Mixed conditions greeted the FIM Endurance World Championship (EWC) teams on Saturday for the third round of the season in Japan as temperatures rose to over 30 degrees Celsius, but sporadic rain showers meant setting a fast lap time was all about timing during the two 20-minute qualifying sessions for each rider. The Austrian squad of Niccolò Canepa, Karel Hanika, and Marvin Fritz got off to a great start by completing the first Free Practice session in P2 with a 2:06.408, already improving on their best time during the pre-race test earlier in the week as they continue to take the fight to their factory rivals at the historic endurance race.
In EWC, the average of the two fastest riders’ best times is used to give the overall qualifying classification. Canepa led the way for the team by setting a blistering 2:05.863 in the dry first Yellow session, making him the fastest-ever EWC rider on a Yamaha around the 5.821km Suzuka Circuit. He also broke his 2019 record as the fastest Italian rider to lap the track by almost a second in the process. His time was so good that the team decided not to send the 34-year-old out in his second session of the day as the rain had arrived by that time, making it impossible to improve.
Fritz, who took to the track first in the Blue session, backed up his teammate with a 2:06.138, which, when combined with Canepa’s lap, gave the team an overall time of 2:06.001. This was good enough to secure second on the overall timesheets, just 0.283s behind the leaders, and guarantee the team entry into the Top Ten Trial. The track was damp by the time of the German’s second session, so the 24-year-old rider focused on race pace yet still managed to set a 2:07.760 to showcase the potential of the Bridgestone-shod YART Yamaha #7 R1 even in mixed conditions.
It was a frustrating day for Hanika, as each time he headed out on slicks in his Red qualifying sessions, the rain started to fall, which meant he had no chance to improve on his teammates' time. After a minor crash in Qualifying 1 when the rain first arrived, the Czech rider used the rest of his track time to complete as many laps as possible to gather data and experience in the mixed conditions, which could prove vital with more rain forecast over the weekend. Pushing hard on wet tyres in the second session, the 26-year-old set a 2:20.643 before coming in to change to slicks for one final push with only a few minutes remaining, but as he went out again, the rain returned, ending any chances he had to improve his time.
After a strong qualifying performance, the Yamalube YART Yamaha Official Team also managed to top the timesheets during a wet Night Practice with a 2:23.908, highlighting their pace, whatever the conditions. They are back in action for the final Free Practice session at 2:15 pm local time (UTC+9) on Saturday, before the all-important Top 10 Trial that will decide the final ten grid positions at 3:30 pm.