The Austrian squad of Niccolò Canepa, Marvin Fritz, and Karel Hanika ended Friday’s rain-affected qualifying sessions at Round 3 of the FIM Endurance World Championship (EWC) in second and got off to a great start on Saturday as they backed up that pace in the final Free Practice session by setting a 2:06.888 to finish in second.
Due to safety issues, the normal Top 10 Trial format at Suzuka - where two riders from each team are selected to take to the track one at a time and their average lap time decides the final grid spots - was swapped for a more conventional 40-minute session featuring the fastest ten teams from Friday’s combined qualifying sessions.
The format change meant that all three YART riders could set a lap as they continued to spearhead the Yamaha attack against their championship rivals and factory teams, with only the fastest time counting towards the final result. In the EWC, five championship points are available during qualifying, so the session took on even more importance in the overcast but hot and humid conditions at Suzuka.
Canepa was the first out after setting the fastest time on Friday (2:05.863), and the Italian rider immediately showed he meant business by recording a 2:05.981 on his first flying lap. He was going even quicker on his next lap but had to pit for fuel, and a small mistake on his second run meant he could not improve.
Handing the Bridgestone-shod YART Yamaha R1 over to his teammate Fritz, the German rider improved the team’s time to a 2:05.776 on his first attempt to record his personal best lap around the iconic 5.821km Suzuka Circuit. After another pit stop, it was time for Hanika to take to the track, looking to prove a point following the disruption of both of his qualifying sessions on Friday due to rain.
The 26-year-old had to adapt quickly to the change in format, as he was not due to ride during the Top 10 Trial and therefore had not gone out to do a lap in the Free Practice session. Despite this, the Czech rider used the chance to show his true pace to improve the team’s time even more by setting a 2:05.769, a new fastest-ever lap for a Yamaha in EWC at Suzuka. This was good enough to secure third on the timesheets, 0.835s off pole position and meant YART finished as the leading full-time EWC team, only behind the two factory squads, securing three vital championship points in the process.
Having shown incredibly consistent pace all week, whether during the day or at night, in wet or dry conditions, the Yamalube YART Yamaha Official EWC Team head into Sunday’s 8-hour race full of confidence that they can take the fight to the factory teams and attempt to close the now 27-point gap to the leaders in the EWC overall standings. The action on Sunday kicks off at 8:30 am local time (UTC+9) before the legendary endurance race begins with the traditional Le Mans running start at 11:30 am.