Vince Lombardi once said that he “firmly believes that any man's finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out for a good cause and he lies exhausted on the field of battle. Victorious.”
The day is done, the battle is won and for a third consecutive year Yamaha lifted the Suzuka 8 Hours trophy. It was a dominant performance by the Number 21 crew and in the aftermath they sat and enjoyed their success. They weren't exhausted but for Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark and Katsuyuki Nakasuga this was the final moment of their 2017 Suzuka.
Sitting in their paddock office the trio of riders were relaxed but the emotions of the day were starting to take hold. For van der Mark it was the realisation that for a third time he had stood on the top step of the podium. It was a case of “job done” for Lowes who's trio of stints were a superb display of speed, consistency and maturity. Nakasuga joins van der Mark as a three time winner and his status as the King of Suzuka is retained. Indeed it was his opening stint that laid the foundations of their success.
“We were lucky with the weather today but in that first hour Katsuyuki [Nakasuga] was so impressive,” reflected van der Mark. “He had a perfect rider to follow with Takahashi because Takumi is always very strong in those types of conditions. It was a really good first stint and then when Alex went on the bike he was really strong and fast and was able to break the lap record.
“This race is such a big event that it takes a long time for the result to sink in. You finish the eight hours and suddenly the adrenaline wears off and you start to slow down. It's a draining race! It's an incredible race because there are so many people involved in making it a success. There are three riders but there are so many other people involved in the team that make such a big effort for it to be successful.”
The level of resources available to the Yamaha Factory Team brings with it a level of expectation. Yamaha will provide a great bike to the riders and the team leaves no stone unturned. All they expect in return is victory at the biggest race of the year.
“There is a lot of expectation on us to win this race but it was actually a very enjoyable race for me,” said Lowes. “I felt good on the bike so it was fun to race it. I was very confident in my dry pace and the pace of our team but I didn't want the race to be decided by the conditions. I wanted it to be a dry race and we showed what we were capable of in the race.
I've really enjoyed this week because it's gone well for us and we've not had many problems. It's good because the Laguna Seca WorldSBK round was difficult for us. I want to try and take some of the lessons from this race and apply them to the rest of the WorldSBK season. Michael and Nakasuga-san have been tremendous and we've worked really well together. It's been a great atmosphere in the team this week.”
That atmosphere has certainly been the cornerstone of their success but with the champagne from the podium still fresh on their leathers both WorldSBK riders already had their thoughts turned to the next goal; winning on their regular bike.
“I've learned a lot from Nakasuga about riding the R1 and even though the tyres are different I think that it'll apply to our bike,” continued Lowes. “There's so much knowledge here in the garage and in this team that it's important to make sure that you ask questions and try and gain from their experience. You've got to try and learn from all the resources available here and I think that there's some things that we can apply to the setup of our bike from here.”
The bikes may be different between Suzuka and WorldSBK but winning the 8 Hours certainly whetted van der Mark's appetite for success.
“Every year that I've come to Suzuka I've expected to win and this year was no different,” said the Dutchman. “The atmosphere inside Yamaha is very similar to what I experienced when I raced the Honda; they expect that we will win. Yamaha came here to write history and win a third Suzuka 8 Hours in a row.
“I've always been lucky to be on good bikes at this race and that always means that you come to Suzuka with a level of expectation. It's been a few years since I won a race and it's great to be back on the top step of the podium. I've been so lucky to win this race three times now and really is amazing. This race can give you such a good feeling but I think that it's only when you win that you really feel that.”
The WorldSBK riders will be keen to have that feeling again as soon as possible.