British star Alex Lowes led Yamaha’s factory team to a fourth successive win in the historic Suzuka eight-hour endurance race, held in difficult conditions earlier today.
All eyes were on the Kawasaki Team Green, featuring Carole Nash-backed Brits Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam, after Rea blitzed to pole position, and the early stages saw the Yamaha and Kawasaki teams battling for the lead with the Red Bull Honda squad.
Heavy rainstorms were a major factor in this, the 41strunning of the event, and a heavy shower around the fifth hour would end the Kawasaki’s hopes. The rain ruined Team Green’s pit stop strategy and they found themselves half a lap behind the leaders when the safety cars came out for the inclement conditions. Their task was made more difficult when Rea suffered a low speed crash when coming in to pit for wet weather tyres, and they were to finish third overall – one lap behind the leaders.
The Honda squad led at the end of the fifth hour but despite the Fireblade’s excellent fuel consumption and pitstop strategy (allowing them to beat Yamaha by almost two minutes in pitlane) the metronomic pace of Lowes and team-mate Michael van der Mark gave the Yamaha squad, running in a retro livery scheme to celebrate 20 years of the R1, its fourth successive win with a 30 second advantage over the Honda.
“I really enjoy coming here,” said Lowes. “The atmosphere we have in the team is really great. In today‘s race the bike was amazing; it was working really well. It was nice to have a strong fast bike; it made it easier to pass in the race, so a massive thank you to Yamaha for giving it to us. Obviously the race was quite stressful at times, lots of safety cars and lots of difficult weather conditions but it all seemed to fall when Michael was riding the bike. I certainly had a lot easier race than him, so a massive thank you to him also for his effort. The second half of the race we just had to be smart and get the bike to the finish. For me to win three in a row is fantastic, its four for the team and three for me so I‘m really happy, hopefully I can come back and do it again next year.”
A highlight of the Suzuka race is always the entry of factory bikes from the big four manufacturers, piloted by top riders from MotoGP and world superbikes, but the best of the world championship regulars was the Japanese FCC TSR Honda France squad, which finished fifth overall to secure the 2017-2018 world title.
A number of other British riders were also racing at the event, most notably British superbike rider Tommy Bridewell, who finished a brilliant fourth on a Suzuki. BSB golden boy Bradley Ray was 10thon another Suzuki, with Brit pairing Christian Iddon and Michael Laverty 13thon a BMW.