Foto Friday: VDM – The relief of winning

by | May 15, 2020 | Endurance, Foto Friday, Latest News | 0 comments

A picture is worth a thousand words but the memories of a picture can be even more important. What does a picture mean to you and what does the moment captured mean?

For the first in this series we talked with Danilo Petrucci about the moment he won his home Grand Prix but for Week 2 Michael van der Mark remembered the 2018 Suzuka 8 Hours. This is what the Dutchman considers his greatest Suzuka victory.

Taken moments after celebrating on the pitwall with as Alex Lowes took the chequered flag this picture shows not the emotion of a victory but rather the relief of doing what you expect of yourself. Any elite athlete expects to win. It’s what the train for and it’s what they demand of themselves. Once the initial joy of the victory passes, and it can pass almost instantly, the mind starts to focus on the next goal, on the next challenge and most importantly on the next win.

The 2018 Suzuka 8 Hours was a trying one for van der Mark and his Yamaha team but it also left one of his greatest racing memories…

“This picture means a lot to me because that race was so intense,” said van der Mark. “It was incredible. Suzuka is always an amazing experience because of the pressure and the nature of the race. Usually we work on our own and aim to beat our teammate but at Suzuka it’s different. In WorldSBK it was me against Alex and even though we had fun together you had to beat each other. In Suzuka it’s much more relaxed and you work together for the win. That’s why I love endurance racing.

“Yamaha had been the best team at Suzuka for a few years and was the favourite but 2018 was the first year that Johnny came back. We knew that with Johnny on the bike it would change Suzuka! Kawasaki would push harder and the challenge would be bigger. In practice we stuck to our plan of being consistent with all three riders but Kawasaki were setting lap records. It was going to be a tough battle!

“On the Saturday morning we were in the cabin and we noticed that Kats [Katsuyuki Nakasuga] was a bit more nervous than usual. He always has a lot of pressure at Suzuka because he’s so fast there and Yamaha trust him so much. It was later that we found out he wasn’t feeling well and he crashed straight out of the pits in the morning practice. He was hurt but he tried to go out again but he couldn’t ride. Straight away me and Alex knew that it would be the two of us and that we’d have to work really hard. Johnny was back at Suzuka and Kawasaki were on lap record race and now we had lost a rider.

“Endurance racing is all about compromise and for us that meant using the riding position for Kats. It was always OK for Alex because he’s smaller but I’m a lot taller and body position was always a problem for me. With only two riders the team said that they’d open the bars and create more space. It was good for Alex but really helped me and immediately I did my fastest lap ever at Suzuka on my first run! It showed how much of a handicap the riding position was but that’s part of endurance racing. You work as part of a team.

“Qualifying was OK but afterwards we could see that the team were different to normal. It felt like they had lost motivation because Kats was injured. The challenge was bigger but the reward was still big because we knew that we could definitely finish on the podium and between the two of us we were confident we could still win. During the meeting the team asked if I could start the race because Alex had experience of finishing the race in the night session. Starting the race was very different for me! I’d won at Suzuka but starting the race was huge and I called my dad to tell him. He was so happy and proud but honestly…I was so nervous!

“On the grid the dark clouds started to come in but then they went away. You feel relieved and think it will be dry…then suddenly it started to rain! It set us up for a crazy 8 Hours! At the start, in the wet, I was in the top three and just doing my best to not make mistakes but I knew that the track was drying and I’d need to switch to slick tyres at some point. I was using a dark visor as well for the start and that was always something my dad joked about from his days racing. He always told me, ‘In the rain wear a dark visor. That way you can’t see things, and if you can’t see them you’ll be fast.’ I couldn’t see anything at the start of the race, but it worked!

“When it was time to change to slick I came into the pits but I didn’t see Alex in his leathers! All I saw was the team manager and he told me, ‘you’re going again!’ My first stint was 90 minutes and so intense. I had a big battle with Johnny, after he got on the Kawasaki with their rider change, and we followed each other for an hour. It was amazing! My third stint was long again because we had a safety car because it started to rain again and we swapped to wet tyres. I had a great feeling on the wet tyre at the start of the race that it gave me confidence for when the safety car came in. I had a Honda in front of me and immediately I went past it and pulled away a massive gap.

“Alex did the last stint, he had to pit close to the end for some extra fuel because the strategy had changed with the safety car and the rain, and it meant that the gap at the front was closer but we were still safe. It was such a special race but of what it meant for us. The team were hit by Kats’s injury and it felt like they had given up but me and Alex knew what we could do. It was a tough race but it was my best Suzuka 8 Hours victory. I was in so much pain afterwards because Suzuka is so tough on your body but it’s worth it for the win!”

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