Suzuka 8 Hours: Yamaha storms to victory amid Honda misery

Yamaha defend Suzuka 8 Hours crown as Pol Espargaro, Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Alex Lowes dominate the Japanese classic

Suzuka 8 Hours: Yamaha storms to victory amid Honda misery

YAMAHA has won the Suzuka 8 Hours for the second year in a row after Pol Espargaro, Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Alex Lowes dominated Sunday's prestigious endurance race. 

Last season saw Espargaro, Nakasuga and Bradley Smith had claimed the factory's first Suzuka win since 1996. 

The revised line-up of Lowes in place of Smith then put one hand on this year's trophy when main rivals Musashi Honda (Takumi Takahashi, Michael VD Mark and Nicky Hayden) stopped with a technical problem before the end of the third hour. 

Already 50-seconds ahead of the #634 bike as it pulled off track, Tech 3's Espargaro was 1m 22s clear when he handed the R1 back to Nakasuga to start the second round of track stints. 

The Japanese champion, also a Yamaha MotoGP test rider and podium finishing wild-card, had earlier recovered from a poor start to give the #21 team a narrow lead at the first pit stop, which WSBK star Lowes built upon before passing the machine to Espargaro.

Unopposed in terms of pace, the Yamaha trio kept their concentration and held a lead of almost a lap over the remainder of the field, eventually winning by 2m 17.883s. 

Each of the riders completed three sweltering track sessions of approximately an hour in length, the last of which took part in darkness. Lowes had the honour of receiving the chequered flag while Espargaro, Nakasuga and their victorious team celebrated in pit lane. 

It was Espargaro's last appearance at Suzuka for the foreseeable future since he is moving to KTM in MotoGP next season. 

“It's an amazing feeling,” said the Spaniard. “This is an historic race and we've won twice. It's the best feeling ever. The second time is better - always!” 

First time winner Lowes added: “It's fantastic. The last half-an-hour I just made sure I didn't make any mistakes. Nakasuga, Pol and me got a gap in our first stints and then were sensible. It's a different style of racing for me but I enjoyed it. Maybe next year we can come back and try again!” 

The official Kawasaki team of Akira Yanagawa, Kazuki Watanabe and BSB title contender Leon Haslam took second place by ten-seconds over the Yoshimura Suzuki team of Takuya Tsuda, BSB champion and WSBK rider Josh Brookes plus Superbike legend Noriyuki Haga after a race-long battle. 

Endurance Championship regulars YART, then Moto Map Suzuki and Eva RT Kawasaki completed the top six. 

Honda's hopes of regaining the Suzuka crown it won five times in a row prior to 2015 (and 27 times out of 38 races) ended when former MotoGP champion and recent WSBK race winner Hayden came to a halt towards the end of what would be his first and last run. 

The American, who began his stint 20s behind the Factory Yamaha, had been in trouble as soon as he left the pits. Although he remained in second place, Hayden slipped 50s from Espargaro by the time his Fireblade finally gave up.

It was the second successive technical issue for the official MuSashi RT Harc Pro Honda team, with Casey Stoner - whose place Hayden filled for 2016 - suffering a stuck throttle while leading last season. 

Earlier, Hayden's team-mate Takumi Takahashi recovered from a poor start to sit a close third as he handed over to WSBK star Michael VD Mark, who swiftly moved into second as the Kagayama team had front wheel problems during their first pit stop. 

A back-on-form Ryuichi Kiyonari had led much of the opening hour for Kagayama before Nakasuga found a way past, but team boss Yukio Kagayama would pull off with a puncture, soon after the pit stop woes. 

That left the evenly matched Team Green Kawasaki and Yoshimura Suzuki squads fighting for third place, which became second after Hayden's exit. A notable highlight in their contest was a thrilling duel between Haslam and Haga shortly after the five-hour mark. 

Former Suzuka winner Haslam finally got the upper hand, despite some close moments with the backmarkers (almost 70 riders began the race) clearing the way for Kawasaki to claim the runner-up spot. 

Nevertheless, Brookes put up a spirited charge in the final hour to keep pressure on the #87 team – with Haslam parking his ZX-10R on the slow down lap, possibly due to a lack of fuel. 

The FCC TSR team, who had qualified as the top Honda courtesy of PJ Jacobsen's impressive efforts, saw their podium hopes crumble when Moto2's Dominique Aegerter lowsided from third place. The Swiss was the most high-profile of many fallers in the opening hour. 

WSS rider and former Moto2 podium finisher Gino Rea suffered technical problems on his Toho Honda, but the team still recovered to eleventh. 

Espargaro will be back in MotoGP action when the summer break ends with the Austrian Grand Prix from August 12-14. 

Suzuka 8 Hours: Race Results 
1. #21 Yamaha Factory Racing Nakasuga/Espargaro/Lowes laps 
2. #87 Team Green Yanagawa/Haslam/Watanabe +2m 17.883s 
3. #12 Yoshimura Suzuki Tsuda/Brookes/Haga +1 lap 
4. #7 YART Yamaha EWC Team Parkes/Nozane/Fujita +4 laps 
5. #32 Moto Map Suzuki Waters/Aoki/Konno +4 laps 
6. #17 Kagayama Suzuki Kagayama/Uramoto/Kiyonari +5 laps 
7. #01 Eva RT Kawasaki Deguchi/Izutsu/Nigon +5 laps 
8. #22 SatuHati Honda Team Asia Pratama/Wilairot/Zaidi +6 laps 
9. #18 Mistresa ATS Honda Nakatsuhara/Kobayashi/Sekiguchi +6 laps 
10. #090 Teluru RT Honda Akiyoshi/Cudlin/Ohkubo +6 laps