The YART Yamaha team of Karel Hanika, Niccolò Canepa, Marvin Fritz and reserve rider Robin Mulhauser produced an incredible performance to claim their second consecutive EWC pole position of the season at the Belgian circuit. Spa-Francorchamps is making its comeback to the EWC calendar for the first time since 2001, with a new endurance-specific 6.985km layout providing a fresh challenge for all teams and riders. In EWC in 2022, there are five points up for grabs during qualifying, and with YART just eight points behind the championship leaders, the team knew it was essential to try and secure the maximum on offer.
The Austrian squad got off to a strong start during Thursday morning’s two-hour Free Practice session, with Fritz setting a 2:20.306 to top the timesheets. Unfortunately, just after setting that time, the German rider suffered a heavy crash with only a few minutes left in the session. He was taken to the medical centre for checks but luckily was not seriously hurt, although he did receive heavy bruising to his left wrist, and the bike was severely damaged.
Thursday’s first qualifying sessions saw the team switch to their second bike so they could work on repairing the crashed bike from earlier, with Canepa heading out wearing the Blue armband and setting a 2:21.453, which was good enough to finish in fifth overall. Fritz took over the #7 R1 for the Yellow session, and despite being battered and bruised from his earlier crash, he managed to record a 2:21.449, which was good enough for third. Handing the bike over to his teammate Hanika, the Czech rider got to work and set the fastest lap of the day with a 2:20.253 to put the team in a strong position. Night Practice followed, giving the riders the chance to ride at the circuit in the dark for the first time. They continued their solid work and ended the session in second overall with a 2:22.035.
The second qualifying sessions took place on Friday and saw dramatic improvements from all of the YART riders. Canepa was first up with the rest of the blue riders, and the 34-year-old managed to shave over two seconds off his best time with a 2:19.494 to finish in third overall, just 0.126s off the fastest rider. Fritz fought through the pain barrier once more, electing to head out for the Yellow session on older tyres to allow his teammates Canepa and Hanika the opportunity to use fresh rubber during their sessions, with only the top two riders' times counting towards the qualifying result. Despite this, incredibly, he still managed to top the session with a 2:19.826.
It was then time for Hanika to re-write the history books again. After setting a new lap record at the opening round in Le Mans, he was determined to secure pole for the team, although several red flags made it harder for the 26-year-old to find any rhythm during his session. Undeterred by the interruptions and with just a few minutes left on the clock, the green flags were waved, and Hanika went for it. On his final flying lap, he became the only rider to break the 2:19 barrier with a 2:18.845, 1.572s ahead of his nearest rival in the Red session and setting a new lap record in the process. By combining the times of Hanika and Canepa, YART finished with an average time of 2:19.170 to secure pole position by 0.533s and claim five championship points, taking their total to 60.
It was a strong showing from the Wojcik Racing EWC Team, with Dan Linfoot, Sheridan Morais, and Balint Kovacs combining to set an average time of 2:22.453 to qualify in eighth. The Viltais Racing Igol Team of Florian Alt, Erwan Nigon, and Steven Odendaal will start from ninth after recording an average time of 2:22.726. Team Moto Ain’s Isaac Vinales, Claudio Corti, and Corentin Perolari combined to set a 2:22.947, which was good enough for tenth, with the Wojcik Racing Superstock Team of Marek Szkopek, Kevin Manfredi, and Danny Webb impressing to secure pole in their class and 12th overall with an average time of 2:23.948. Maco Racing Team’s Anthony West, Enzo Boulom, and Ladislav Chmelik set an average time of 2:24.343 and will start the 24-hour race from 14th, while the 3ART Best of Bike team's Nicolas Escudier, Martin Renaudin, and Matthieu Lagrive combined for a 2:25.160 which was good enough to qualify in 19th.
The Yamalube YART Yamaha Official EWC Team now turn their attention to the 24H SPA EWC Motos that kicks off at 1 pm CEST on Saturday, full of confidence. However, the weather could play a big part in the race as thunderstorms are scheduled across the weekend, and none of the teams has had any wet track time at the circuit.