Gorgeous weather and ideal conditions greeted the FIM EWC teams at the iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for Friday’s Free Practice and Qualifying sessions, as the YART Yamaha team of Karel Hanika, Niccolò Canepa, Marvin Fritz, and reserve-rider Robin Mulhauser looked to build on the impressive pace that had seen them top Tuesday’s test at the track.
Heading into the second round of the season, the Austrian squad were second in the championship standings with 54 points, just nine behind the leaders. During a 24-hour race, there are five points up for grabs during qualifying, so the team knew every session could be vital, especially as they have form around the 6.985km Belgian circuit after Hanika set a new lap record (2:18.845) on his way to securing pole in 2022.
Immediately the #7 Bridgestone-shod R1 was on the pace during the morning's one-hour practice session, with YART topping the timesheets after setting a 2:19.663, almost a second faster than the next team.
This pace continued into the first qualifying sessions, with Italian rider Canepa heading out first wearing the Blue armband and leading the way with a 2:19.154, which would end up being the fastest time of the day, to finish 0.903s ahead of the next best rider.
Fritz was next up in the Yellow session, and the German rider did not disappoint, firing in a 2:19.352 to finish fastest in his session by 0.773s. Hanika then stepped up to the plate in the Red group, producing a 2:19.347 to provisionally secure pole for the team.
Incredibly, all three main riders lapped the longest circuit on the EWC calendar within 0.198s of each other, showcasing the team’s incredible pace and consistency. Mulhauser then made it a clean sweep for Yamaha in the morning by topping the Green session with a 2:22.531s, meaning that YART riders had topped every session so far.
After ensuring they were in the driving seat for pole position and with temperatures rising as the afternoon went on, making it challenging to go quicker, the team switched to working on their race setup during the second qualifying sessions. This saw the main three riders use one set of race tyres between them during their sessions to simulate a stint during the race.
Despite not trying to set a hot lap, all the YART riders were still in the top four in their groups during the second qualifying sessions. Blue rider Canepa was fourth with a 2:21.083. At the same time, Fritz also secured fourth after he set a 2:22.092 in the Yellow group, while Hanika in the Red session was second quickest with a 2:21.378. Mulhauser made sure he topped both Green sessions after setting a 2:22.622 in the final qualifying session.
In EWC, the two fastest riders' times are combined to give the overall result. This meant Canepa’s and Hanika's efforts from the first qualifying sessions put together gave YART a time of 2:19.251, which was good enough to claim back-to-back pole positions at the 24H SPA EWC Motos and the team’s first of the 2023 season, plus secure five vital championship points in the process.
It was an impressive showing from the new for 2023 KM Motos team of Lucas Mahias, Florian Marino, and Bastian Mackels who qualified in sixth with an average time of 2:21.192, while the Moto Ain Yamaha EWC Supported Team of Corentin Perolari, Roberto Tamburini, and Alessandro Polita set a 2:22.006 to secure seventh on the grid. Wojcik Racing Team EWC 77’s Sheridan Morais, Isaac Vinales, and Mathieu Gines made it four R1s in the top ten after recording a 2:22.627, while the Maco Racing Team of Balint Kovacs, Enzo Boulom, and Martin Vugrinec will start the race from 14th after setting a combined time of 2:24.062.
Next up for the teams is the 90-minute night practice that starts at 9:30 pm local time (UTC+2) on Friday. Then all focus turns to the 24-hour race, where after such a commanding performance during qualifying and after the disappointment of last year when they were forced to retire from the lead just after the 18-hour mark, the YART team are determined to fight for victory when it gets underway on Saturday at 2 pm local time (UTC+2) with the traditional “Le Mans” running start.