YART Yamaha Crowned 2023 Endurance World Champions After Dramatic Bol d’Or

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YART Yamaha Crowned 2023 Endurance World Champions After Dramatic Bol d’Or
The Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team showed incredible fighting spirit to put in a stunning performance during the FIM Endurance World Championship season finale at the Bol d’Or in France, finishing in fourth to secure the title after an epic race.
The YART Yamaha team of Karel Hanika, Niccolò Canepa, Marvin Fritz, and Reserve Rider Robin Mulhauser arrived in France at Circuit Paul Ricard for the final round of the Endurance World Championship (EWC), trailing the championship leaders by 14 points after a sensational season.
The Austrian squad finished second at the opening round in Le Mans before winning the 24H SPA EWC Motos in superb fashion, their first 24-hour race victory since 2009, which was also the last year they went to win the Endurance World Championship.
Having opened up a substantial lead at the top of the overall standings, they were battling for a podium at the legendary Suzuka 8 Hours before a minor technical issue saw them relegated to dead last within the first two hours. Showing incredible determination and tenacity, the team fought back to finish 22nd overall and 18th in class, securing two vital championship points in the process, but it seemed as though lousy luck might once again deny them the chance to fight for the title.
This meant they arrived in Le Castellet for the Bol d’Or, knowing they had to attack from the off to stand any chance of becoming champions. After showing good pace during the test and Free Practice on their Bridgestone-shod R1, a challenging qualifying saw them have to settle for fourth on the grid for the title decider.
Ahead of the race, the team revealed the eye-catching special livery they would run that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the iconic R1 superbike, based on the colour scheme of the recently launched Yamaha R1 GYTR Pro Limited Edition. Then, a couple of hours before the lights went out for the race, heavy thunderstorms hit the Côte d’Azur circuit, and a damp but drying track presented the team with a conundrum.
Play it safe and go for intermediate tyres like the rest of the other five title contenders, or take a risk and go for a full slick setup in the treacherous but drying conditions. Canepa was the rider who took the first stint, and the experienced Italian and the team chose to go with slicks, which proved to be a tactical masterstroke.
While the 35-year-old had to manage the risk during the opening few laps on the still-wet track, within 15 minutes, the surface was fully dry, and he got the hammer down, opening up a lap advantage before the end of his stint as others had to pit to swap tyres. Unfortunately, a safety car meant that his gap at the front was effectively wiped out, and the team had to settle down and do the hard work all over again.
What ensued then was an enthralling battle between the leading three teams, with YART and their two main title rivals swapping the lead consistently at seemingly every pit stop as they constantly battled each other on track, much to the delight of the tens of thousands of French fans who had created an electric atmosphere at the circuit since Thursday.
Fritz and Hanika continued the excellent pace shown by Canepa at the start, and by the eight-hour mark, the trio were in second place to claim nine championship points, closing the gap to the team leading the standings by one.
As night fell in the South of France, YART continued to push and maintain their lightning pace; then, as the 12-hour mark approached, their main championship rivals were forced to retire, effectively making it a two-way battle for the title between YART and the SERT team.
Knowing they had a comfortable points cushion over SERT, they decided to conserve their energy and pace around the incredibly demanding circuit, especially down the engine-breaking 1.8km Mistral Straight, taking no risks to ensure they finished. This tactic worked well, and they held a comfortable second position until about eight hours to go in the race.
As Canepa came into the pits, there were signs that the YART R1 was overheating, and the team spent an extra minute bringing the bike into the box to top up the water in the radiator. Undeterred, Fritz completed his next stint before the team decided to try and address the issue. This saw the German rider bring the bike back into the box again, with the team spending five minutes replenishing the water in the cooling system and trying to diagnose the cause.
Now five laps behind the leaders but three laps ahead of the team in third, and knowing that a top-nine finish would secure them the championship even if SERT won, the team wisely decided to take no chances and, during every pit stop, took the time to check the bike and carry out running repairs to ensure the issue did not become more serious.
Still, as the hours ticked away and they started to lose more and more time, the pressure began to mount. Surely they would not be denied the championship by another cruel piece of bad luck? Fortunately, this would not be the case, as the YART team managed to diagnose the problem, which turned out to be an issue with the water pump and replace it with two hours to go while they were still in fourth.
Knowing they just had to bring it home to claim their second championship as a team, all three riders completed their final stints showing nerves of steel and were utterly faultless the entire race. When they crossed the line at the end of an incredibly nerve-wracking 24 hours, they had maintained fourth and completed 705 laps, 12 behind the winners SERT, but four ahead of the team in fifth.
The impressive resolve the entire team had shown marked them out as worthy champions, and despite all of the drama, they had managed to secure their second EWC crown by a margin of 20 points, with a total tally of 181, to end the season in spectacular fashion after an incredibly tense finish.
