The 85th edition of the iconic endurance race, which first took place in 1922, lived up to its reputation when it comes to drama, as most of the leading championship teams suffered misfortune at the final round of the EWC season in France. The 5.673km Circuit Paul Ricard was taking no prisoners right from the off, with the engine-breaking 1.8km Mistral straight and strong winds turning it into a race of attrition.
The YART Yamaha team started second on the grid, trailing the championship leaders by just 33 points with 80 up for grabs during the 24-hour race and five teams in contention for the title. Marvin Fritz, who had set the fastest qualifying time, took the first stint but encountered a problem right away as he ran to the bike and struggled to get the #7 R1 started. Once the 29-year-old managed to get going, he found himself way down the pack, but the German rider immediately began to attack and make up ground. By the end of his first stint, he had propelled YART into fifth, and as he handed the bike over to teammate Karel Hanika, they were just second behind the leaders.
After just an hour, the Le Castellet circuit was already taking its toll, as the championship leaders were forced to retire, having completed just 34 laps. Knowing this opened the door for YART, Hanika fought his way up to second and became embroiled in a superb battle with the team leading the race and YART’s only other real title rivals. The Czech rider knew it was vital not to make any mistakes, yet managed to keep pace with the leaders, and when he handed the Bridgestone- shod R1 over to Niccolò Canepa, the gap was just 0.2s. The race for Bol d'Or glory and the EWC championship was well and truly on. Not only was Hanika fast during his stint, but he also managed to do an extra lap more than was scheduled, which can be vital when it comes to the pit stop game of cat and mouse in endurance racing.
Canepa carried on the good work as the demanding Cot D’Azur circuit claimed another victim when a technical issue for the race leaders allowed the Italian to hit the front and start to build an advantage. At this point, YART were not just leading the race but also provisionally in charge of the championship. When Fritz took over for his second stint, he continued the excellent pace and increased the gap at the front to over 30 seconds.
Unfortunately, that would be as good as it got for the Austrian squad, as when Fritz came into the pits at the end of his second stint, he experienced a technical issue and was forced to bring the bike into the box for repairs. The team immediately set to work on diagnosing the fault and trying to fix it, knowing that their championship hopes were slipping away with every passing second. Incredibly, after three hours, the #7 R1 was brought back to life and sent back out on track in the hands of Karel Hanika in 39th place, 100 laps behind the leaders, as they sought to try and fight their way back into the race and secure as any championship points as possible.
The 26-year-old made it to Turn 6 on his out lap before he was forced to stop on track, and despite the best efforts once more of the team, this time, the issue proved to be terminal. YART were forced to retire from the race, having completed 104 laps, and with it, their chance to lift the EWC crown for the first time since 2009 had gone up in smoke. Despite three DNFs in four races in 2022, the pace of the YART team has never been in doubt, as shown by their podium at Le Mans, and they finished the season in sixth overall with 97 points. Already they have turned their attention to next year and are planning on coming back stronger than ever to fight for the 2023 championship. Despite their best efforts, there were also retirements for Team Moto Ain, who were battling in the top ten before stopping after 442 laps, and the 3ART Best of Bike Team, who completed 87 laps before withdrawing.
While there was heartbreak for YART, there was joy for the France-based Viltais Racing Igol Team, who took advantage of the drama unfolding around them to secure a stunning maiden EWC victory. Riders Florian Alt, Erwan Nigon, and Steve Odendaal managed to complete 718 laps to take the historic win and, at the same time, propel themselves up to third overall in the EWC standings. They were joined on the podium by Wojcik Racing EWC Team’s Dan Linfoot, Sheridan Morais, and Mathieu Gines, who were leading the race heading into the final hour before a broken chain saw them finish in second, just one lap behind, equalling their best-ever EWC finish. It wasn’t just on the race track that these two teams completed a 1-2, as the Viltais team also finished as the leading 2022 Independent Team with 88 points, with Wojcik Racing just 5.5 points behind in second.
These results meant Yamaha were crowned the 2022 FIM Endurance World Championship Manufacturer's champions with 221 points, 30 more than their closest rival, and the accolades did not stop there either. In the Superstock class, Wojcik Racing SST Team’s Kevin Manfredi, Danny Webb, and Marek Szkopek finished in third to secure their first podium of the season. At the same time, Team 18 Sapeurs Pompiers CMS Motostore fought right to the end to finish 17th in class to become 2022 FIM Endurance World Cup Champions, plus Yamaha also claimed the FIM Endurance World Cup Manufacturer's trophy to round off an incredible season.