Yamaha Factory Racing Storms to Provisional Pole in Dominant Suzuka Qualifying

The Yamaha Factory Racing Team picked up today in Suzuka exactly where they left off last year, dominating in their runs to secure provisional pole ahead of tomorrow’s Top 10 Trial shootout for the 2016 Coca-Cola Zero Suzuka 8 Hours. The YART Yamaha Official EWC Team were not far behind, delivering an impressive qualifying performance to secure fourth in the overall times. GMT94 Yamaha’s plans for a top-ten result were pushed slightly off target by the sheer mass of on-track traffic during qualifying, leaving them just outside the top ten in 12th.

The combination of All Japan Superbike star Katsuyuki Nakasuga, MotoGP’s Pol Espargaró and WorldSBK’s Alex Lowes proved unstoppable today with all three consistently keeping the pressure on. Nakasuga sent a strong message of the team’s intentions in the morning’s qualifying, wasting no time in delivering a 2’06.908s to set the pace in the rider 1 session. The rider 2 session saw a similar performance from Espargaró, the MotoGP rider repeating his teammate’s performance with an immediate flying lap of 2’07.333s to secure the top spot. Lowes’ first qualifying proved unfortunate for the Brit as he crashed out on his first flying lap. He was thankfully uninjured and ready to fight back in the afternoon.

The second round of qualifying brought more of the same pace, Nakasuga again topping his heat with a 2’08.177s lap. Espargaró was quick to lay down a similar pace, taking second in his heat with a 2’08.321s lap. Determined to make up for his morning error, Lowes was on fire in his second qualifying attack, smashing under the 2’08 mark with a 2’07.713s for the fastest lap of the afternoon.

The team had already made a good start to the day prior to qualifying, ruling the morning two-hour practice with all three under the 2’08 mark to wrap up with a session-best of 2’07.806, courtesy of Nakasuga.

YART Yamaha’s impressive qualifying result was in no small part due to the effort of experienced endurance racer Broc Parkes. The Australian had worked hard alongside his young Japanese teammates Takuya Fujita and Kohta Nozane during the morning practice, lapping into the 2’09s as he prepared the race setup for Sunday’s 8-hour showdown. Come qualifying, Parkes surpassed expectations with the Pirelli tyres, cracking out an impressive 2’08.239 lap to ensure the team a place in the top five for tomorrow’s top-ten shootout.

Both Fujita and Nozane spent the day steadily improving as they adjusted their riding styles from Bridgestones to Pirellis, Nozane getting down to a 2’11.975 and Fujita to a 2’13.481.

As is normal for the French outfit, GMT94 Yamaha spent the large part of qualifying focused on perfecting their race setup ahead of Sunday’s main event. The team only received their new spec of Dunlop tyres yesterday so have been working from scratch to build a race-ready setup on their YZF-R1. Despite this complication the pairing of David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Lucas Mahias has been inspiring, with Checa and Canepa leading the way whilst Mahias builds his pace as he learns the track, having missed the earlier Suzuka test days.

The Dunlop qualifier tyres proved to be almost too good, with Checa suffering a small crash in his second qualifying heat due to the level of the new Dunlop rear over the used front. Luckily there was no damage to rider or bike, but the new information required further setup changes that ate into the qualifying time. The change was invaluable for Canepa following in the next heat, with the Italian looking on target to bring the team into the top-ten shoot out. Unfortunately he was frustrated by traffic on his flying laps, scoring a best time of 2’09.299, putting GMT94 Yamaha just outside the top ten in 12th position.

