Reigning Suzuka 8 Hour champion Alex Lowes says that defending their crown at this year’s prestigious endurance race won’t be as easy as it has been in recent years, thanks to the all-star line-up of factory teams out to knock him and teammates Michael van der Mark and Katsuyuki Nakasuga off the top spot.
The Brit, who announced this week that he and his Dutch teammate will be remaining with the Crescent Yamaha World Superbike effort for at least another year, has now won the race on the last two outings. He and van der Mark in turn took over the all-conquering R1 from fellow Brit Bradley Smith and his Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Pol Espargaro, meaning the squad go into this weekend’s race looking to make it four in a row at Honda’s home track.
But while they’ve had it all their own way in recent years, Lowes told MCN ahead of flying to Japan that it won’t be that easy this year, thanks in part to the strength of the Kawasaki team headed by three-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea.
“It’s funny what the Kawasaki guys have been saying about going into the race as underdogs, because they’ve got a very strong team this year. Maybe they’re taking the pressure off themselves a bit, but this year’s race is definitely going to be a lot closer than it has been in the last few years, which is good for the fans but not so much for us!
“It’s been a bit boring in the past few years once the first few laps have been done, but it won’t be like that this year. We’ve been working hard during the night practices to make sure that we’ve got a little bit extra just in case the race is close at the end. We’ve been working hard though, and I think we’ll still start the race as the favourites.”
And while the R1 has proven to be an unbeatable package in recent years thanks in large part to its MotoGP-derived electronics, Lowes says that even there they need some work thanks to some rule changes.
“There’s been a few changes to the bike since last year, especially with moving from 16.5-inch Bridgestones to 17 inch ones, and that’s obviously changed the bike set-up quite a bit. We still need some time to work on that, but we got plenty of dry laps done during testing so we’ve made a good start.
“The biggest challenge of this year’s race might be the heat though, as it looks like it’s going to be quite a bit hotter than it has been in the last few years. Last year’s race was quite cool for Japan in the summer, but it looks like that’s going to change this year.