There was more success in France for Yamaha in the Superstock class, as Team 18 Sapeurs Pompiers CMS Motostore secured a third-place finish in class after ending the race in eighth overall, with the Maco Racing Team in ninth.
The Moto Ain Yamaha EWC Supported Team fought back after some early difficulties to secure 16th, with KM Motos, who were on course for a top-six finish before technical issues in the latter stages, bringing it home in 17th, while it was a race to forget for the Wojcik Racing Team as they retired on just the second lap.
Full Bol d’Or Race Results
Karel Hanika – P4 – 705 Laps
Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team
“It is an amazing feeling to be the Endurance World Champions. I want to thank Mandy for bringing me into the YART setup in 2020. I am really grateful to him, Bridgestone, and the whole Yamaha family for letting me be a part of this team. I also want to thank my amazing teammates who worked hard during the winter and at all the tests to improve the bike. They always ride 100% in every stint, and I think we deserved to be champions the last two seasons, but it was just not meant to be. Finally, this year, it has come for us, and I could not be happier to be a part of this wonderful team. The race was really tough. We had a great battle with SERT, but they were very strong, especially on the Mistral Straight. Then, we decided to try and secure second until we had the overheating problem, but the team did an incredible job to fix that issue, and I am proud we could bring the bike to the finish line.”
Niccolò Canepa – P4 – 705 Laps
Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team
“This feels incredible. Since we first started racing together, our goal has been to win the world championship. So, in every race and every stint, as soon as we put our helmet on and ride the bike, this was the only goal in our heads.  Every time, we push to the limit to achieve this. Also, when we have been in a comfortable position, we know that in endurance, there can be a problem just around the corner, so instead of settling, we always try and push to prevent any problem and to put ourselves in the best position to try and win the race. It is this attitude and desire that has allowed us to bring home this amazing medal. The race was hard; we had a great start, but the Safety car negated any benefit we got, and then we had to fight every lap. When we started having the overheating issue, it was a big concern, but the team did an incredible job of fixing the problem. Thanks to the efforts of the whole team, we are Endurance World Champions…and it feels good.”
Marvin Fritz – P4 – 705 Laps
Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team
“It was the toughest race of the season because we knew what was on the line. To achieve our dream of winning the world championship is a dream come true.  We faced a lot of challenges during the race. At the start, we made a great decision to go with the slicks, and Niccolò rode superbly, but then the safety car robbed us of the lead. When we started to have the overheating issue, the last seven hours were the longest of our lives, but the team did an amazing job of diagnosing the issue, and in the last two and a half hours, the bike was perfect again. I want to say a big thank you to Mandy for believing in me and all of us. Every single member of the team deserves this world championship title; they worked so hard all year. I cannot imagine having better teammates, and honestly, after coming so close before, this is an extraordinary feeling.”
Robin Mulhauser – Reserve Rider
Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team
“What a crazy race! I have been a part of the team for two years now, and honestly, we have been so close before, but it always seemed that bad luck was on our side. Finally, the planets aligned this year, and we are world champions. Although saying that, it was a tough race for the guys, especially after they opened up a lap gap at the start, only to have it wiped out. It would have been easy to think it is not our year again. But the whole team’s attitude is amazing, and they never gave up. I am so happy for my teammates. Obviously, I didn’t ride in the race, but the whole team feels like a big family, and I am so happy to play my part in helping to set up the bike and test parts. It feels amazing to be a part of the YART team and the Yamaha family, and we will enjoy this moment.”
Mandy Kainz
Yamalube YART Yamaha EWC Official Team – Team Manager
“What can I say? This is a very special feeling. We have come so close many times, but something always happened. We even lost one championship in the last hour of the final race. So, finally achieving what we have been aiming for is very special. This was a tough race for us, as our bike appeared much slower than the others. We had to try and be conservative to ensure our bike survived because this circuit is so hard on engines, but this meant we were losing out by 30kph to some bikes on the straight, which equates to 0.6-0.7s every lap. We did this to ensure we could finish the race, as there is no real way to test for a 24-hour race, especially for the Bol d’Or, as the race itself is the test. I am so happy for our riders. They have been leading in every single round this year. At Le Mans, we had a problem where we crashed on some oil. Spa was the perfect race for us, even with some issues. We showed such a good pace in Suzuka, but a very minor technical issue meant we missed out on a dream podium. I was so proud of the riders in Japan, as we were close to retiring, but the boys did not give up and fought back from last position to 22nd. We even managed to claw back one and a half laps on the leaders after our issue. So, for me, our guys are the real heroes and true endurance riders. They always show such amazing fighting spirit, bravery, and determination, and they really deserve it. This championship means a lot to us all, and the whole team has worked so hard, so we will enjoy this feeling and then start thinking about next year and how we can defend our title.”
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