Provisional Starting Grid

1 Yamaha Factory Racing Team Yamaha 2'06.908
2 MuSASHi RT HARC-PRO. Honda 2'07.026
3 Team GREEN Kawasaki 2'07.563
4 YART Yamaha Official EWC Team Yamaha 2'08.239
5 Yoshimura Suzuki Shell ADVANCE Suzuki 2'08.248
6 F.C.C. TSR Honda Honda 2'08.403
7 TOHO Racing Honda 2'08.426
8 Team KAGAYAMA Suzuki 2'08.474
9 Moto Map SUPPLY Suzuki 2'09.227
12 GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team Yamaha 2'09.299
22 AKENO SPEED: WJR-YAMAHA Yamaha 2'11.199
25 Team HOOTERS with Shota Saito Yamaha 2'11.541
30 HKC&IMT Racing Yamaha 2'12.100
33 TEAM MASSA-R Yamaha 2'12.759
38 CLEVER WOLF Racing Yamaha 2'13.220
39 T-MOTOKIDS-ICU-Kawauso RT Yamaha 2'13.243
48 Motobox Kremer Racing CWR Yamaha 2'14.245
49 Iwata Racing Family Yamaha 2'14.545
51 NCXX RACING Yamaha 2'14.630
54 Team Etching Factory Yamaha 2'15.001
59 Team Favorite Factory Yamaha 2'15.158

Yamaha Factory Racing Team
Fastest Qualifying Time: 2’06.908 (1st)

Katsuyuki Nakasuga (2’06.908)

“In the first qualifying I set a 2’06.908, but that was with slower riders in front of me, so if I’d had a clear track I could have gone even faster. Alex [Lowes] crashed in his first qualifying session, so my job in my second session was to do a shakedown run with the repaired bike to make sure everything was OK. I was in the 2’08s with it, so there aren’t any problems. Though Alex crashed, our staff and mechanics pulled together to get it fixed and I helped out too by checking the bike. Of course, we’d rather have no issues at all, but I think this actually served to further unite our team. Looking at the team as a whole, I think we’re in good shape. But tomorrow’s Top 10 Trial is definitely more important than today’s qualifying sessions, and even more important is the race on Sunday. In any case, we’ll be aiming to take pole position for the team in the Top 10 Trial tomorrow.”

Pol Espargaró (2’07.333)

“The qualifying today was actually really good. It wasn't an amazing lap time for me but I’m quite happy with the result. The bike is working well and the team is working really good. Nakasuga-san was really fast and Alex was able to improve his lap time after his crash so it ended well. I missed some tenths in qualifying, I found some traffic at the end but tomorrow we have the track more empty for us. Today we needed to qualify in the top ten and we did so it’s an important day. It’s difficult with so many bikes on the track and some of them you just don't know what they are going to do! It’s difficult to manage but this is racing, it’s interesting and it makes this race special!”

Alex Lowes (2’07.713)

“It was really good today. Honestly I made a small mistake and lost the front of the bike on my first lap in Q1. I was pushing a little bit, normally in endurance racing you find a nice rhythm but in the qualifying I wanted to try and do a good lap time and I made a mistake. For the afternoon session I was happy, I made it into the 2’07s on older tyres, and that was quite good. My rhythm was good and I felt the same on the bike as I did before the crash in the morning. The team did a fantastic job, this morning in the practice we did a good job together as a team, all the riders were very fast in the 2’07s, which is very fast. It’s important that we have a consistent pace so it’s looking promising. I’m really enjoying the experience; it is a real team event and it’s very special. It’s so different to normal racing, as you share the bike and you have to compromise on setup, etc., so I’ve learned a lot to take back with me to WorldSBK.”

Team Manager Wataru Yoshikawa

“Alex [Lowes] crashed unfortunately in his first qualifying session, but thankfully he was unhurt and there was little damage to the bike. We later had Nakasuga head out on the repaired machine in his second qualifying session to verify that everything was working properly, and Pol [Espargaró] and Alex both finished their second sessions without incident. Since the three of them are feeling good, they all went out today looking for fast times. They succeeded in doing that, but Alex’s fall reminded both the team staff and the riders themselves that this is an endurance race and that we have to work together. So, our solidity as a team is even stronger now. All of our riders have the speed to set a time fast enough to take pole position in the Top 10 Trial tomorrow, so please look forward to our runs.”

YART Yamaha Official EWC Team
Fastest Qualifying Time: 2’08.239 (4th)

Broc Parkes (2’08.239)

“Today has been awesome for us, we didn't expect to be so strong in qualifying. To do a 2’08.2 is nearly a second faster than last year so it's a big step for us. The bike feels really good this year and we’ve had some extra help from Yamaha with the engine and that I think has improved the bike a lot. We used kit electronics from YEC that I think are also really good. Tomorrow we have to try and do it again, but everybody is in the same position. It’s up to me to do the best. I’m so happy to be were we are, we wanted to be top ten so to be 4th is a bonus. For the race I think we have a good pace and we know the race tyre, which is good.”

