Yamaha 1-2 at a Dramatic Bol d’Or as YART Yamaha’s Title Aspirations End Early
The Viltais Racing Igol and Wojcik Racing EWC Teams secured a sensational 1-2 for Yamaha at the 100th Anniversary Bol d’Or while the Yamalube YART Yamaha Official EWC Team’s valiant bid for the 2022 FIM Endurance World Championship ended prematurely when a technical issue three hours into the race forced them to retire.
he 85th edition of the iconic endurance race, which first took place in 1922, lived up to its reputation when it comes to drama, as most of the leading championship teams suffered misfortune at the final round of the EWC season in France. The 5.673km Circuit Paul Ricard was taking no prisoners right from the off, with the engine-breaking 1.8km Mistral straight and strong winds turning it into a race of attrition.
The YART Yamaha team started second on the grid, trailing the championship leaders by just 33 points with 80 up for grabs during the 24-hour race and five teams in contention for the title. Marvin Fritz, who had set the fastest qualifying time, took the first stint but encountered a problem right away as he ran to the bike and struggled to get the #7 R1 started. Once the 29-year-old managed to get going, he found himself way down the pack, but the German rider immediately began to attack and make up ground. By the end of his first stint, he had propelled YART into fifth, and as he handed the bike over to teammate Karel Hanika, they were just second behind the leaders.
After just an hour, the Le Castellet circuit was already taking its toll, as the championship leaders were forced to retire, having completed just 34 laps. Knowing this opened the door for YART, Hanika fought his way up to second and became embroiled in a superb battle with the team leading the race and YART’s only other real title rivals. The Czech rider knew it was vital not to make any mistakes, yet managed to keep pace with the leaders, and when he handed the Bridgestone- shod R1 over to Niccolò Canepa, the gap was just 0.2s. The race for Bol d’Or glory and the EWC championship was well and truly on. Not only was Hanika fast during his stint, but he also managed to do an extra lap more than was scheduled, which can be vital when it comes to the pit stop game of cat and mouse in endurance racing.
Canepa carried on the good work as the demanding Cot D’Azur circuit claimed another victim when a technical issue for the race leaders allowed the Italian to hit the front and start to build an advantage. At this point, YART were not just leading the race but also provisionally in charge of the championship. When Fritz took over for his second stint, he continued the excellent pace and increased the gap at the front to over 30 seconds.
Unfortunately, that would be as good as it got for the Austrian squad, as when Fritz came into the pits at the end of his second stint, he experienced a technical issue and was forced to bring the bike into the box for repairs. The team immediately set to work on diagnosing the fault and trying to fix it, knowing that their championship hopes were slipping away with every passing second. Incredibly, after three hours, the #7 R1 was brought back to life and sent back out on track in the hands of Karel Hanika in 39th place, 100 laps behind the leaders, as they sought to try and fight their way back into the race and secure as any championship points as possible.
The 26-year-old made it to Turn 6 on his out lap before he was forced to stop on track, and despite the best efforts once more of the team, this time, the issue proved to be terminal. YART were forced to retire from the race, having completed 104 laps, and with it, their chance to lift the EWC crown for the first time since 2009 had gone up in smoke. Despite three DNFs in four races in 2022, the pace of the YART team has never been in doubt, as shown by their podium at Le Mans, and they finished the season in sixth overall with 97 points. Already they have turned their attention to next year and are planning on coming back stronger than ever to fight for the 2023 championship. Despite their best efforts, there were also retirements for Team Moto Ain, who were battling in the top ten before stopping after 442 laps, and the 3ART Best of Bike Team, who completed 87 laps before withdrawing.
While there was heartbreak for YART, there was joy for the France-based Viltais Racing Igol Team, who took advantage of the drama unfolding around them to secure a stunning maiden EWC victory. Riders Florian Alt, Erwan Nigon, and Steve Odendaal managed to complete 718 laps to take the historic win and, at the same time, propel themselves up to third overall in the EWC standings. They were joined on the podium by Wojcik Racing EWC Team’s Dan Linfoot, Sheridan Morais, and Mathieu Gines, who were leading the race heading into the final hour before a broken chain saw them finish in second, just one lap behind, equalling their best-ever EWC finish. It wasn’t just on the race track that these two teams completed a 1-2, as the Viltais team also finished as the leading 2022 Independent Team with 88 points, with Wojcik Racing just 5.5 points behind in second.
