2017 Suzuka Eight-Hours: Yamaha take historic third straight win

Picture: Steve English

Britain’s Alex Lowes and the Factory Yamaha team have taken an historic third successive Suzuka Eight-Hours win in Japan today, crossing the line with a lap in hand over Leon Haslam’s works Kawasaki squad with the FCC TSR team in third place after a fire forced them to pit in the last half an hour.

Rider Randy De Puniet had been reeled in by Haslam to the tune of more than half a second a lap at the start of the final hour but his Fireblade caught fire and he was forced into the pits which dropped him a lap behind the Team Green ZX-10R and gave Haslam another Suzuka podium.

Haslam embodied everything an endurance athlete should be, his five stints at the world’s most demanding race leading Team Green Kawasaki to second place. He and the ZX10-RR narrowly beat the FCC TSR Honda, who made it three different manufacturers in the top three. The pair’s battle came down to the final half an hour after a late safety car, the fighting so intense that De Puniet’s Honda literally burst into flames.

Worries about rain loomed overhead as the 40th edition of the Suzuka 8 Hour got underway, riders sprinting to their bikes in the classic Le Mans style start. Leon Haslam and the Team Green Kawasaki grabbed the lead straight away, quickly pushied back by Takumi Takahashi on the HARC-Pro Honda as the field settled into eight hours of racing.

The pace was fast from the start but with rain starting to fall half an hour into the race their pace was weathered by the passing shower. An hour into the race, Nakasuga handed the YFRT bike over to Alex Lowes, leaving the HARC-Pro Honda team in the lead just as a safety car came out.

Once the WorldSBK star was on the Yamaha, there was no looking back as Lowes blasted past Jack Miller on the Honda and grew his lead with every lap. The Lincoln lad twice broke the race-lap record, a 2’06.932 the new benchmark at Suzuka.

While Yamaha claimed three straight Suzuka wins, HARC-Pro Honda experienced their third year of misfortune as Nakagami was forced to pit two and a half hours into the race after a crash, effectively ending their chances of race victory. A further technical issue with three hours remaining and a puncture in the closing hour were the final nails in the coffin for the factory Fireblade.

Josh Brookes and Sylvain Guintoli had to battle back from almost dead last on the Yoshimura Suzuki after opening rider Takuya Tsuda crashed at the hairpin early doors. The trio put in fast and consistent times to end up in seventh place but it will be scant reward for a team that believed they had at least podium pace.

BSB front runner Jason O’Halloran and his Dream Sakurai Honda team ended in ninth place while his Honda team-mate Dan Linfoot, partnered with multiple winner Ryuichi Kiyonari, finished outside the top 20, as did Christian Iddon’s BMW Motorrad93 team after two crashes from Raffaele De Rosa.

Bjorn Estment, Sheridan Morais and Brandon Cretu’s Team Rabid Transit took the chequered flag in 33rd place on their debut at the Suzuka race.

The Suzuka Eight-Hours is also the last event of the Endurance World Championship season, four teams entering the event with a chance of lifting the title. SERT and GMT94 were the favourites for the 2016/2017 title and put on a valiant show to try and crack the top ten, no easy feat in a field full of Japanese aces.

A 11th place finish for GMT94, despite a stop and go penalty, allowed the Yamaha team to lift the EWC title after a disastrous race from SERT.

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