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Aussies Galore in the 40th annual Suzuka 8 Hours | Road | Sport

Yamaha hat-trick

The Yamaha Factory Racing Team crowded the top step of the Suzuka 8 Hours podium for the third consecutive year when it crossed the line first at the 40th anniversary of the event held on Sunday 30 July.

It’s only the second time in the history of the gruelling event that one team has scored a hat-trick, the first time occurring between 2000 and 2002 when Team Cabin Honda claimed the victories.

From pole position this year, the team consisting of Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark kept level heads to eventually dominate the race and finish ahead of Kawasaki Team Green’s Kazuma Watanabe, Leon Haslam and Azlan Shah Bin Kamaruzaman. FCC TSR Honda’s Dominique Aegerter, Randy de Puniet and Aussie Josh Hook finished third.

In front of 128,000 spectators, Kawasaki’s Leon Haslam got the holeshot from the event’s Le Mans-style start and while an early three-way battle for the lead between the two top-placed finishers and the Musashi RT Harc-Pro Honda team – which included Aussie Jack Miller, Takumi Takahashi and Takaaki Nakagami – the turning point came when Lowes passed Miller in the circuit’s tricky esses in the second hour. After that the team was never headed.

A crash from Nakagami in the third hour saw the front-running Honda team relegated to fourth place where it stayed until the end, crossing the finish line two laps down on its Yamaha rivals.

Alex Lowes set a new lap record on the way to victory, breaking Ryuichi Kiyonari’s 2012 lap of 2m07.943s by a full second with a blistering lap of 2m06.932s.

Hook’s FCC TSR Honda team looked a shoe-in for second place, however, their CBR1000RR caught fire with just minutes left on the clock and the late drama allowed Kawasaki Team Green to snatch second in the dying stages from the dominant Honda squad.

And while the battle was won by the Yamaha Factory racing Team, the war was won when GMT94 Yamaha’s David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Mike Di Meglio crossed the line in 11th place. The 2017 Suzuka 8 Hours is also the season ending round of the 2016-2017 World Endurance Championship and their finishing position was enough to pip Suzuki Endurance Racing Team to the title, the third time the French-based team has celebrated such success. 

The Australian way

While Josh Hook and Jack Miller finished third and fourth respectively, they weren’t the only Aussies to feature in the top 10 at the famed event. In fact, of the 11 Australians entered in this year’s Suzuka 8 Hours, no less than eight Antipodeans fought to finish the gruelling event in the top 10 of their respective classes.

Finishing just behind Miller in fifth place, five laps down on the winners, was World Endurance Championship regular Broc Parkes (YART – Yamaha) and, with the 8 Hours falling as the season finale for the 2017 series, YART’s fifth-place finish meant it finished third overall.

Aussie Josh Brookes and his Yoshimura Suzuki teammates Sylvain Guintoli and Takuya Tsuda battled to make up for an early crash and finished seventh, four laps off the winners.

Recent ASBK round winner Josh Waters rode with the MotomapSupply Suzuki team, finishing five laps off the winners in ninth, while Aussie pairing of Jamie Stauffer and Jason O’Halloran (Honda Dream RT Sakurai) rounded out the top 10, also five laps shy of the factory Yamaha squad’s winning run.

Aussie racing journeyman Anthony West contested the Superstock class and finished sixth on his Akeno Speed Yamaha from the 10 entrants in the category, and 51st overall from the 57 finishers.

Veteran endurance racing brothers Damian and Alex Cudlin finished 42nd and 23rd respectively.     

That’s the Spirit

Launched following the tragic death of endurance racer Anthony Delhalle earlier this year, the Anthony Delhalle EWC Spirit Trophy is awarded at the end of each WEC round to any team or rider, whether amateur or factory-backed, who does something remarkable during the race. The Yoshimura Suzuki team made up of Aussie Josh Brookes, Sylvain Guintoli and Takuya Tsuda picked up the gong at Suzuka after their gallant fightback from a crash early in the race. The team, which qualified in third place, found themselves down in 60th place at the end of the first hour. By the end of the second it had gained 25 positions and by the end of the third hour they sat in 28th overall. At the halfway mark, the trio were placed 19th and kept on digging until the eight-hour chequered flag where they placed a very credible seventh.

RESULTS  

(Red * Aussies)

Top 10 Overall

POS RIDERS BIKE LAPS

1 A Lowes, K Nakasuga, M van der Mark Yam 216

2 K Watanabe, L Haslam, A S B Kamaruzaman Kaw 216

*3 D Aegerter, R de Puniet, J Hook Hon 215

*4 T Takahashi, J Miller, T Nakagami Hon 214

*5 B Parkes, K Nozane, M Fritz Yam 212

6 T Koyama, R Iwato, T Yamaguchi Hon 212

*7 S Guintoli, J Brookes, T Tsuda Suz 212

8 D Pratama, M Zaidi, R Wilairot Hon 211

*9 J Waters, N Aoki, Y Konno Suz 211

*10 R Mizuno, J O’Halloran, J Stauffer Hon 211

By Kel Buckley