Bitter pill to swallow as Yamaha ends 4th at Le Mans after crash

The YART Yamaha trio of Karel Hanika, Marvin Fritz and Niccoló Canepa produced a valiant comeback in the 43rd edition of the 24 Heures Motos in Le Mans to take fourth position after a crash in the early stages.

The team got their 24 Heures Motos underway under dark and gloomy skies in the hands of Niccoló Canepa who, after a steady start from pole position, found his rhythm and charged back from seventh to second at the end of the first ten minutes. The Italian used all his experience to get to the end of his rain-hit first stint before passing the number seven YZF-R1 over to German rider Marvin Fritz.

YART took full advantage of making their first change at the 50-minute mark, Fritz was released into a relatively clear track, and once race leaders F.C.C. TSR Honda France had made their first pit-stop, he was within striking distance of taking the lead. The 2016 IDM Superbike champion made the pass on Josh Hook into the Le Musée corner of turn five and immediately opened a gap.

With the hard work done, Fritz controlled the pace at the front before handing over to Karel Hanika, who had a problematic stint ahead. Hanika’s first obstacle came when the safety car was deployed due to a technical issue for another competitor. As the race got back underway, the 24-year-old wasted no time in clearing the traffic as he looked to extend the lead. But, as the rain got heavier Hanika made a small error mid-way through the second hour, crashing out at Garage Vert. Uninjured, he was able to bring the damaged R1 back to the pits.

The team were able to repair the machine but the crash was costly. As Niccoló Canepa returned the team to the track, they were in 28th position. The former MotoGP rider kept a calm head while others crashed around him and quickly brought the team back into contention, knocking on the door of the top ten by the end of his second stint.

Up to ninth after five and a half hours, the team would suffer from a small issue with the R1’s lights during a pit stop. They were able to fix the issue quickly, but dropped back to 14th before they were able to return to the track.

A strong effort from all three riders saw YART return to the top ten fight as the track started to dry out. An impressive stint from Fritz would then see them move into eighth position as the night drew in – scoring them an extra three world championship points.

As darkness fell, the team found themselves in a battle for fifth, which they’d take and solidify by the 16-hour mark to take a further six championship points. Throughout the night, YART were the quickest team on track, taking advantage of the grip provided by the Bridgestone slicks in the cooler, dry conditions.

Chasing down fourth position, Hanika powered through a wet Sunday morning before Canpea took over as the track dried out, closing the gap to BMW in fourth, catching and passing them with just over three hours to go.

YART’s podium chances were reignited with two hours remaining after a crash for the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, who were running second at the time. Fritz started to dig deep, piling the pressure on their rivals before making his final pit stop and handing over to Hanika.

Despite the best efforts of the Czech rider, he couldn’t match the pace of the repaired Suzuki, who strapped on the dry tyres while Hanika was still on wets. YART Yamaha turned their attention to bringing the bike home in fourth, which they were able to successfully do, taking 24 valuable points plus the points secured for their pole position and earlier in the race.

The Wojcik Racing Team of Gino Rea, Broc Parkes and Axel Maurin also suffered their fair share of issues. However, the team powered on to finish the race in an impressive eighth overall, while their independent championship rivals, MOTO AIN finished tenth and represented Yamaha on the podium with a third in the Superstock class with pilots Roberto Rolfo, Robin Mulhauser and Hugo Clere.

Attention now turns to the 12-hour season finale in Estoril on Saturday 26th September with YART Yamaha lying third in the overall standings, 45 points adrift of the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team. Yamaha head into the final round having extended their lead in the manufacturer’s championship, now holding an advantage of 33 points over Suzuki.

Karel Hanika
YART Yamaha EWC Official Team
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow. We were, of course, aiming to be higher in the standings. I’m very sorry for the crash in my first stint. I felt good on the bike, and when the rain came, I didn’t feel like I was pushing, but when I arrived at the corner, there was more water than I expected and slipped off breaking the handlebar. We lost a lot of time, but from there we did our best, each rider was strong and the team did a great job. We were the fastest on the track, we could do 1:37s, but in the end, we did well to come back to P4 – not the podium we were hoping four but got good points. We are still able to fight for the championship in Estoril, but it’s tough to go to Portugal with no trophy here in Le Mans. I want to thank the team for standing by me, it’s my first crash in an Endurance race, but we all stuck together and did our best to recover. Bridgestone supported us a lot, Yamaha has made a great bike, so I thank everyone in our team, and we can bounce back stronger in Estoril.”

Marvin Fritz
YART Yamaha EWC Official Team
“We worked hard with the electronics and eventually found a good set up with the engine braking and traction. Niccoló made a great start to the race, and I had a good first stint. I overtook FCC TSR Honda for the lead and opened a gap to over ten seconds. I then passed over to Karel who unfortunately crashed, but luckily, he could get the bike back, and the team repaired the damage really fast. But in the end, we fought back to fourth; it’s amazing because we were fastest all night and this morning. It was important to recover and get good points because now we’re in third in the championship and still have a chance to win. We are looking forward to Estoril because my team and team-mates were fast here in Le Mans and Bridgestone also made a great tyre for the race. The new bike finished the 24-hour, so that’s great. I want to thank my team who gave 110%, and I can’t wait for the next race.”

Niccoló Canepa
YART Yamaha EWC Official Team
“This is not the result we expected because we were very fast all weekend and even in the race we were the fastest team on track in all conditions, so in the end, I don’t think we got what we deserved. The positive is the bike is working great and the Bridgestone tyres are working great, so we’re confident ahead of the finale in Estoril. It’s a shame we didn’t get on the podium here in Le Mans because I think we deserved it, but this is racing, this is 24-hours anything can happen, and unfortunately, we had a bit of bad luck. We have nothing to lose in Estoril, so we’re going for the win there to end the year on a positive.”

Mandy Kainz
Team Manager, YART Yamaha EWC Official Team
“The race was tough, although I think we did a perfect job. The bike, tyres and riders were incredible. Our guys were the fastest on track in all conditions, but unfortunately, we crashed on a wet corner which cost us a lot of time. We dropped back to three laps behind, then eight laps behind, but we fought back to fourth. The 24-hours was just too short for us to finish on the podium but the positive side is we know the new YZF-R1 can complete the full 24-hours, we know we have the fastest riders but what we didn’t have was enough luck, but this will come back to us for Estoril.”

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