The Austrian squad of Marvin Fritz, Niccolò Canepa, Karel Hanika, and reserve rider Robin Mulhauser headed into the season's opening round full of confidence after an excellent preseason that saw them set a new EWC lap record around the 4.185 km Bugatti Circuit. They continued this form by finishing on top of the combined times during Tuesday’s Private Practice sessions, showing superb pace in both the wet and the dry.
The team continued their preparations for the race by ending Thursday’s two-hour Free Practice in third after setting a 1:36.129. Following this, YART headed into Thursday's first qualifying sessions on their Bridgestone-shod #7 R1, aiming to secure the maximum five points on offer, only to be met with a change in weather conditions.
Canepa was forced to start the Blue session in full wet mode before a red flag, and the consequent delay saw the track slowly drying and teams having to adapt their tyre strategy on the fly. The Italian responded by securing third on the timesheets after setting a 1:38.867 on race tyres at the end of his allotted 20 minutes, with conditions still mixed.
Drops of rain were still in the air, but the track had dried sufficiently for Fritz to head out during the Yellow session on qualifying rubber, and the German did not disappoint, timing his hot lap to perfection to finish on top of the timesheets after setting a 1:35.616, the fastest lap by anyone during qualifying.
As his teammate Hanika, the quickest rider during last year’s qualifying and the man who beat his own outright lap record in the Pre-Test, prepared for the Red session, the rain returned with a vengeance. Hitting the track with a full wet setup, he finished the session in first after setting a 1:47.868. Mulhauser was up next with the rain continuing, and the Swiss rider ended the Green session in second as he recorded a 1:49.203 in the challenging conditions.
In the EWC, the fastest two rider’s times are combined to give an average on which the grid positions are based. This saw YART occupy provisional second overnight, with a time of 1:37.242 based on the laps from Canepa and Fritz, just 0.099s off pole position.
Ready to try and go one better on Friday, the team’s hopes were dampened by heavy rain, which affected all four qualifying sessions. With no chance of improving their lap times and nothing to gain, Canepa, Fritz, and Hanika, who was celebrating his 27th birthday, decided to stay in the garage and not take any risks. Green rider Mulhauser took the opportunity to go out in the wet as he scrubbed in some tyres and parts for the race, setting a 1:53.852 to end the session in first.
With the rain ruining any chances of improving times on Friday, this saw Thursday’s qualifying results effectively decide the grid, with the YART Yamaha team set to start the race from second position and securing four out of the five points on offer for their efforts.
It was a superb start to the season for the Moto Ain Yamaha EWC Supported Team, as they qualified as the leading Independent team in fourth, while EWC debutants, the KM Motos team, also impressed to finish in seventh overall. The Wojcik Racing Team EWC 77 will start the race from 11th, with the Maco Racing Team lining up on the grid for Saturday’s race in 24th. The 3ART Best of Bike Team lead the way for Yamaha in the FIM Endurance World Cup and will start from 14th on the grid.
The 46th running of the Le Mans 24 Heures Motos will kick off at 3 pm local time (UTC+2) on Saturday with the legendary running start the event is famous for. It is forecast to be dry but cold for the opening round of the 2023 FIM Endurance World Championship, and all the teams know how essential a good start to the season is, with 40 points available for the race win and ten points awarded to the leading team at the eight and 16-hour marks.