YART Yamaha EWC See Their Bol d'Or Aspirations go up in Flames
The YART Yamaha EWC team saw their chance of a first win at Circuit Paul Ricard go up in flames just four hours into the restarted Bol d'Or, when Loris Baz crashed out of the race lead after hitting oil dropped by a rival.
Baz, riding his second consecutive stint aboard the YART Yamaha YZF-R1, had just reclaimed the race lead after a pit stop when the FCC TSR Honda of Mike Di Meglio suffered an engine failure and dropped oil throughout the 180 degree Le Beausset corner.
Erwan Nigon, running third aboard the SRC Kawasaki, was the first to go down on the oil closely followed by Baz, whose bike then collided with the Kawasaki. Both bikes caught fire and were almost completely destroyed before marshals managed to extinguish the flames. Fortunately, both the riders and the marshals walked away uninjured.
It was a fiery end to what had already been an incident packed 83rd edition of the Bol d'Or. Torrential rain and high winds in the early stages saw the race red flagged and temporarily suspended after just three hours, while YART Yamaha were lying third, as standing water on track made it unsafe to continue.
With thunderstorms and more heavy rain forecast during the night Race Direction, after consultation with the Team Managers, decided to suspend the race until 06.00 the following morning, when weather conditions were predicted to improve.
It was Niccolò Canepa who took the restart for YART Yamaha, with the former Endurance World Champion doing a double stint in the tricky conditions, on a track that was initially fully wet but was starting to dry rapidly as a result of the blustery wind whipping around the circuit. Despite some minor technical issues, Canepa managed to progress from third to second before pitting early to switch to slicks and to hand the bike over to Baz.
Baz, taking maximum advantage of the slicks on a rapidly drying track, immediately made his mark on the race. The Frenchman was over a second quicker than his closest rivals throughout his first stint and rapidly progressed back through the field to take the race lead, before heading back in for the pit stop with an advantage of more than half a minute at the front. With such a strong pace in what were still tricky conditions, Baz remained onboard for a second consecutive stint. The YART Yamaha rider had just reclaimed the lead when the incident occurred at Le Beausset that eliminated Baz and his two closest rivals from the race.
It was a bitterly disappointing end to what had been an incredibly strong weekend for the YART Yamaha EWC squad. After dominating qualifying to claim pole position, the team looked set to challenge for their first ever win in the Bol d'Or, the only European endurance race at which they have yet to stand on the top step of the podium, until bad luck robbed them of the opportunity.
Yamaha was represented on the Bol d'Or podium by the Wójcik Racing Team, with Gino Rea, Christoffer Bergman and Axel Maurin finishing in an incredible second place aboard their YART Yamaha prepared EWC class YZF-R1. In the Superstock class it was the reigning champions Moto Ain who took the win with their SST specification Yamaha YZF-R1, piloted by Roberto Rolfo, Robin Mulhauser and Hugo Clere.
YART Yamaha EWC
"I'm frustrated and incredibly disappointed, as you can imagine, but also relieved that the crash wasn't more serious for Erwan, because my bike hit him and his bike so hard and then they both caught fire with him still next to them. It's the scariest crash I've ever been involved in and I think they could have been a bit quicker with the safety car. It was impossible to see the oil because there were still many parts of the track that were wet and the first I knew about it was when I lost the front. To finish like this is a real shame, as the whole team has done a fantastic job, my two teammates have been so strong on the bike from the start and we had a really good pace, not just in qualifying but also in the race. The restart this morning was tough. Riding through the night is one thing, but having to sleep, get up at four in the morning and then jump on the bike at six for two stints like Niccolò did is not so easy. My first stint on slicks was good and I took a lot of time out of the FCC TSR Honda to take the lead and then pull away. Marvin was ready to take over, but I decided to double stint as I had a good feel for the track conditions, which were still quite tricky. Everything was going really well and then… I'm really sad for the team, because we were so strong, and we should have won here today."
YART Yamaha EWC
"I'm really disappointed and a bit angry too. This race was for us, because we were so strong here. I tried to avoid making any mistakes during my stints and I was really fast on the bike. I had a small problem with the electronics during my double stint this morning, which limited my pace a little when the track started to dry in my second stint. Despite this I was still able to claim second place and it was the right choice to stop earlier than planned in order to switch to slicks for Loris, who took maximum advantage to catch the Honda and take the race lead. Everything was working well, the bike was easy to ride and, while I don't want to say that it was an easy race for us, we certainly had the potential to win today. Then came the crash, which wasn't too bad until the bike caught fire and took so long to be extinguished that it was almost completely destroyed. It's a real shame, because I felt good, the team was strong and my two teammates were fast, so to finish in this way was unlucky and bitterly disappointing. We have lost a lot of points in the championship, but we will keep pushing and we'll be ready for Sepang."
YART Yamaha EWC
"What can I say, other than we are really disappointed that our race ended like this after we clearly showed our potential in what were difficult circumstances. After dealing with the bad weather and the restart this morning, we were up there and fighting for the win. In the dry conditions we were the fastest all week, which was clear when we switched to slicks this morning. My teammates and the team did a great job all week; we qualified on pole and even in the crazy conditions we didn't make any mistakes. It's a shame then that our race ended when Loris crashed on the oil, but there was nothing he could do about that, it was just bad luck. We lost important points for the championship, so now we have to win the next race, which is the 8 Hours of Sepang."
Team Manager YART Yamaha EWC
"I don't know what to say. We did nothing wrong and we took no risks because we knew we were the fastest. We stayed calm and focused in the rain, maintaining a good pace, because we knew that once the track started to dry then our pace would have been pretty much unbeatable. It was all going to plan, with Loris leading the race, when we saw on the monitors that the Honda had stopped on track with an engine problem. Shortly afterwards when we looked at the timing screens, we could see that Loris and Erwan were also shown has having stopped. We thought it might be a timing issue, until we saw the big fire on the monitors. Both bikes had stopped for fuel just before they crashed on the oil from the broken Honda, and the impact caused the fire, which was a big one and pretty much destroyed both bikes. Thankfully both the riders and the marshals were uninjured, which is the most important thing given the severity of the incident. So, we were unlucky our race ended this way, given that the team and our riders had done such a fantastic job all week, but lucky in that everyone walked away from the crash. That's the unpredictability of endurance racing for you; just as you start to think you have everything figured out, something like this happens. Now we need to regroup and prepare for the next race in Malaysia, where I hope we can recover maximum points having missed out here at the Bol d'Or."