The Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team got off to their best start of the year in Qatar on day one of the final round of the 2017 FIM Superbike World Championship. In the sweltering heat and humidity under the floodlights at the Losail International Circuit, Alex Lowes continued the excellent form he has shown at the last two rounds, finishing the day in a sensational second position on the combined timesheets, just 0.259s off the top. Michael van der Mark also had a great start to the final race weekend of the season, ending Thursday in fifth overall to cap a superb opening day for the team with both riders, once again, making it directly through to SP2.
Lowes arrived in Qatar full of confidence after two strong rides to fourth at the last round in Jerez and he was quick right out of the blocks as the sun set in Qatar, setting a 1:59:502 on his just his second lap. Unfortunately, just as he was starting his fourth flying lap, the 27-year-old British rider was caught out by the dusty track conditions that often affect the early sessions at the Losail International Circuit and had a small crash at Turn 1. Luckily, the 2013 British Superbike Champion was unhurt and his team worked superbly to repair his Yamaha R1 in time and allow Lowes to take to the track for the final ten minutes of the session. Lowes managed to improve his time to a 1:58.679 on his final lap to finish the session in fourth.
Track conditions had improved for FP2 and determined to make up for the lost time, Lowes got straight down to work and, after an early red flag, managed to run a full race simulation to collect vital data for his team with most of the laps in the 1:58s, highlighting his very strong pace and consistency. Heading out to set a quick time at the end of the session, he managed a brilliant 1:57.925 on his very last lap to end Thursday in second overall, just 0.259s off the pace of Jonathan Rea.
Fresh from an excellent MotoGP debut in Sepang with the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team the weekend before, Van der Mark approached Thursday at the Losail International Circuit in his usual fashion, building his pace with the Yamaha R1 throughout the day. Despite a lack of grip in FP1, there was almost nothing to separate the 25-year-old Dutch rider and his flying teammate at the end of the hour long session, with van der Mark recording a 1:58.680 to finish just 0.001s behind Lowes in fifth place.
In FP2 van der Mark focused on trying to find the right setup with his Pata Yamaha R1, working with his team in an effort to find increased rear grip. After making some tweaks, the 2014 Supersport World Champion put together a nice run of laps in the mid to high 1:58s, but still feels there is more potential to unlock with his R1 when it comes to race pace. On his final run, he managed to set a 1:58.315 which saw him finish fifth overall on the timesheets, 0.649s off the top, and he is determined to make another step forward on Friday in Qatar.
The Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team return to action at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar on Friday at 16:20 pm local time for FP3, with qualifying due to start at 18:30 pm and the 17-lap Race 1 at 21:00 pm.
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - 2nd +0.259s
"Before the weekend, I was really looking forward to this round as it's a track I really enjoy! The team got their first podium here last year as well, so it's obviously a track that suits the Yamaha R1 too. I also feel like I am riding well at the moment, so it was a bit annoying to make a mistake right at the start of FP1 and miss about 45 minutes of the session, which was a shame because we missed out on some time to find the right setup. In FP2, I made a long run and felt quite good plus, after missing out on the time in FP1, there is a good chance we can make more improvements tomorrow. I really, really hope I can fight with the guys at the front during the race, as it has been a great year and I want to finish it as strongly as possible. FP2 was a very busy session and doing a race simulation in these temperatures is always hard work but it is all about putting in the effort in during practice so that you can reap the benefits come race day!"
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - 5th +0.649s
"We have had a good first day here in Qatar and I am very happy with my Pata Yamaha R1! To be honest, we had quite a good pace but we are still struggling a little bit, so we have some changes to make for tomorrow. Anyway, it was good to see how much the bike has improved again, every track we get to it is now competitive straight away. The bike was quick here last year and it was great to see with all the changes we have made this season that it was still quick here! I am happy with how today went but, for sure, we have a lot of work to do as I have a good one-lap pace, but we need to work on our consistency. One of the issues is grip, we managed to solve most of the problems by the end, but we are still searching for the perfect setup and we will work as hard as we can tomorrow to get it right!"
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team Principal
"The night race here in Qatar is always a slightly surreal and special atmosphere and the bikes look fantastic under the lights at the Losail International Circuit. The Pata Yamaha Team achieved its first podium here at the end of 2016 and following some great results in Magny-Cours and Jerez, we arrived here with the confidence that we would be able to perform quite well. It has been the best first day of the season for the team, the only minor blip being Alex's crash in FP1, but on a dirty, dusty circuit it is easily done and, most importantly, there was no harm done to the rider. Once the bike was retrieved, the team did an incredible job to repair quite extensive damage very calmly but, also very quickly, to get Alex back out at the end of the session to not only check the bike but also to improve his lap time. Well done to Alex's crew and everyone involved! The track improved a little in FP2 but as the humidity levels rise that also causes its own issues. We managed to improve quite significantly with both riders, Michael pushing hard and showing good consistency as always, in addition to a race simulation and a great lap at the end for Alex, and P2 and P5 were just reward for a good day's work by the whole team."