A valiant end to an intense and dramatic 41st running of the 24 Heures Motos, round two of the FIM EWC World Championship, saw the GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team recover from two crashes and two costly pit-stops for an awe-inspiring top-10 finish. As one of the most demanding races in the world, it didn’t come without issues for the Pole sitters YART Yamaha Official EWC. After taking over the lead on lap 153, YART’s Marvin Fritz had an enormous crash that saw his YZF-R1 tumble end-over-end down the circuit, causing damage that cost the team 40 minutes and 33-Laps, and eventually forced a decision to regrettably retire from the race.
The 24 Heures Motos is the ultimate test of man, machine, teamwork, compromise and perseverance. Demonstrating their strength in all of those areas, both of the Official Yamaha Racing teams qualified inside the top five with YART’s Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz and Max Neukirchner on Pole, and GMT94’s David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Mike di Meglio in fourth.
After topping the charts in Warm-Up with almost identical lap-times – YART only 0.014 clear of GMT94 – anticipation for the buzzer signaling the start of the race was high. When it sounded off, YART’s Broc Parkes and GMT94’s David Checa got their YZF-R1’s off to reasonable top-10 starts and remained calm in the progression towards the front of the field.
At the end of the first stint, Checa was up into second place when he handed his GMT94 YZF-R1 over to Niccolò Canepa, while Parkes got to third before giving his YART YZF-R1 to Marvin Fritz.
GMT94 inherited the lead immediately after the first pit stop, with Canepa taking full advantage of a mistake from the early race leader. He then ran a series of smooth, fast and consistent lap-times and remained untroubled by the pressure that was being applied by the young and flamboyant YART rider, Fritz. A wheel-to-wheel battle for the lead lasted a solid 33-laps before both riders pulled in for their second pit stops, handing the handlebars of their YZF-R1 machinery to teammates Mike di Meglio and Max Neukirchner. Both di Meglio and Neukirchner replicated the race smarts of their teammates that went first, and remained focused and in control before the next set of rider-transitions.
A much hotter climate added an extra element to the already grueling 24 hour race this weekend. The additional heat was not only taxing on the riders, both physically and mentally, it was also taxing on the bikes and the tyres, as they had to work exceedingly hard to maintain high-performance and durability.
This race is renowned for the challenges it provides for the riders, teams, and technical partners alike. One of the biggest challenges this weekend was tyre selection. Due to the warmer temperatures, tyres were wearing out quicker than expected. YART’s Marvin Fritz found out first hand while trying to push a hot-pace on a worn front tyre. On lap 153 the German lost the front on a fast right-hander and was spat off of the bike and into the gravel, calling for the safety-car to group the riders and slow them down so that the track could be cleared of debris.
Credit must be given where credit is due, and that is to the passionate mechanics that belong to the YART team. After finally receiving the damaged YZF-R1, they incredibly rebuilt it from the ground up and offered Neukirchner the chance to test it. While Neukirchener re-entered the race, YART’s Team Manager Mandy Kainz went back to the drawing board and weighed up the risk versus reward of completing the race. Combined with the unfortunate events of the opening round of the EWC World Championship at Bol d’Or, which were repeated on lap 153 today, the decision was made to withdraw from the event due to time loss and danger of learning to ride a repaired bike in extremely tough and challenging conditions.
The safety car cost GMT94’s Niccolò Canepa more than 40 seconds, but the Italian was quick to bounce back and by night-fall they had already stretched their lead out to more than 1-lap.
With YART retiring from the race, GMT94 carried the torch for Yamaha into the night stint. The night air and cooler climate offered more traction but less vision, meaning the riders would still need to walk a fine-line and attack the track and the race, but with caution. Clever in their craft, all three GMT94 riders maintained a steady lead, and were rewarded for the efforts with 10-points toward their FIM EWC World Championship point tally for leading at the 8-hour mark. Soon after that, they were at another advantage with their closest rival pulling in to pit-lane for running repairs that allowed the team to extend their lead to 2-Laps.
Darkness blanketed the venue, causing most riders to slow down. Not the GMT94 trio though. All three riders, Checa, Canepa and di Meglio, maintained their speed and even increased it from time-to-time with Mike di Meglio setting the fastest lap of the night session.
