The GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team and the YART Yamaha Official EWC Team return to action at the opening round of the 2017/2018 FIM Endurance World Championship, the 24 hour Bol d’Or, at the Circuit Paul Ricard this weekend. Reigning Champions GMT94 will kick off their title defence fresh from lifting the trophy at the Suzuka 8 Hours, with David Checa, Niccolò Canepa, and Mike Di Meglio all back in action. The YART team of Broc Parkes, Kohta Nozane and Marvin Fritz battled at the front with GMT94 for the majority of last season, finishing third in the standings, and are hotly tipped as one of the favourites for the title in 2017/2018 after crossing the line as the leading full-time EWC team at Suzuka.
GMT94 were crowned the 2016/2017 Endurance World Champions after crossing the line in 11th at Suzuka and finishing ahead of their rivals SERT, who they trailed by one point in the standings before the race. It was a dramatic end to a season which they dominated by winning three races in a row at Le Mans, Oschersleben and Slovakia. Last year at the Bol d’Or the team endured the worst possible start to the season after two crashes in the first three hours saw them in dead last, five laps behind the nearest team. Incredibly they fought back to finish in ninth, but they found themselves 47 points behind the leaders and forced to play catch up with their rivals for the rest of the season. Determined to get things off to a better start this season, the team of David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Mike di Meglio all return to contest the opening round of the 2017/2018 season, with Checa preparing for his 16th consecutive season with the team, one of the longest rider-team associations in motorsport. The team finished the recent official test at the Circuit Paul Ricard in fifth place on the combined timesheets, as they focused on a good base setting and putting a new Dunlop front tyre through its paces. Heading into the new season, the team feel confident they can continue the form that saw them lift their third EWC title last season, to add to the ones they won in 2004 and 2014.
YART were locked in battle with GMT94 at the front for most of last season during some incredibly close racing, with the two teams competing on almost identical machinery – the only difference being YART run Bridgestone tyres – but were left counting the cost of a DNF at the Bol d’Or. Missing out on a possible sixty points, they fought back superbly to finish second behind GMT94 at Le Mans and Oschersleben, then led for most of the race at Slovakia before a loose chain saw them cross the line in fourth. YART finished the season in impressive fashion as the strongest full-time EWC team at Suzuka, as they rode their R1 to an incredible fifth-place finish to secure third in the overall standings, just 15.5 points behind the champions GMT94. Looking to build on their pace from the latter part of the season, many are tipping YART for the title in 2017/2018. The fact that their team lineup of Broc Parkes, Kohta Nozane and Marvin Fritz remains the same for the new season only strengthens their chances, as demonstrated by the team topping the timesheets at the recent official test.
First run in 1922, the 24-hour Bol d’Or has been a highlight of the Endurance calendar, with the race held at a number of different tracks over the years. The Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet played host to the event between 1978-1999 before the action returned to the circuit in 2015. This will be the 81st running of the 24-hour endurance race, with the 5.861km circuit, famous for its 1.8km Mistral straight, providing the perfect setting for the passionate French fans who always create an incredible atmosphere.
The opening round of the 2017/2018 season, the 24 hour Bol d’Or, once again sees 60 points up for grabs, with 40 points available for the win and up to ten extra points awarded for position after 8 and 16 hours respectively. The GMT94 & YART teams will hit the track on Thursday for the first free practice session at 9:30am local time, with the first qualifying sessions for each rider starting at 16:20pm. Qualifying continues on Friday at 9:40am, with the 24-hour race due to start at 15:00pm on Saturday.
GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team
“The test was really good, we found some solutions and we have a few more things to do before the race in the build-up, but all of the team were fast. We improved our pace from last year, which shows how much better the bike is. The package is really good, my teammates, the bike, and the tyres are all great! We have stopped thinking about last year already. It is hard to only have a month or so between seasons, but we have managed to stay focused and we are really looking forward to the Bol d’Or. My target is always to do my best no matter what happens, and I have been training hard to be ready for the Bol d’Or. The team is working really well, but we will have some very stiff competition this year, so we are just focusing on this race to get our title defence off to the best possible start, but in endurance, anything can happen!”
GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team Manager
“We are ready! The bike is working well, we have made some improvement to the suspension, plus we have a new front tyre from Dunlop and we tweaked some little things, but there wasn’t a huge amount of time from Suzuka until now. We are in a great position to fight for the victory, but there are five or six teams that are very strong this year. We used the two-day test to work on lots of things, and not really focus on one-lap pace but already we were a second faster than last year. Everyone was quicker, but we have a good pace. The target is to win the Bol d’Or, but definitely to get more points than last year. 60 is possible, but last year we only managed 13 points. Sure, we won the title but it meant we were playing catch up for the rest of the season. After the Bol d’Or, our season was perfect, but we know how easy it is to have problems, hence why we have worked so hard to set ourselves up for the new season as best as possible to allow us to defend our title. We will not forget the mistakes we made here last year, where we lost an hour with two crashes at the start of the race. We were five laps behind the last bike when we rejoined, so I said to the riders, imagine you are fighting for the race win. Imagine you are first, second is chasing you and you only have a tiny lead. Ride like that. Sure, it is easy when you sit in a chair to say this, but the way the guy’s rode was incredible. When had fought our way back to 11th, the ninth-placed team were still another two laps in front. We had to push harder, so I told them we must fight for ninth, they fought I was crazy, but 15 minutes before the end of the race, they got ninth position! Believe it or not, I think the Bol d’Or was our best ever race, because of the way the riders and team responded, and the confidence they got from it. Therefore, we know how important it is to get our title defence off to the best possible start and in endurance racing, every point counts!”
YART Yamaha Official EWC Team
“I am so pumped about the new season, especially after we topped both days of the test. On the second day, in the afternoon I only did a three-lap run and that’s when I set the fastest lap! The whole atmosphere in the team with Marvin and Kohta is really good, I am really excited. Yamaha have been helping out to tweak and update some parts on the bike and the overall package feels amazing. The Bridgestone tyres are working brilliantly at the circuit, I did the fastest lap on race tyres, which shows you how good they are. Last year we had a good pace at the Bol d’Or but suffered an issue, so I am looking forward to heading back. It’s a really nice track, very different, although it can be daunting when you first go there with the 1.8km straight! This year, it’s nice to be mentioned as one of the title favourites, but I think anyone from 5-6 teams can win this year, with other manufacturers really upping the ante this season. Our aim is to finish the race, as there are so many points up for grabs during the 24-hour races, so it is vital, and ideally, we will be aiming for the podium.”
YART Yamaha Official EWC Team Manager
“We were really happy with the test. Broc was the fastest rider, and we were the fastest team, plus he did the lap times with race tyres, not qualifying tyres. Kohta and Marvin were also very fast and we are happy with how things are set up for the opening round of the season. Their race pace was amazing and the Bridgestone tyres worked well at the test too, so we are feeling confident. The bike is similar to the Suzuka R1 but we have made some improvements, but with the small gap between Suzuka and the Bol d’Or, we could not change a huge amount. A lot of people are saying we are the team to beat this year, and we have a great package to fight for the title, so it is vital for us to get our season off to a good start at the Bol d’Or.”