrations at the end of the eight hours.

"I'm very happy and very satisfied with this win, for me, for Alex and for Nakasuga-san because we really deserved it," said Espargaro, sixth and the top satellite rider at the halfway stage of this year's world championship.

"From the start of the test we have worked so hard to get the best for us three. After last year, to win two times with Nakasuga-san and one time with Alex is amazing. I'm sure Alex will complete the second one next year!

"I just want to say thanks to Yamaha, to all the people that support this fantastic team, because we are three riders but a lot of mechanics and other people work in the Yamaha Factory Team."

The Suzuka victories have been Espargaro's only wins, and indeed podiums, since leaving Moto2 at the end 2013: "Thanks so much to Alex and Nakasuga, they were amazing today. I can't say anymore, just thanks!"

Nakasuga, who set the fastest lap of the race, added: "Today was the hottest day of the week and it was really hard to ride for everyone.

"In my first [run] I wanted to go further to the front but unfortunately the tyres weren't the perfect match for the weather at the time. Towards the end I was able to bring the bike up to the front so finally I was happy.

"Yamaha did a fantastic job here in the 8 Hours and the bike is brilliant. I really have to thank everyone; the staff, the riders, and the fans for the great job they did."

First time winner Lowes, whose impressive form has surely removed any doubts over his Yamaha WSBK future, is already looking forward to coming back in 2017.

"The whole week for me has been fantastic, it's a totally different experience to my normal racing championship and the atmosphere we have in the team and the relationship we have has been really enjoyable, both on the track and off the track," said Alex, twin brother of Moto2 title contender Sam Lowes.

"The feeling you get when you win is fantastic and it's been a couple of years since I've felt that so I'm happy! I want to say a massive thank you to the whole Yamaha Factory Racing Team for inviting me here; all the staff and guys have been fantastic.

"Pol and Nakasuga-san have been fantastic team-mates, they're really fast which has made the job a lot easier for me so a big thank you to them and hopefully I'll be back next year!"

"The safety car didn't come out and it never rained so it was eight hours of non-stop racing, but we recorded 218 laps and that's a new record for the current course layout, so we're really satisfied with our performance," stated team manager Wataru Yoshikawa.



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