Yamaha teams took first and second places in the 40th edition of the legendary Le Mans 24 hour endurance race in France last weekend.
The two official Yamaha teams were in a class of their own, finishing less than 20 seconds apart after a full day of racing but over 12 laps ahead of the SRC Kawasaki team in third place.
The race started off with the YART Yamaha Austria team of Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz and Kohta Nozane setting the early pace, with the pole setting Kawasaki squad – which featured former MotoGP rider Randy de Puniet – in close attendance.
The Kawasaki team’s challenge was effectively over when de Puniet crashed in the third hour. His French team was able to repair the bike, but the incident cost them several laps and would have further repercussions during the race as they went on to suffer some further technical issues during the race.
Kawasaki’s loss was Yamaha’s gain, as the GMT 94 Yamaha squad slotted into second and set about chipping away at the lead. The French based bike 94, ridden by David Checa, Mike di Meglio and Niccolo Canepa, clawed back the time deficit during the hours of darkness, the team’s Dunlop tyres generally regarded as working better in the cold conditions than the Bridgestones fitted to the Austrian bike. Despite Canepa withdrawing through illness, di Meglio overtook Nozane in the 21st hour to take a lead they would never lose.
YART continued to press hard and increased competitiveness in the closing stages after discovering that their YZF-R1 had been inadvertently running in a lower power ‘rain mode’ setting for part of the race. Nozane was able to close the gap in the final stint and, in the end, the gap between the top two was just 19.819 seconds after a record 860 laps completed.
Speaking after the race, veteran GMT94 team leader Checa said: “I’ve never done a 24 hour race like this, it was incredible. I have to say congratulations to YART, their riders made it a superbike race that lasted for 24 hours, which is not usual! When we knew Niccolò was not feeling well we decided to continue to ride until the morning because the rhythm was so high and we didn’t want the risk to be exhausted at the end. In the morning we decided to push, we made nearly a minute riding but then lost it also nearly in the garage. In the end we managed it and for me it was an incredible race. We never gave up. It shows everyone that the R1 is fast and works well, to be 12 laps ahead shows what the bike is capable of, and also what the Dunlops can do.”
YART boss Manfred Kainz was gracious in defeat, adding: “I’m very proud of my riders and my team here. Everybody gave everything they could and we proved that for 20 hours of the race we were untouchable. It’s unfortunate that we had the problem of the accidental wet map change on the bike, I think without it the end of the race could have been different, and definitely closer! Our two young riders who have never been here performed at an impressive level, and the R1 was also the perfect bike. To not only lead for 20 hours, but to be two teams 12 laps ahead of anybody else says a lot. We are very happy to have great support from our partners Bridgestone here, and we look forward to going to the next round prepared to fight for victory. Congratulations to Christophe and the GMT team, they rode an amazing race, and provided an exciting Yamaha battle to remember.”
The world champions, SERT Suzuki, finished fourth to retain the championship lead after two rounds of the series. The next race takes place in Germany on the weekend of 19-20 May, with the eight-hour round at Oschersleben.
24 Heures Motos Race Results
GMT94 Yamaha – 860 laps 24:04:27
YART Yamaha – 860 laps +19.819
Team SRC Kawasaki – 848 laps +12 laps
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team – 848 laps +12 laps
F.C.C.TSR Honda – 843 laps +17 laps
Endurance World Championship Standings (after two rounds)
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team – 95 points
TEAM SRC KAWASAKI – 92 GMT94
Yamaha – 71 F.C.C.
TSR Honda – 67
YART Yamaha – 62
Photos © www.yamaha-racing.com