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YART Yamaha Conquer Mixed Conditions to Qualify in Second at Le Mans

YART Yamaha Conquer Mixed Conditions to Qualify in Second at Le Mans

The Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team will start the 46th edition of the iconic Le Mans 24 Heures Motos in France, the opening round of the 2023 FIM Endurance World Championship, from second on the grid after the weather played its part during qualifying on Thursday and Friday.

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.

Marvin Fritz - 1:35.616

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“We are happy with P2 after such a tricky qualifying. Of course, we would love to have secured our fourth pole position in a row at Le Mans, but weirdly the team starting first never wins here at Le Mans, so it is a good result. Yesterday, qualifying was very mixed with the weather. Niccolò had a half-wet and half-dry track; there were some raindrops for my session, but the circuit was dry. Then it was fully wet for Karel and Robin. So, I think, considering the challenges we faced, the team did an amazing job. The YART R1 is feeling great and is so easy to ride, which is key for a 24-hour race; plus, Bridgestone did a great job with the tyres, so I believe we are as prepared as possible for the race. Of course, the main goal is to finish. Yes, we want to win, but with so many points available, the most important thing is to reach the end to maximise our points haul for the championship. The whole team feels confident, and we can't wait to start the race tomorrow.”

Niccolò Canepa - 1:38.967

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“We have started well and have been fast in every type of condition this week. In my qualifying session on Thursday, I could not set my optimum lap time as the track was changing so quickly that it was difficult to choose the right tyre. After the red flag, we only had 11 minutes left. First, we tried with wet tyres, but the track was too dry. Then I went out on race tyres instead of qualifying tyres as the track was still drying and set my fastest time, but I know I could have gone quicker. The team tried everything; it was just one of those sessions where it was almost impossible to get the tyre choice right as the track was changing so quickly, which made it very difficult to understand which tyre choice would be ideal. Unfortunately, Friday was very wet, so it was impossible to improve, but the good thing is, with my time and Marvin’s combined, we still managed to qualify in second for the race, which is a great starting position. I am looking forward to the race, and it should stay dry, but it looks like it will be very cold, which will make it tough, especially during the night, but this is Le Mans!”

Karel Hanika - 1:47.868

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“We are delighted to start from second position. The whole team worked hard this week, and despite tricky conditions during qualifying, I think we had a great strategy and managed to get the best result possible. It was enough for P2, and we only just missed out on our fourth pole position in a row at Le Mans, but as always in endurance, the race is much more important than qualifying.  My first session went well, I set the best lap time in the wet, but my teammates did excellent lap times in the mixed conditions to secure second on the grid. We are focused on the race and want to fight for victory, but know that the most important thing is to reach the end of the race to score as many points as possible. The team has done a great job, and I cannot wait to start the race.”

Robin Mulhauser - 1:49.203

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“We are fully ready for the race. As the reserve rider, my main focus has been to scrub in and prepare some parts for the race for my teammates, such as tyres and brakes. Unfortunately, we could not do as much as we would have liked due to the rain, but the guys are ready, the bike is ready, and now we need the planets to align so that we get some good luck for once. The team have prepared as well as physically possible. I will be cheering my teammates on, and hopefully, we can celebrate a podium on Sunday.”

Mandy Kainz

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team – Team Manager

“The weather has made qualifying here at Le Mans interesting. We had it all on Thursday: mixed, dry, and fully wet sessions. The team did a brilliant job adapting on the fly and getting the tactics right. Today was a shame, as the rain meant we could not improve, but we are happy with our pace in all conditions, so we did not want to risk anything when there was nothing to gain. We were close to securing our fourth consecutive pole position here at Le Mans, but we just missed out, but considering the challenging weather, I am happy with second on the grid. We are under no illusions that the most important thing is to finish the race, but we also know we have the pace to fight at the front. All the preparation is finished; now we look forward to showing what we can do in the race.”