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YART Yamaha to Start Bol d’Or Title Decider from Fourth

YART Yamaha to Start Bol d’Or Title Decider from Fourth

The Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team will line up fourth on the grid for the deciding round of the 2023 FIM Endurance World Championship at the Bol d’Or in France, with everything still to play for in terms of their title aspirations.

Glorious weather and ideal conditions greeted the FIM Endurance World Championship (EWC) teams on Thursday and Friday during the final round of the 2023 season as the sun shone down on the 5.673km Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet.

Heading into the title decider, the YART Yamaha team of Karel Hanika, Niccolò Canepa, Marvin Fritz, and Reserve Rider Robin Mulhauser were second overall and trailed the championship leaders by just 13 points. Therefore, with 85 points on offer over the race weekend, their aim was clear: to claim pole position, win the race and secure their first EWC crown since 2009.

After a test at the Côte d’Azur circuit on Tuesday, the track action kicked off in earnest on Thursday with a two-hour Free Practice session. Using the time wisely to work on their setup with the YART R1, it was also a chance for the team to finalise their Bridgestone tyre choices for the 24-hour race, and they demonstrated their excellent pace by ending the session in second with a time of 1:52.188, just 0.062s off the top of the timesheets.

Next, it was time for the first qualifying sessions in the heat and humidity of Thursday afternoon. Realising that they would have a better chance of setting a quick time in the cooler conditions of Friday morning, the Austrian squad decided to save their allocation of soft qualifying tyres and sent all four riders out on the same set of race tyres during the first sessions.

It is standard practice in the EWC, where teams have two bikes, to have one machine in race trim while the other is used for qualifying and set up for a single flying lap. For YART, it was a trickier qualifying than they have been used to lately. This was because, try as they might, they could not quite find the same feeling on their qualifying bike as on the race-prepped R1, but they still ensured that they kept their championship hopes alive with another strong team effort.

Heading out in the Blue rider’s group, Italian Canepa set a 1:52.654, which was good enough for fourth, 0.8 seconds behind the fastest team. He handed the R1 over to his teammate Fritz, who was next in the Yellow group. The German almost matched his teammate's pace with a 1:52.663, which was good enough for fourth, before Hanika finished the Red session in third after setting a 1:53.055.

Then it was time for a one-hour Night Practice session, which could prove essential with it being the only track time teams have had riding in the dark at the circuit since last year’s race. YART used the time wisely to work on their setup in the colder conditions and further consolidate their tyre compound choices, finishing the session in third overall with a 1:53.678.

Friday morning rolled around, and the team’s tactical choice to save their soft tyres seemed like a masterstroke, with cooler track temperatures leading to even better conditions for the riders. In the EWC, five points are awarded during qualifying to the leading five teams, so the YART riders set out to claim pole and make a first dent in the gap to the championship leaders.

Unfortunately, with 47 bikes on track, traffic and unlucky timing would hamper their chances, with a slipstream down the 1.8km Mistral Straight crucial to setting a decent time, plus the fact that on a couple of occasions when the riders were on a hot lap, red flags appeared to curtail the action.

Canepa was the first to hit the track, and the 35-year-old improved his time to a 1:52.212, which was good enough for third in his group, but despite being quicker in the first and third sectors, traffic meant he could not pick up the perfect draft down the longest straight on the EWC calendar to go any faster.

It was a similar story with his teammate Fritz, with the 30-year-old pushing to the limit, but due to a red flag and being caught in traffic, like most of the riders in his session, he could not improve his time. He ended with a 1:53.020, but his lap from Thursday was good enough for fourth in his group.

Hanika was determined to show the true one-lap pace of the YART R1, but halfway through his session, the red flags came out again for a crash, causing a lengthy pause as track barriers were repaired. Undeterred by the interruption, the Czech rider improved his time from Thursday’s qualifying by over a second to set a 1:51.882 to top the session and finish second overall in his group.

Reserve Rider Mulhauser did his usual good work, focusing on helping to set up the race bike, with the Swiss rider setting a best time of 1:54.139 on Friday to finish third overall in the Green rider’s group.

In EWC, the two fastest riders' times are combined to give the overall result. So, by using Hanika and Canepa’s best efforts from Friday, the team had an average time of 1:52.047, 0.22s faster than the previous pole lap record, which meant they qualified in fourth and, in the process, secured two championship points. With these points, the YART team remain second in the championship standings, 14 points behind the leaders, with 80 still available during the race.

This is due to the unique way in which points are awarded in the EWC; 10 are up for grabs at the eight and sixteen-hour marks, and because it is the final round of the season, there are one and a half times the number of standard points available for a team’s final race position, with 60 awarded to the winners.

