It was an unfortunate end to what had been an encouraging week in Belgium as the EWC returned to the legendary spa circuit for the first time since 2001. However, a forecast of thunderstorms at some point during the race meant it would never be straightforward. The YART Yamaha team had qualified on pole after Karel Hanika set a new lap record in qualifying on Friday, and it was Marvin Fritz who got them off to a superb start when the race got underway on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The former IDM Champion was involved in a captivating five-way battle for the lead for the whole of his first stint before handing the bike over to teammate Niccolò Canepa who continued the fight.
After the first two stints, it became clear that there was a slight electrical issue with the YART R1, but Hanika kept on pushing, and after three hours, just nine seconds were separating the top three. Fritz took up the baton, bravely riding through the pain barrier after picking up a wrist injury in a crash during Thursday’s Free Practice. When the German rider handed the bike over to Canepa for his second stint, the Italian was forced to return to the pits after just one lap due to a faulty speed sensor on the front wheel, which was the cause of the electrical issue they were suffering from.
Re-joining in seventh, two laps down on the leaders, Canepa and his teammates mounted a tremendous comeback. Taking on the challenging Spa circuit in style and consistently lapping faster than their rivals, they had recovered to fourth position by hour six. Each rider kept up the pressure as night fell around the iconic track, not putting a foot wrong and hitting every marker as they clawed back time to the leaders, and with ten hours gone, they were in third and closing every lap on the bikes in front.
The Austrian squad maintained this momentum, and after 16 hours, they were up to second place on the timing screens. Redoubling their efforts, the team started to close down the leaders and Fritz was involved in another battle royale at the front once more after a sensational fightback. Canepa took over on track just as the forecasted rain started to fall, and sensing his moment, the 34-year-old pushed in the mixed conditions, opening up a 12-second lead before disaster struck. A technical issue with the R1 meant that he had to pull over to the side of the track. Despite his and the team’s best efforts to get the bike back to the box and running again, it was not to be, and they were forced to retire from the race, having completed 454 laps around the 6.985km circuit.
It was not a complete disaster for the YART Yamaha team because not only did they show exceptional pace, but they also secured 21 championship points. They were awarded five for qualifying on pole, another seven for being placed in fourth at the eight-hour mark, and nine more as they were second when the clock hit 16 hours. This means they are currently third in the overall EWC Standings with 76 points, 30 points off the leaders with two rounds still to go.
Torrential rain and oil on the track saw the race suspended in the 21st hour, but proceedings were restarted behind the safety car with 15 minutes to go, and the Wojcik Racing EWC Team led the way for Yamaha by finishing in fifth. The Viltais Racing Igol Team put in a strong performance to end the race in sixth, and just one lap further back was Team Moto Ain who secured seventh. TEAM LH Racing made it four Yamaha’s in the top ten as they won the Superstock class and secured eighth overall. Maco Racing saw the chequered flag in 14th, while the 3ART Best of Bike team, unfortunately, had to retire after 320 laps.
One thing is for sure; the Yamalube YART Yamaha Official EWC Team will come back stronger and ready to fight back at the historic Suzuka 8 Hours on the 5th-7th of August, as the EWC returns to Japan for the first time since 2019 for Round 3 of the 2022 FIM Endurance World Championship.