Kohta Nozane (2’11.975)

“The team’s goal today was to get into the Top 10 Trial so Broc took the lead for the time attack and set the 4th fastest lap overall, so we’re guaranteed a spot tomorrow. That’s great for our team in general, but for myself, I still wasn’t able to sort out all the issues I’ve been having, so I still need to improve. This isn’t an ideal situation for me, but I’ll do my best in the race to hit good laps and stay up in the order.”

Takuya Fujita (2’13.481)

“The atmosphere among the team as we count down towards the race is great and we all know our strategy so I think we’re making good progress. Broc [Parkes], Nozane and I know the roles we need to play, but I still wish I could iron out a few more details with a race simulation. Qualifying sessions end today and tomorrow is the Top 10 Trial, but what’s really important is the race the day after tomorrow. I’ll focus on my riding and never give up until the checkered flag.”

Team Manager Mandy Kainz

“For sure we did not expect with Pirelli to be in the top five so for today we are really satisfied. Broc’s lap time was great. The young boys improve practice by practice and are fighting hard. They have to adapt their riding style from Bridgestone to Pirelli so it’s good work. I know that today we achieved the fastest lap time possible for the conditions so a good day for Yamaha I think.”

GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team
Fastest Qualifying Time: 2’09.299 (12th)

David Checa (2’09.986)

“The first qualifying session was ok; we worked to adjust the bike for the race. In the second session we had a new rear tyre to test and in the second lap I lost the front. Then we had to setup the bike again because for sure the rear was better and it pushed the front. It's a bit of a pity because if you have to work on setting in the qualifying you lose valuable time. It's a shame to crash but I prefer to do this today than in the race. The bike didn't have too much damage; I managed to save the crash but the corner stone is really high so we jumped over a bit. I’m happy that the mechanics didn't have too much work to do and we got some valuable information for tomorrow. I’m a bit disappointed because Niccolò had the possibility to make the Top 10 Trial for tomorrow but for two laps he was held up in traffic in the middle for a little bit and we lost the top ten. Anyway the race is eight hours so we will do our best.”

Niccolò Canepa (2’09.299)

“It’s been a good day. I’m quite satisfied with the bike and we have been working hard. Unfortunately we received the new Dunlop tyres too late to test them in the test so we had to work in today’s qualifying to find a good setup. Thanks to David because after his crash he understood that we needed something different on the setting so he really helped me to be fast in the qualifying with the qualifier tyres. Unfortunately two riders stayed in the middle of the track on my hot laps which was unfair as they prevented me from delivering possibly my best laps with the qualifier so I missed the top ten. In the end I’m satisfied with the bike and with the performance of the team, I know that we can be strong in the race. Lucas has done a great job considering it’s his first time here so I think we are ready. We have a little more work to do on the bike but we can be fast on Sunday.”

Lucas Mahias (2’10.880)

“It has been a good qualifying for me, especially so as it's the first time I’ve come here. It’s difficult when you are not fast immediately but David and Niccolò did a great job working on the bike setup. I did not have the opportunity to use the new tyres in the qualifying session; because of the rules of the championship, we did not have enough stickers, but these are the rules. It's a shame because I think I could have been faster with the new tyres. In the end I’m happy overall as I met my target to be lapping in the 2’10s on my second day.”

Team Manager Christophe Guyot

“Today has been cold and hot! Cold because in the second qualifying, David had a little crash. No damage but David was out for a good lap time. It was hot because Niccolò’s pace was unbelievable, flying in the 2’09s, so we were happy. Unfortunately he met two bikes on track and that traffic held him up on his hot laps. The pace and progression has been great so big thank you to Dunlop. They brought new tyres that are very good here. The only issue is we have them quite late so we are still working on the setup. Lucas is learning the track very quickly, I’m impressed with his times so far in the 2’10s. I am confident that for the race and for championship points we can do something good on Sunday.”