Foto Friday: Alex Lowes – You don’t need the sun in your eyes at 130R!
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?
We’ve previously heard Michael van der Mark tell the tale of the 2018 Suzuka 8 Hours and now his teammate for that race, Alex Lowes, offers his thoughts on what it’s like to be on the bike for the final stint of the Suzuka 8 Hours.
The Code of the Samurai lists numerous virtues that define a warrior’s honour. You need courage but it cannot be foolhardy courage; there must be a logic to what you decide to do. Respect, honesty and self control are key qualities for a warrior. At the Suzuka 8 Hours a rider needs all of these qualities if they are to win the race.
The final stint at Suzuka. It’s an hour where a Japanese manufacturer rewards a rider for his efforts. With the sun setting quickly in the Far-East the final stint begins in the light and ends in total darkness. Twenty minutes after getting on the bike a rider will be adapting to racing with a headlight rather than sunlight. To find out what the final stint is like to experience RacingLowdown.com spoke with three-time winner Alex Lowes.
“This picture is interesting because it’s just as the sun starts to go down and it starts to get darker,” explains Lowes. “I’ve been on the bike every year for that stint and it always takes an adjustment because it gets dark very quickly at Suzuka. When you get on the bike it’s not dark so you have to be very aware during the last hour to adjust to the light. You need to prepare for it, and that’s where experience can help, because I’ll have a clear visor on my helmet but I’ll have a dark tear-off.
“You need the clear visor for once it gets dark but because the sun is setting you need the tinted tear-off. The worst place for the sun to hit you is actually where this picture is taken. As you come up the back straight towards 130R you can really see the light in your eyes. 130R is a fast, scary corner so you don’t need any more challenges through it! When the sun is gone I’ll take off the tear-off and then it’s easier to see in the dark. The most difficult thing about riding in the dark is just to get your references. It’s obviously harder to see your turn-in points so you tend to be a bit safer and turn-in earlier. I’ve got lots of experience of that now and know what to look for.”
In 2016 Lowes took his first Suzuka victory. Despite having Pol Espargaro and Katsuyuki Nakasuga as teammates it was Lowes who was rewarded with the final hour. During that race Yamaha held a lead of over one lap and as he waited to get on the bike he was given a warning: don’t be a hero just get the bike home. Get to the end and get to the party was the clear message.
“I was told to ride around,” recalls Lowes. “They said not to do anything that would stop us from winning and don’t crash! The target lap time was a 2m12. I was three seconds faster on my out lap so I thought to myself ‘I’ve got to calm down.’ I wanted to enjoy it. How many times are you going to get to ride a factory bike, around Suzuka, in the dark, with a two-minute lead and have to just bring the bike back around to win it? It’s a mega position to be in and in those last last 15 minutes I just wanted to enjoy it.”
Despite racking up three wins at Suzuka, and last year’s controversial finish, the draw of the Japanese race is still significant.
“This picture is typical Suzuka, there’s the big wheel, the sun setting and this was my favourite colour scheme from Yamaha. The red and white anniversary colours and this race means a lot to me because of how hard it was. Me and Michael [van der Mark] raced together for it and because of everything that went into that race it’s my favourite Suzuka win. For the first seven hours we had done a great job and it meant that the last hour was a little bit easier and you can enjoy the experience. When you’re endurance racing it’s all about keeping consistent and concentrating and that’s what you have to do in the final hour with a lead.
“I love Suzuka because the track is amazing. This picture is taken at 130R but on the other side of the fence is Dunlop Corner, there’s actually a link road between the two sections to make a shorter track, and Dunlop is an amazing corner. It’s very fast and you slide a lot through there so it’s fun to ride but the corners leading up to it are fantastic.
“At Suzuka one corner links into the next so the first 40 seconds of the lap are really important. Suzuka is a special track, the 8 Hours is a special race and the most unique experience of the race is that final hour because it gets dark. You don’t get to experience something like that for the rest of the year and that’s what makes the final hour so special.”