After a dramatic 24 Heures Motos at Le Mans, the GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team and YART Yamaha Official EWC Team move onto Round 3 of the 2017/2018 FIM Endurance World Championship, the 8 Hours of Slovakia Ring. After leading for the majority of the race, two crashes saw reigning Endurance World Champions GMT94 go into damage limitation mode, battling back incredibly to a valiant tenth-place finish. This saw the team lose their championship lead but their incredible fightback means they are only four points behind in second overall. The YART team were battling with GMT94 for the lead at Le Mans before a crash saw them record their second consecutive DNF and their focus is now to bounce back in style in Slovakia.
The GMT94 team of David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Mike Di Meglio looked imperious for the first 17.5 hours in France, taking the lead after the first pit stops and opening up a five-lap advantage over their nearest rivals. Unfortunately, then disaster struck not once but twice. First Checa crashed – incredibly managing to push a badly damaged bike back to the pits from the other side of the circuit – re-joining in 11th place once the team had rebuilt the bike in just 29 minutes. Then di Meglio lost the front and they lost another seven minutes before charging through the field to complete a brilliant comeback and cross the line in 10th.
The 11 points they collected for their finishing position, added to 20 stage points they collected for leading the race at the eight and 16-hour stage, they limited the damage to their 27-point championship lead meaning they head to Slovakia second in the overall standings, trailing the F.C.C TSR Honda France squad by just four points. Determined to fightback at what could be a crucial race in deciding the championship, the GMT94 team are now fully focused on fighting for victory in Slovakia and retaking their championship lead at a circuit where they were victorious last year.
After crashing out of the Bol d’Or in September, the YART team of Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz and Max Neukirchner – who is standing in for the injured Takuya Fujita – were looking to showcase their strength at Le Mans and started off in the perfect style by storming to pole position during qualifying. When the lights went out for the race on Saturday they had as solid start and where in third by the first changeover. Upping their game as the race went on they were locked together at the front with the GMT94 team, as Canepa and Fritz enjoyed a superb duel with hardly anything to separate them for 33 laps.
Sadly, the extra heat in Le Mans took its toll and Fritz lost the front on lap 153 and despite a sensational effort from the team to repair the bike and get it back out on track, they decided sensibly to not take any risks on a damaged machine and retired from the race. This means that the YART team are yet to score a point during the 2017/2018 season and the 2009 Endurance World Champions will be looking to turn their fortunes around and build on their sensational pace shown during qualifying and the race in Slovakia. Last year’s race saw them locked in an epic battle with the GMT94 team, before a technical issue meant they had to make an unsceduled pit stop with two hours to go, recovering superbly to cross the line in fourth.
The teams have already been hard at work testing this week, but the main action kicks off with free practice this morning at 11:00am local time in Slovakia, then qualifying starting on Friday starting at 10:30am and Saturday’s 8-hour race scheduled for a 12:30pm start.
YART Yamaha Official EWC Team
“The testing has been really positive so far. It’s a tough track to get used to because it’s all left handers into a big right and we’re seeing a lot of riders go down because the tyres aren’t ready for it. We’ve got a handle on it though and feeling confident. The bike is working really well and the whole team is feeling ready to get some real points on the board. I think we showed at Le Mans that we’ve got the pace, despite the result, and we want to roll that pace into Slovakia.”
GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team
“The testing has been going really well. The temperature here suits the bike a lot better than it did in Le Mans. It’s about ten degrees cooler and that’s perfect for what we have. We’ve changed quite a bit already. We’re on a new tyre, new suspension and it’s improved our times a lot over last year. It’s a much less physically demanding track than Le Mans, of course, but we really need to push for a win. The team are feeling confident and honestly everyone is feeling very strong. We have a great paddock, great bike and great riders so we’re looking to bounce back here with a win.”
YART Yamaha Official EWC Team Manager
“Takuya unfortunately took a tumble last week and the doctor has advised some rest so we will be racing with Max Neukirchner again this week. We are feeling competitive though and the bike is performing really well. The conditions look good for the weekend. Much cooler than the last round which is great and the track is less demanding as well. After Le Mans and Bol d’Or, we’re ready to go out there and get a win. We’ve got no points on the board and nothing to lose so we’re ready to go all out!”
GMT94 Yamaha Official EWC Team Manager
“The temperature has increased a lot here so the settings need to be changed to compensate for that. We’ve spent the free practice sessions really working on getting the settings correct and that’s our main goal for the first qualifying session as well. We won’t be using new tires and we’re sticking with one tire for all three riders so we can be sure the configuration is right. The spirit is high and the riders are all feeling good and agree with the current strategy. We weren’t fast this morning but with the new configurations, the times will improve. It’s going to be an exciting weekend for sure. It’s the warmest I remember it being at Le Mans in the twenty-five years I’ve been competing here!”