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YART Yamaha Mount Strong Suzuka Fight Back

YART Yamaha Mount Strong Suzuka Fight Back

The Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team overcame an early technical issue to show incredible fighting spirit and battle their way back from 43rd to 23rd at the 44th edition of the Suzuka 8 Hours, Round 3 of the 2023 FIM Endurance World Championship.

The YART Yamaha Team of Karel Hanika, Niccolò Canepa, and Marvin Fritz displayed sensational pace on Friday and Saturday in Japan as they aimed to secure their dream maiden podium at the legendary endurance race. The Austrian squad qualified in first position for the Top 10 Trial and then set a new fastest lap for Yamaha at the Suzuka 8 Hours during the showdown to secure second on the grid, adding to their confidence heading into the main event.

The forecast rain on Sunday had not materialised, and conditions were hot and humid when it was time for the race to get underway at 11:30 am local time (UTC+), with Canepa taking the first stint and lining up for the traditional “Le Mans” running start.

The Italian got away cleanly and settled into third at the first corner before leading the race during the early stages. He then became involved in an enthralling battle at the front for several laps, giving as good as he got, with the Italian continuing to set a lightning pace before handing the #7 YART Bridgestone-shod R1 over to Hanika in a comfortable second.

Maintaining the excellent start and managing the gap well, Hanika was consistently lapping in the 2:09s before an electrical issue near the end of his first stint caused the bike to stop on track. It could not have happened at a worst place location-wise, with no service road meaning the Czech rider had to show his grit by pushing the R1 all the way back to the pits from the Spoon Curve, conscious of the time they were losing.

After he made it to the box, the team diagnosed and repaired the issue within a few minutes, and Fritz rejoined the race in 43rd position, but unfortunately, the incident had cost them over half an hour. The German rider continued the team’s almost metronomic lap times but was forced to pit again within ten laps to repair a minor issue with a fairing.

The quick work of the YART mechanics meant Fritz could rejoin without losing track position, although they were now 15 laps down on the leaders, but from then on, the fight back began. All three riders pushed on during their second stints and were routinely the fastest bike on the track, which saw them starting to make up places. With just over four and a half hours gone, Hanika set the team’s fastest lap of the race, a 2:07.745, demonstrating their pace at this stage.

After six and a half hours of racing, YART were up to 30th when the expected rain started to arrive, although only on parts of the circuit. Canepa has shown in the past that he excels in these mixed conditions, and with other teams unsure of what strategy to adopt, he decided to bravely stay out on slicks and attack.

The 35-year-old put the hammer down to close the gap to the riders in front and cut his way through the traffic to make up swathes of time before handing over to Hanika for the final stint, the YART R1 rejoining in 26th place with 45 minutes left on the clock.

Hanika kept up the pace as night fell at Suzuka, the dark adding to the tricky conditions, but the 27-year-old showcased the team's spirit by fighting right to the end, aiming to secure a top-20 finish and pick up some points.

Continuing to catch and pass riders until the line, by the time the fireworks lit up the Suzuka sky at the finish, Hanika had made up another three places and sealed a fantastic comeback by bringing the R1 to the finish in 23rd place overall after completing 203 laps in total. Following their earlier issues, during their memorable charge through the field, the team managed to make up 20 places and close the gap to the winners by over one and a half laps to just 13 by the chequered flag.

Their incredible comeback meant they finished 19th in class and collected two vital points.  Despite relinquishing their lead in the Endurance World Championship (EWC) standings, when added to the five they picked up during qualifying, the YART Yamaha team leave Suzuka second overall with 125 points, 13 behind the leaders.

With the unique scoring system the EWC uses, there are still 85 points available to teams at the final round of the season, the Bol d’Or. This is because the points awarded at the end of the last race of the year are multiplied by 1.5, with the winner standing to collect 60, which, when added to the ten on offer at the eight and 16-hour marks during the race, plus the five up for grabs during qualifying, mean anything can still happen at the championship decider.

The NCXX Racing with Riders Club team won the National Superstock class for Yamaha by finishing 15th overall as the leading R1. There were also strong performances from Team Kodama in 22nd and KM Motos, with the full-time EWC team securing 28th in their debut Suzuka 8 Hours.

The 2023 EWC season will culminate in a 24-hour showdown at the Bol d’Or at Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France, on the 14th-17th of September, with both the team and manufacturer titles still on the line.

Suzuka 8H Results

Karel Hanika - P23 (203 Laps)

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“I am a bit lost for words. We attacked right from the start. Niccolò had a great first stint, and when I took over, I did not feel 100% confident with the front end, so I didn’t risk too much but could maintain a good pace and manage the gap. Then, five laps before the end of my stint, the bike stopped, and it was in the worst possible place, just before Spoon Curve. I had to push the bike a long way, as there was no service road here, but I did my best to bring it back as quickly as possible. It is such bad luck to have the issue happen there. From then on, we mounted our comeback. We have such a good spirit in the team; there was no way we were going to give up. We pushed every lap and showed what we were capable of, closing down the leaders by one and a half laps and making up 20 places. My teammates did a superb job, Niccolò was incredible in the mixed conditions, and Marvin was fast on every lap; they inspired me to want to keep on pushing. I want to thank everyone in the team; they should all be proud of their efforts. Obviously, it is the Bol d’Or next, but we are already looking forward to returning to Suzuka next year.”

Marvin Fritz - P23 (203 Laps)

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“It’s a shame, as we had the potential for the podium. We showed great pace all week, and Niccolò made an awesome start. Then we had the electrical problem, and Karel did an amazing job returning the bike to the pits. The team worked brilliantly to identify the issue in less than a minute and get us back out on track, so we decided to try and focus on scoring some points. My teammates pushed hard, and we closed the gap to the winners from 15 laps to 13.5 by the end, showing we had the pace to fight for victory. Niccolò did great in the mixed conditions, deciding to stay on the slick tyres and making up lots of time. While we feel disappointed to miss out on a potential podium, the whole team can be proud of our efforts. We are only 14 points behind in the championship standings, and with so many points available at the Bol d’Or, everything is still to play for.”

Niccolò Canepa - P23 (203 Laps)

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“We are disappointed with the final result, but we are pleased with our performance as a team. We were really strong during the whole race week, and we carried that pace into the race. My first stint was great, and I really enjoyed fighting at the front. Then we had the electrical issue that cost us a lot of time, but we fought back superbly. The fact that we managed to close down the gap to the leaders by so much shows the potential we had. I chose to stay out on slicks when it started to rain, and this turned out to be the right one, as I pushed hard and could make up a lot of time on the other teams. I am so proud of the effort from my teammates and everyone in the YART Yamaha squad. Obviously, we are a bit disappointed, but the most important thing is that we are still in the championship battle. Bring on the Bol d’Or.”

Mandy Kainz

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team - Team Manager

“The result is difficult to take, as we deserved so much more. The riders did a perfect job. The R1 was running great, and our pit-stop tactics would have given us an advantage. Unfortunately, an electrical issue with the bike caused us to lose about 35 minutes. When the bike stopped, Karel was about as far away as you could be on track. He had to push it back all the way, and because he could not cross the circuit, this included going uphill and through the tunnel. It was an amazing effort. After that, we had another slight issue, but all the riders showed incredible determination and pace to mount a tremendous comeback. I am so proud of them and every member of the team. We never gave up; we fought for every position and showed our true potential by making up over one and a half laps on the winners. I want to thank Yamaha, Bridgestone, and every one of the YART Yamaha team for their efforts. Our championship hopes are still alive; it just means our choice of tactic for the Bol d’Or is a lot simpler now, full attack.”