Suzuka 8 Hours: Honda takes provisional pole in dominant fashion
Honda put in a dominant display in the opening two qualifying sessions for the Suzuka 8 Hours to claim provisional pole position, as rain showers scuppered rivals’ attempts at dethroning the Sakura-based marque.
Tetsuta Nagashima and Takumi Takahashi combined to set an average lap time of 2m05.718s during their respective sessions on Friday morning, securing the top spot for themselves and teammate Iker Lecuona.
Out of the factory HRC duo it was Nagashima who set the quickest laptime, the one-time Moto2 race winner’s benchmark of 2m04.942s almost a second quicker than any other rider managed over the course of the day.
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A bout of rain during the final leg of opening qualifying rendered the track too damp for the ‘red’ rider in each crew to have a shot at being included in the average lap time, which from this year only takes into account the fastest two riders from each bike instead of all three.
Although the conditions improved significantly for the second half of qualifying, the track still remained too green for any significant improvements, meaning Nagashima and Takashi’s time in the #33 HRC remained unbeaten.
YART made up for Yamaha’s factory absence in the Suzuka 8 Hours, with the full-season FIM Endurance World Championship team setting the second-quickest average time courtesy of Marvin Fritz and Niccolo Canepa.
YART successfully outpaced the factory Kawasaki entry run by its World Superbike Championship squad, which was compromised by its star rider Jonathan Rea being put in the final 'red' session that was hit by rain.
With only Alex Lowes and Leon Haslam’s times counting for Kawasaki’s qualifying effort, the #10 bike ended up just a few tenths shy of the time set by the YART crew in third.
Kosuke Sakumoto and Kazuma Watanabe put the #17 Honda Dream team in fourth place, while FIM EWC regular FCC TSR team made it three CBR1000RR-R bikes inside the top five with Josh Hook and Gino Rea as its two fastest riders.
BMW’s factory entry yielded a sixth-place finish in qualifying thanks to former WSBK rider Markus Reiterberger and two-time IDM champion Ilya Mikhalchik.
Three more Honda crews earned a spot in the Top 10 trials, namely the Sakurai, SDG and the Sofukai Suzuka teams, while the final spot in the qualifying shootout was booked by Kawasaki satellite team Webike Trickstar.
There was major drama for the Yoshimura Suzuki team in what is set to be the marque’s final outing at Suzuka as a factory entry, with Sylvain Guintoli, Gregg Black and Kazuki Watanabe unable to progress to the Top 10 Trials.
This could end up affecting the outfit’s EWC title prospects as well, with its chief rival FCC TSR Honda safely making it inside Saturday’s final qualifying session in fifth.
Provisional qualifying top 10
1. #33 Team HRC
2. #7 YART - Yamaha Official Team EWC
3. #10 Kawasaki Racing Team Suzuka 8H
4. #17 Astemo Honda Dream SI Racing
5. #5 FCC TSR Honda France
6. #37 BMW MOTORRAD WORLD ENDURANCE TEAM
7. #72 Honda Dream RT SAKURAI HONDA
8. #73 SDG Honda Racing
9. #25 Honda Sofukai Suzuka Racing
10. #2 EVA RT 01 Webike TRICKSTAR Kawasaki
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