No. 21 YAMAHA FACTORY RACING TEAM (Yamaha) won the 2015 Coca-Cola Zero Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race after 19 years.

Suzuka 8 Hours: Yamaha Factory Team obtains victory after 19 years with effective strategies

The Coca-Cola Zero Suzuka 8 Hours Endurance Road Race concluded its 38th year in 2015 with the victory of the No. 21 Yamaha Factory Racing Team (Yamaha), who claimed victory with 204 laps.

The 2015 Suzuka 8 Hours began in scorching hot conditions with an atmospheric temperature of 35 degrees Celsius, and a road temperature of more than 60 degrees Celsius. The four manufacturers, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, & Kawasaki progressed through a very close fight with eac other, right from the opening.

No. 634 MuSASHi RT Harc Pro rose to the top after one hour. Casey Stoner took over the reigns from Takumi Takahashi, but while everyone was anticipating about how he would work on the race, he fell down horribly before the hairpin curve at the 32nd lap. The motorcycle was also severely wrecked, so the dream of three successive championships for No. 634 Harc Pro fell apart. Stoner was then taken in to the medical center ,where he was diagnosed with a broken right scapula and a fractured left tibia.

Yamaha led the race in the second hour. From Katsuyuki Nakasuga to MotoGP riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaró, they went on the race with their parts at the quick pace of a 2’10 lap time. They were able to extend the gap between their rivals little by little.

The other racing teams, No. 12 Yoshimura Suzuki Shell Advance and No. 17 Team Kagayama, fell down one after another. No. 778 F.C.C. TSR Honda did not hit the timing with their frequent use of the safety car and slowly lost their time.

Past more than half of the race already, the Yamaha team that accelerated fast to the top encountered misfortune as they welcomed the fifth hour of the day. They were subjected to a 30-second stop penalty for ignoring the yellow flag. Because of that, No. 778 TSR took the lead, but Smith was able to regain it with an astounding pace. After that, Espargaró and Nakasuga went on with the race brilliantly. Upon worrying about the fuel consumption, they took time at the pit stop at their own pace as they finally just had to refuel it once, then Smith took over the reigns from Nakasuga in the remaining 30 minutes. He was not able to join the trial race for the top 10 yesterday so he took the responsibility of the anchor leg, the most important role in a team, and he went on racing aggressively until the end and took the checkered flag at the 204th lap.

For Yamaha, it’s their first win in 19 years since 1996. For Espargaró, who just debuted, and Smith and Nakasuga, who won consecutively three times at the Japan National Road Race Championships, this is their first domination in the Suzuka 8 Hours.

The three of them were filled with excitement as they reunited at the pit road heading towards the Parc fermé. The sound of the newly introduced Yamaha model, the YZF-R1, resounded many times.

No. 778 F.C.C. TSR Honda (Josh Hook, Kyle Smith, & Dominique Aegerter) won second place. They reformed their rider strategy for this year with three young foreign riders. Hook and Aegerter alternately challenged the veteran riders from the Yamaha Factory Team. Even though they only reached second place as a result, both of them showed the same pace in racing. We observed that Hook, who will compete for the All-Japan Road Race Championship, has obviously improved from the season opener, and Aegerter has stood on the winner’s podium for two years in a row. The new TSR went back to the podium after three years.

The dream team of No. 17 Team Kagayama (Yukio Kagayama, Noriyuki Haga, & Ryuichi Kiyonari) won third place this year as well. Particularly, Kiyonari, who came back to Suzuka 8 Hours after two years, played a big part in this team during the qualifying round and the finals. He certainly contributed to the increase in the team’s fighting spirit. Kagayama obtained serious wounds from falling down during the race, but he steadily recovered their rank. In the end, Haga worked as the anchor leg, and he has represented the team on the podium for three consecutive years.

Each manufacturer was making above average efforts for the competition this year, and Yamaha took control of the race. Many fans rushed to the main straight where the awarding ceremony was being conducted. Yamaha was enveloped with cheers. The fireworks concluded the 2015 Suzuka 8 Hours that began on July 23, and the summer festival in Suzuka for this year ended successfully as well.

(Translated by Claire Marie Sausora)