Riders Karel Hanika, Niccolo Canepa, and Marvin Fritz kicked their 2022 EWC campaign off in style by claiming a hat trick of pole positions at a sun-drenched Le Mans circuit on Friday, securing a crucial five championship points in the process. It all started during Thursday's two-hour Free Practice session when the team hinted at what was to come by setting a 1:35.782 to finish in second overall.
The First Qualifying sessions in the afternoon saw Hanika, who was celebrating his 26th birthday, wearing the Blue armband and setting the fastest time in his group with a 1:35.873. Fritz then went out in the Yellow session and set a 1:36.102, which was good enough to finish in P4, 0.496s off the top. The day's highlight was Canepa setting a new EWC lap record in the Red session with a 1:35.500, finishing 0.357s ahead of the rest and recording the fastest qualifying time at Le Mans since 2017.
The YART Yamaha team then switched their focus to Night Practice. All three riders and reserve rider Robin Mulhauser got time on the bike, with the team also practising the all-important pit stops during the 90-minute session and showing their pace in the dark by setting a 1:36.772 to finish in second.
When Friday rolled around, the team focused on securing pole position, with all three riders confident of being able to set a time in the 1:34s. Hanika was first out in the Yellow session, and the Czech rider pulled out all the stops. He put in a sensational lap to demolish his teammate's lap record from the day before and finish with a 1:34.878, the first EWC lap around the iconic Le Mans circuit to break the 1:35 barrier. Hanika's sensational pace highlighting the impressive work done by the team and riders to improve the YART Yamaha R1 during the winter and preseason.
Hanika's lap was hard to follow, but his teammate Fritz rose to the challenge, improving his best time from Thursday by almost a second to record a 1:35.282 and securing P2 in the process, just 0.096s off the leader. Canepa was determined to go even faster in response, but the 33-year-old got held up in the extensive traffic during his 20-minute session and had a slight brake issue that saw him run off track. He recovered superbly, setting a 1:35.679 to end the session in second place, with his time from First Qualifying good enough to secure first on the combined times for the Red riders.
A new EWC rule for 2022 sees the average time from only the fastest two riders, instead of three, count towards official qualification results. Therefore, Hanika's 1:34.878 combined with Fritz's 1:35.282 meant the YART Yamaha team qualified on pole with an average time of 1:35.080, 0.324s ahead of the rest of the field.
The team now head into the legendary 24-hour race on Saturday full of confidence and looking to claim their first victory at Le Mans since 2009, although with a further 55 points up for grabs over the weekend, they know the work is only just beginning.
It was also an excellent start to the weekend for the Wojcik Racing Team, with Mathieu Gines and Sheridan Morais combining to set an average time of 1:36.711 to start from sixth for the race. Team Moto Ain qualified just behind them in seventh, with hardly anything to separate its three riders. Claudio Corti and Corentin Perolari recorded an average time of 1:36.731, with teammate Bradley Smith impressing on his EWC debut by setting a 1:36.871.
The Viltais Racing Igol Team ended qualifying in seventh overall with a 1:37.121, thanks to the combined times of Florian Alt and Erwan Nigon, while teammate, South African EWC debutant Steven Odendall, was also on the pace with a 1:37.263. Maco Racing Team's Anthony West and Enzo Boulum secured 14th on the grid for the team with an average time of 1:37.737, while the 3ART Best of Bike team's Nicolas Escudier and Martin Renaudin combined for a 1:38.476, which was good enough to qualify in 18th.
The teams will take to the track at 9 am local time (UTC+2) on Saturday morning for the 40-minute Warm Up session before the Le Mans 24 Heures Motos kicks off at the new start time of 3 pm.