While many of the 60 teams that entered the demanding race either slowed-down or retired, the GMT94 team seemed to get stronger as the time-clock ticked down and they were awarded another 10-points for leading the race at the 16-hour mark while di Meglio was out on his run.
Systematic in their ways with 17.5 hours and 620 laps complete, and a 5-Lap buffer over the rider in second place, it appeared GMT94 had a firm grip on what would have been their second consecutive round victory this season. Without the need to push or take any risks, the sun had reappeared and di Meglio handed the GMT94 YZF-R1 over to his teammate and one of the most seasoned riders in Endurance racing, David Checa. As a rider that joined the GMT94 Team back in 2003 and has been present ever since, with not a single raced missed in the 16 years he has been racing, it came as shock to hear the legendary Spaniard had fallen from the lead on the far side of the circuit. Checa’s crash caused an enormous amount of damage to the bike, to the point it was even difficult to push back. Adding to the heart-wrenching scenario, the rule states ‘riders must get their bikes back to their pit-boxes without any assistance at all’, and it was at that moment that Checa’s passion and commitment to racing and his team was highlighted as he, fatigued from being awake for more than 24-hours, battered and bruised with rips all over his leathers, found the strength to untangle the broken parts on his YZF-R1 and pushed it for more 1km back to pit-lane. Upon arrival, his bravery saw him receive a standing ovation from the teams of the other competitors and the fans a like.
It took the team 29 minutes to do a complete rebuild of the bike before it was handed to Niccolò Canepa to head back out on track, 18 laps off the leader and in eleventh place. The Italian didn’t waste any time in charging forward, he was running faster lap-times than anyone else on-track and before the end of his stint he had made a successful dash for tenth place.
Like Canepa, di Meglio continued the piping hot pace as he charged forward and up into ninth place before he lost the front and fell. The Frenchman returned to the pit-box where the team went to work for another 7 minutes before placing the YZF-R1 back in the capable hands of di Meglio, except this time in eleventh-place, 22 Laps off of the lead.
Soon after, 700 laps were complete with 3 hours left on the clock. Despite the heart-breaking events that had robbed them of a second consecutive win, the team continued to push forward and kept their spirits high. Their determination in such circumstances was admirable as the trio put their heart and souls into achieving as much points as possible. They were tenth place at the flag, which gave the team 11-points, plus the 20 points that were awarded for leading at the 8hr and 16hr marks, to add towards their EWC World Championship campaign.
The reigning and defending FIM EWC Champions, the GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team will head to the third round of the FIM EWC World Championship only 4-points shy of the new series leaders, in second place.
In hopes of putting their first set of points this season on the board, the YART Yamaha Official EWC team will also head to the third round, which is an 8 hour race titled the ‘8 hours of Slovakia Ring’. The race will take place on the weekend of May 12th
GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team Manager
The races follow each other and are not alike. We have to accept this blow of fate. David Checa always respected the running chart that we set together. We don’t have any regrets. We were 5 laps ahead and running excellent lap times throughout the night, but that only gave us a 10 minute advantage, and 10 minutes is not a really comfortable advantage. Following his fall, David was amazing because the head of the bike was blocked and it was very difficult to move. We do not know how he managed to get it back to the box. The mechanics managed to fix a damaged motorcycle, the fuel rail, tank, handlebars, radiators, exhaust system, dashboard, brakes, foot pegs, everything, in less than 30 minutes.
Finishing this race after the disappointment of losing the lead has been a great satisfaction for us. We look forward to the next race in Slovakia.
YART Yamaha Official EWC Team Manager
We did nothing wrong all week, we were always the fastest, so it is unfortunate to leave Le Mans without any points. Let’s just focus on the positive parts. We were the fastest in Qualifying, and we made Pole Position. We were also fast in most of the practice sessions. The riders were riding well; it was just unlucky for Marvin to crash. The bike was really damaged and it took 1 hour to repair it, which cost us a lot of laps and time. We made the decision to withdraw to preserve the riders and the material so we will be ready for the next race in Slovakia Ring, where we will also be the team to beat. We will do our best to return to the top of the championship.
GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team Rider