The legendary endurance race at the 4.185 km Bugatti Circuit lived up to its reputation for drama as over 77,000 fans witnessed the action unfold over the weekend, with crashes, multiple safety cars, oil on the track, cold weather and even fog, all playing their part.
Saturday got off to a good start for the YART Yamaha team of Niccolò Canepa, Karel Hanika, and Marvin Fritz after the Austrian squad topped the Warm Up session. When the lights went out at 3 pm local time for the beginning of the race, it was German rider Fritz who took the first stint and, following the traditional running start, he got away well from second on the grid only to almost be caught up in a crash involving the two leading bikes on the very first lap. The 26-year-old recovered superbly to hit the front and open a four-second advantage before the first of several interruptions for safety cars would bring him back into the clutches of the other riders.
Fritz pitted from the lead to hand over to Hanika, and it looked like pit-stop strategy would be critical, with all three YART riders taking turns leading the race as they exchanged stops with their rivals. After six hours, Canepa had opened up a seven-second gap before he came into the pits due to an issue with the front brake calliper. Working quickly to resolve the problem, the team fixed the bike in just over three minutes to get the R1 back out on track in third, two laps behind the leaders.
Battling back strongly through the night as the air temperature dropped down to 3 degrees Celsius, Hanika retook second place just before the crucial eight-hour mark to claim nine of the ten available championship points available at that stage of the race. They continued to push as a heavy fog descended on the track making the challenge of riding in the dark even more demanding, consolidating second and consistently lapping quicker than the other teams on track.
Unfortunately, Hanika would find himself one of several riders caught out by oil on the circuit during the 13th hour of racing and crashed through no fault of his own, luckily walking away unhurt. To compound the team’s bad luck, another bike hit the #7 R1 as it lay in the gravel, causing more damage to the machine.
Once the bike was back in the garage, incredibly, the team managed to repair the damage in under nine minutes, meaning the battle for the podium was still on. Hanika immediately got back on the R1 and rejoined in fourth before mounting an excellent fightback that saw him move up to third by the 16-hour mark to secure eight more points for the team.
The Czech rider handed the hand the bike over to Canepa, who once again got his head down, setting the team’s fastest lap, a 1:35.984, during another impressive stint that ensured they were back in second when he pitted to swap with Fritz. The 29-year-old continued the good work, and the trio were faultless for the rest of the race, seeing out a tricky last few hours as they navigated slower riders and more safety car interruptions in style.
Canepa took the last stint to bring the YART R1 home in second after completing 825 laps, three laps behind the eventual winners, securing back-to-back podiums at Le Mans for the team in the process. With the unique way points are awarded in the Endurance World Championship, YART were awarded four in qualifying, nine at the eight-hour mark, eight at the 16-hour mark, and 33 for finishing the race in second, for a total of 54. This sees the Yamalube YART Yamaha Team second in the championship standings, just nine points behind the leaders.
The 3ART Best of Bike Yamaha team of Martin Renaudin, Ludovic Cauchi, and Mathieu Lagrive were also celebrating on the podium after they claimed second in the FIM Endurance World Cup and ninth overall in front of their home fans. The team scored 53 points in the SST class, leaving France second in the Cup Standings.
Wojcik Racing Team EWC 77’s Christoffer Bergman, Isaac Vinales and Mathieu Gines finished in 12th, while the Maco Racing Team of Anthony West, Enzo Boulom and Bálint Kovács were 32nd. The KM Motos squad of Lucas Mahias, Florian Marino and Bastien Mackels showed good early pace before a crash saw their chances of success fall away, eventually retiring after 521 laps, while the Moto Ain Yamaha EWC Supported Team also recorded a DNF after a technical issue five hours into the race.
The next round of the 2023 FIM Endurance World Championship is the 24H SPA EWC Motos at the iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium from the 16th to the 18th of June.
Full Le Mans 24 Heures Motos Race Results