Defending Suzuka 8 Hours champions Yamaha Factory Racing has settled on a riding position compromise to suit new recruit Michael van der Mark alongside his co-riders Alex Lowes and Katsuyuki Nakasuga as the team hunts a third consecutive victory.
The final day of pre-event testing rounded up with the #21 Yamaha Factory Racing Team third on the overall timesheet with a 2m 07.603s set on fresh tyres to demonstrate the squad’s one lap pace, while overall race strategy is likely to point towards Yamaha aiming for longer stints than its rivals to save on pit stops.
With van der Mark switching from Honda to Yamaha last winter in the World Superbike championship, the two-time Suzuka 8 Hours winner has been getting up to speed with his new team alongside Pata Yamaha team-mate Lowes and Yamaha factory rider Nakasuga.
During the three-day test ahead of the iconic endurance event, the team has been experimenting with different seat and handlebar set-ups in order to find a happy compromise for the smaller Lowes and Nakasuga with the taller van der Mark.
“Basically, the riding position had to be adjusted because of me, so I was worried whether the other two would be able to ride well or not,” van der Mark said. “But they both said they had no issues with it, so I’m relieved.”
During the final day of the test both Lowes and van der Mark focused on race simulations while Nakasuga concentrated on final checks plus setting an outright fastest lap time. With both World Superbike riders lapped consistently in or below the 2m 09s which means the factory Yamaha squad heads into the race with supreme confidence.
“Let’s go get that third straight win,” Nakasuga, who has ridden in Yamaha’s previous two wins, said. “With our team, we can definitely do it.”
Assessing the three-day test overall, Lowes is pleased with the progress made and has confidence in the team to make small set-up tweaks to maximise the YZF-R1’s potential to defend its crown in 2017.
“Overall it was really positive, our feeling with the bike is quite good,” Lowes said. “The first day was a bit difficult because we came straight from America, but it’s been a good test.
“We finished with a race stint simulation and it felt quite good. Our lap times were really consistent. I think my last lap was in the 2:08s and our average time was around 2:09.1. Of course, Michael and Nakasuga-san both did good jobs.”
In 2015, Yamaha ended a five-year Honda domination at the Suzuka 8 Hours with its new YZF-R1 and MotoGP riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro on board alongside Nakasuga. Last year the #21 Yamaha team successfully defended its crown with Lowes joining Espargaro and Nakasuga.
For 2017, van der Mark (winner in 2013 and 2014 for Honda) joins Lowes and Nakasuga in the hunt for Yamaha’s third straight Suzuka win.