Yamaha defy the bookies
One rider down and trailing the scorching pace of Rea in practice, Yamaha looked set for defeat – yet took their most brilliant win yet
At the same time the typhoon swept across Suzuka, a crash sent Yamaha into a tailspin with a shoulder injury forcing Katsuyuki Nakasuga on the sidelines, and Alex Lowes/Michael van der Mark left to endure four hours of balls-out riding in the stifling humidity. The Japanese rider is the fulcrum of the 8 Hour programme: while the other two mostly concentrate on WSB: the All Japan Superbike rider develops the bike, and everything about it is set up according to his feedback and desire. His team-mates are important, but are also left to adapt to the lead rider’s preferences.
Despite having two of the best riders in WSB at their disposal, Yamaha felt that it was an uphill task to win the race without Nakasuga, and had almost conceded defeat before the start. But after rallying the troops on race day, Lowes and van der Mark made it clear that they came to win, and a new strategy was actioned. The team made a host of changes to the bike to make van der Mark more comfortable for four hours, rather than the total two hours of riding he was originally scheduled for. And the Dutchman repaid them with a faultless performance.
Starting the race in treacherous conditions, he bided his time until the track dried and then he had a flat-out, balls-to-the-wall scrap with Rea for the opening 90 minutes. It was an incredible spectacle as the duo traded blows and answered any attack by digging deeper within themselves.
“It was incredible,” summed up van der Mark. “It was like a Superbike race, not an Endurance race! We were giving it everything the whole time and it was so easy to make a mistake. When I looked into the distance I
‘Despite having two of the best riders in WSB, Yamaha felt it was an uphill task to win the race’
could see clouds coming and the threat of rain was the worst part. In one stint I pushed too hard and had problems with the rear tyre grip at the end of the stint, but that was also when Johnny Rea ran out of fuel so it showed how hard we both pushed.
“In the middle of the race when it rained it was very tough. I was riding with a dark visor but I remember my dad told me when I was younger to always use a dark visor in the rain. He said, ‘If you can’t see the water you can still be fast.’ It worked today!”
While van der Mark endured the worst of the conditions, it was Lowes who took the flag for a third consecutive year. The experience and confidence that comes from success was key for Yamaha. The team refused to be bullied into deviating from a practice strategy of focusing on race pace, despite Kawasaki’s headline-grabbing speed and Nakasuga’s crash.
“For three years we’ve made no mistakes and that’s impressive,” said Lowes. “Having experience at Suzuka helps because it gives you some confidence to develop a plan for practice and to stick to it.”
That confidence paid off and will only continue to grow now that the Europeans have proved to Yamaha they can carry the fight into the future.
Lowes gets stuck into some dry laps at Suzuka
All eyes on Lowes as he takes the flag in the dead of night
Yamaha prove their two-man team can still bring home a win
Get at the sharp end and spray becomes less of an issue