These results meant Yamaha were crowned the 2022 FIM Endurance World Championship Manufacturer’s champions with 221 points, 30 more than their closest rival, and the accolades did not stop there either. In the Superstock class, Wojcik Racing SST Team’s Kevin Manfredi, Danny Webb, and Marek Szkopek finished in third to secure their first podium of the season. At the same time, Team 18 Sapeurs Pompiers CMS Motostore fought right to the end to finish 17th in class to become 2022 FIM Endurance World Cup Champions, plus Yamaha also claimed the FIM Endurance World Cup Manufacturer’s trophy to round off an incredible season.
Yamalube YART Yamaha Official EWC Team
“It is hard to put into words how I feel. I only got to do one stint, and that went really well. It is such a shame, as for the first time this season, we were leading early in the race and controlling the gap to our rivals. We were comfortable, I was not pushing to the limit to preserve the engine, and I could even do an extra lap in my stint than was scheduled. We were in the provisional championship lead, but then, unfortunately, we had a technical issue that forced us to retire. I am gutted for the whole team, as we deserved a much better result and had a real chance to win the title. I want to thank the whole team for their incredible work all season. Our results do not reflect our pace and potential, and we are already working on the plans to come back stronger in 2023.”
Yamalube YART Yamaha Official EWC Team
“This result is hard to take, as we were in such a strong position and provisionally leading the championship for an hour. Unfortunately, things did not go to plan, and I am disappointed in how the season finished because we have been so strong at every race and have shown incredible pace. Despite the bad luck at the last two rounds, we still had the possibility to become Endurance World Champions, and we could not have been in a better position, but then we suffered a technical issue with the bike. We will go away and work hard all winter to understand the issues we have had this year, so we can come back even stronger in 2023, as it is not enough to be the fastest team on the grid; we need to see the chequered flag. This is endurance racing, and when you look at our pace, we should have finished on the podium at every race this year, but we have not had any luck. I want to thank the whole team for the incredible work this season, and we will be back next year, even stronger, to fight for the championship.”
Yamalube YART Yamaha Official EWC Team
“This result hurt, it must be said. The team has worked hard this year, at every race weekend, at every test, and in the off-season, to give us the best chance to win the title. The team improved so much with the bike, we tried so many new things throughout the year to ensure we could fight for the championship, but we have just not had much luck in the races. After three hours, we were in such a good position, as four of the five top teams had experienced problems, and we were in control. We had already switched engine modes and were not pushing to try and preserve the bike, but at the end of my second stint, as I was coming into the pits, something went wrong, and I had to bring the bike into the box. It is difficult to accept this result, but we are already looking forward to next year, and I think we can be even stronger. We know where we need to improve and can’t wait to get back in action.”
Yamalube YART Yamaha Official EWC Team – Team Manager
“This was a tough result to take, especially as we had a chance to become champions. The whole team has worked incredibly hard this year, and I am proud of each and every one of them. During the race, our championship rivals all suffered problems at the start, and we were in a great position to take advantage before we suffered from a technical issue. The team worked so hard to get the R1 rebuilt and back out on track, but sadly, it was not meant to be. This is endurance racing. It does not matter how fast you are if you do not finish the race. I am proud of how the whole team has worked this year, and despite a disappointing end to the season, we are already working on 2023 and will be back stronger and more determined than ever next year.”
Viltais Racing Igol – Team Manager
“What an incredible feeling! When we started the week with the team, I said we could do something special. We can show our potential if we respect the team’s values and focus on the job at hand. I am so proud of the riders. For me, it is essential to have good cohesion and relationships between the riders; it is a team sport. Everybody worked so hard, and while others suffered problems, we just focused on our goal and lap after lap; they did not make a mistake. To win our first EWC race is an incredible feeling, and to finish third in the championship, shows what this team is capable of. I truly believe we can be world champions one day. This is the perfect way to end the season, and we can’t wait to go racing again in 2023.”