British world superbike star Alex Lowes heads to the prestigious Suzuka 8 hour race this weekend as part of the factory Yamaha squad looking to make it three wins in a row at what is arguably the world’s most important one-off race.
The Japanese event officially forms the final round of the 2017 Endurance World Championship but in reality the event is much more than that, as the home based factories wheel out their best bikes and top name riders in an attempt to win bragging rights in the illustrious race.
Riders such as Valentino Rossi and Mick Doohan have all stood atop the podium in the gruelling race and this year’s pre-race talk is about whether or not anyone can stop Yamaha’s factory team. Two members of last year’s winning squad, Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Lowes, are retained on the factory YZF-R1 and are joined by Lowes’ world superbike teammate Michael van der Mark. Despite making his debut for Yamaha, the Dutchman is a Suzuka veteran and has won the race twice on a Honda, in 2013 and 2014.
“I cannot wait for Suzuka,” said Lowes. “It’s such an amazing race and it will be an honour to represent Yamaha again. The tests have gone well and all three riders have been fast and consistent throughout. We know that if we all do our job to the best of our ability, then we will be challenging for Yamaha’s third straight win. I know what this race means to Yamaha and also to myself, so I’ll be giving 100 percent for our team to achieve victory. I enjoy the different challenge of riding with – not against – my teammate, so I can’t wait to get started!”
Joining Lowes on the grid for the 40th running of the iconic race is a whole host of Brits and British-based riders. Among those leading the charge is Lowes’ good friend Leon Haslam, who was part of the same winning team as Van der Mark in 2013 and 2014. The British superbike star is a member of the lead Kawasaki squad with Kazuma Watanabe and Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman.
“We’ve had lots of testing of the Suzuka bike and it’s gone really well,” said Haslam. “We had a bit of wet weather testing but it was mainly dry. I ended up second, with a 2.07:8 lap time, which was happy with in the conditions. We did 40+ laps on the tyres, which you have to do, and overall it was a very positive test. The team is working well and I’m looking forward to the race this weekend.”
Joining Haslam are a host of his competitors from the British superbike championship. Josh Brookes and Sylvain Guintoli will compete for Suzuki, with Dan Linfoot and Jason O’Halloran on Hondas. Christian Iddon swaps his regular Tyco BMW for an endurance spec S 1000RR, while other familiar names on the grid include multiple British superbike champ and four-time Suzuka winner Ryuichi Kiyonari, MotoGP star Jack Miller, making his Suzuka debut, and former Moto2 world champion Stefan Bradl.
While the factory stars are likely to contend the overall win, Suzuka should provide a thrilling finale to the Endurance World Championship series, where there will be a shootout for the title between the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT) and GMT94 Yamaha. SERT travel to Japan with a one point advantage in the standings, but the momentum lies with the Yamaha squad, who have won the last three races. Should both teams slip up, the Yamaha Austria team could take an unlikely title as they currently trail SERT by 27 points.
The action starts in the daylight and ends with the final hour in darkness. The action is live on British Eurosport 2 on Sunday morning, with build up starting at 3.15am and the race ending just before midday.