Suzuka 8 Hours: Honda beats Kawasaki to pole in final qualifying
Ex-Moto2 rider Tetsuta Nagashima smashed the lap record to put the factory Honda team on pole position for Sunday’s Suzuka 8 Hours.
Having been nearly untouchable in the lead-up to the 43rd running of the Japanese endurance classic, Nagashima was again the rider to beat in Saturday’s final qualifying as Honda strengthened its bid for a first race victory since 2013.
The session was delayed by 30 minutes and the Superpole-style Top 10 trials format dropped in favour of a straightforward 40-minute shootout, with the fastest individual time deciding the starting grid.
Nagashima took full advantage of the change in format and posted a blindingly quick lap of 2m04.934s in the first five minutes, lowering his own benchmark from Friday that had put Honda on provisional pole.
None of the other nine teams could break into the 2m05s barrier over the remainder of the session, putting Nagashima, three-time Suzuka winner Takumi Takahashi and Honda’s new World Superbike recruit Iker Lecuona on pole position aboard the #33 Fireblade.
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It was Kawasaki that emerged as Honda’s nearest challenger in qualifying with Jonathan Rea returning to the garage to huge applause after improving to a 2m05.149s late in the session with a purple time in Sector 2.
However, this was still over two tenths down on Nagashima’s chart-topping time, such was the one-time Moto2 race winner’s advantage at Suzuka.
Third place went to the YART team, which is Yamaha’s de facto main representative in the absence of a factory team.
It was 2016 IDM champion Marvin Fritz who led the charge for the frontrunning FIM Endurance World Championship team, posting a time of 2m05.769s aboard the Yamaha R1.
The top three were the only riders to break into the 2m05s bracket in qualifying, with a late effort from Josh Hook on the FCC TSR Honda only good enough for a 2m06.204s in fourth.
However, FCC TSR was still the fastest customer Honda in the session as it led a slew of outfits running the CBR1000RR-R, namely SDG, Sakurai, Dream, and Sofukai Suzuka in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
BMW’s first factory Suzuka 8 Hours outing yielded an ninth-place finish in qualifying courtesy of ex-WSBK rider Markus Reiterberger’s time of 2m06.897s.
The slowest runner in the qualifying shootout was the satellite Trickstar Kawasaki team, which ended up more than three seconds of the pace and will line up 10th on the grid.
The Yoshimura Suzuki team that failed to progress into Top 10 Trials on Friday will start the race from 22nd on the grid, with Gregg Black and Kazuki Watanabe competing as a duo in the absence of Sylvain Guintoli. The Ex-MotoGP rider suffered an injury on his left hand in a test session earlier this week and has flown back to the UK to undergo treatment.
Suzuka 8 Hours - Final qualifying results:
1.#33 Team HRC 2'04.934
2.#10 Kawasaki Racing Team Suzuka 8H
2'05.149 3.#7 YART - Yamaha Official Team EWC 2'05.769
4.#5 FCC TSR Honda France 2' 6.204
5.#73 SDG Honda Racing 2'6.409
6.#72 Honda Dream RT SAKURAI HONDA
2'6.564 7.#17 Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing
2'6.607 8.#25 Honda Sofukai Suzuka Racing Team
2'06.668 9.#37 BMW MOTORRAD WORLD ENDURANCE TEAM 2'06.897
10.#2 EVA RT 01 Webike TRICKSTAR 2'08.033
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