With this in mind, there are still six teams with a mathematical chance of being crowned champions, so YART’s goal is to go into full attack from the start, pick up the ten points on offer at the two intervals, and win the race to put themselves in with the best chance of claiming the title.

It was another impressive qualifying performance from the Belgian-based KM Motos team in their debit EWC season, with Bastien Mackels, Lucas Mahias, and Florian Marino combining for a time of 1:53.285 to start from sixth. The Moto Ain Yamaha Supported EWC Team of Corentin Perolari, Roberto Tamburini, and Mathieu Gregorio made it three R1s in the top ten after setting a time of 1:53.761, while podium finishers at the 2022 Bol d'Or, Wojcik Racing Team’s Sheridan Morais, Matthieu Gines, and Isaac Vinales, qualified in 12th with a time of 1:54.245.

Maco Racing Team’s Enzo Boulom, Balint Kovacs, and Martin Vugrinec combined for a time of 1:56.083 and will start from 22nd on the grid, while in the Superstock class, 3ART Best of Bike’s Martin Renuadin, Ludovic Cauchi, and Alex Plancassagne are one of ten teams who came to the Bol d’Or still in with a chance of winning the FIM Endurance World Cup. The trio set a 1:56.502 to qualify in 28th overall and 13th in class, ensuring they remain in the hunt for glory.

The 86th edition of the historic Bol d’Or kicks off on Saturday at 3 pm local time (UTC+2) with the traditional “Le Mans” running start, and there is sure to be drama on the cards as all five EWC team and manufacturer titles are still on the line.

Overall Qualifying Classification

Karel Hanika – Red Rider – P2 (1:51.882)

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“To be honest, we expected a little bit more. We are normally much stronger over one lap, but we struggled a little today on the straight. We are good in the first and last sectors, but we need to make up time in the middle sector.  This is just qualifying, though, and our race pace has been excellent. We showed throughout practice and the test how quick we can be over longer stints, and we feel very confident with the Bridgestone tyres. We didn’t collect as many points as we would have liked in qualifying, but the race is very long, and there are 80 points available during the 24 hours, so we are ready to fight. Thanks, as always, to the team and my teammates; bring on the race.”

Niccolò Canepa – Blue Rider – P3 (1:52.212)

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“It is not our best qualifying of the year. We could not put together the perfect lap, and the bike was better than our times suggested. Getting the slipstream right down the Mistral straight is crucial at this track. All three of us were unlucky with traffic or not getting the right tow, so we could not do the times we would have liked, but P4 is still a good starting position. We have picked up two points and are looking forward to the race. It is a tough track for us, as the R1 prefers the corners and hard braking, whereas here, it is much more about top speed, where we lose out a little bit down the straight, but the race is very long. The team have done a great job, and we feel confident about our pace; while it will not be easy, you never know what will happen in a 24-hour race. We will give it absolutely everything, and hopefully, we will be world champions come Sunday afternoon.”

Marvin Fritz – Yellow Rider – P4 (1:52.663)

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“Today was a bit tricky for us. We are normally the fastest bike on the grid, but this is just qualifying. We lost a point to our main title rivals, but honestly, as we have seen in the past, anything can happen in a 24-hour race. So, while pole would have been nice, it doesn’t really matter. We have a very good pace; the R1 is fast in race trim, and the Bridgestone tyres work superbly. We will focus on ourselves, push all the way, and see where we are when the chequered flag drops on Sunday.”

Robin Mulhauser - Green Rider - P3 (1:54.139)

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team

“It has been a tough qualifying for us, as we could not put in the perfect lap, and here it is all about avoiding traffic in the first two sectors and getting the slipstream right down the Mistral Straight. P4 may not have been what we expected, but it's still a good starting point. The race is 24 hours, and there are 80 points available, so the guys are focused, ready, and know that anything can happen. They know what we need to do, go out there and win, and I think we can do it. My work is now done, but I will be cheering on the team for the race.”

Mandy Kainz

Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team – Team Manager

“Qualifying has been a little tougher than we expected, just because here at Circuit Paul Ricard, setting a hot lap is all about timing, and between the red flags and the traffic, the guys were just unlucky. Fourth is still a good starting point, and we already have two points in the bag. Now, our job is simple: go out and win! As we have seen, anything can happen in a 24-hour race, so all we can do is attack and try and win the race, and then we will see what happens with the championship. Our qualifying times were not representative of our race pace, and as we saw at the test and in Free Practice, we were strong over the longer stints. The team and riders have been superb all week. We are ready for the race; let’s see what happens.”