The second edition of the 24H SPA EWC Motos showcased exactly why endurance racing returned to the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in 2022 after a 20-year hiatus. It contained everything, thrilling on-track battles, numerous safety cars, and even the threat of rain towards the end of the race. Despite all of this, nothing could stop the YART Yamaha team and riders Niccolò Canepa, Karel Hanika, and Marvin Fritz as they secured their first FIM EWC victory since the 12 Hours of Estoril in 2020 and their first 24-hour race win for 14 years.
A dominant showing in Friday’s qualifying saw the team secure pole position by 0.959s, with all three YART riders lapping within 0.198s of each other. On top of their stunning one-lap pace, the Austrian squad had spent much of the week focusing on race setup with the Bridgestone-shod #7 R1, so confidence was flowing within the team heading into Saturday’s race.
Fritz took the first stint from pole following the traditional “Le Mans” running start, but a slight wheelie off the line meant he entered Turn 1 down in 10th. The German composed himself superbly before fighting his way back through the field and becoming involved in an epic three-way battle for the lead. After exchanging a few spectacular overtaking manoeuvres, he took over at the front and handed the YART R1 to Hanika for the second stint.
Hanika hit the ground running, but almost immediately, out came the first of many safety cars. Once racing had resumed, the Czech rider took the lead and opened up an advantage of two seconds before heading into the pits and giving the bike to Canepa for his first stint.
The Italian gave it full gas and opened up a 22s lead with a string of low to mid 2:22 laps, but just before the two-hour mark, another safety car, this time for oil on the track, would mean that his rivals would be able to close up. After a delay of over 35 minutes, the race was back on, and Canepa again broke away to establish a 12.5s gap at the front before handing the bike back to Fritz.
The next few stints became frustrating for the team, as they repeatedly fought hard to open up an advantage, only to see it effectively wiped out again by a series of safety cars. Due to this, none of the front three teams could break away, with the close racing continuing to the 8-hour mark, when YART collected nine EWC points for being in second.
As the night went on, each YART rider showed astonishing pace and consistency, highlighted by Canepa setting the team’s fastest lap at 3 am local time, a 2:21.015. Their efforts were rewarded with the lead after 15 hours of racing, and as dawn broke in Spa, they started to extend their advantage at the front.
At the 16-hour mark, YART’s lead was up to 14s, ensuring they secured 10 more vital championship points. The team continued to be faultless, maintaining their pace as their rivals lost time due to technical issues, and an hour later, they had opened a two-lap gap at the front, although there was drama on the way.
Approaching 19 hours into the race, Fritz had only completed a few laps of his stint when he suffered damage to his rear tyre that caused a puncture. Somehow, he managed to bring the R1 back to the box, with the team doing a brilliant job of turning around a quick pit stop and getting Fritz back out on track while still leading by a lap.
From here on in, the whole YART Yamaha team pulled together to ensure there were no mistakes, with all three riders remaining focused and controlling the gap at the front, although there was still a surprise in store as rain flags appeared with just over one hour to go.
Despite spots of rain on his visor, Hanika used his experience and took no unnecessary risks to ensure he handed over to Canepa for the final stint with the team’s one-lap advantage over the bike in second place intact.
The Italian showed nerves of steel. Unfazed by the weather, his pace was unrelenting, and he extended the lead even more during the last hour before stopping for a quick splash and dash with 15 minutes to go.
As the race clock hit 24 hours, Canepa brought the YART R1 across the line for the last time to secure first position and the team’s first 24-hour race victory since Le Mans in 2009 after completing 572 laps, one more than their nearest rival.
YART’s victory saw them collect another 40 points, which, when added to the five they secured for pole and the 19 they received for their positions at the eight and 16-hour marks, respectively, meant they amassed 64 of the 65 points on offer in Belgium, and now lead the overall FIM EWC standings with 118 points.
The Belgian-based KM Motos team of Lucas Mahias, Florian Marino, and Bastian Mackels made it two R1s in the top six after they put in a strong showing at their home race to complete 561 laps, while Maco Racing Team’s Balint Kovacs, Enzo Boulom, and Martin Vugrinec finished in 19th (504 laps).
The Moto Ain Yamaha EWC Supported Team of Corentin Perolari, Roberto Tamburini, and Alessandro Polita completed 472 laps to secure 21st, while unfortunately, Wojcik Racing Team EWC 77’s Sheridan Morais, Isaac Vinales, and Mathieu Gines were forced to withdraw from the race after 149 laps.
Next up on the FIM EWC calendar is Round 3, the legendary Suzuka 8 Hours in Japan, on the 4th-6th of August, before the season's final race, the Bol d’Or in France, on the 14th-17th of September.