Yoshimura SERT Motul has secured a huge boost to win the FIM Endurance World Championship season-opening 24 Heures Motos for a third year running by qualifying on pole position for the legendary race in Le Mans.
With heavy rain making it impossible for riders to improve their lap times on the 4.185-kilometre Circuit Bugatti during this morning’s Second Qualifying, the results of Thursday’s First Qualifying – using the average lap times of the fastest two riders per team – have essentially decided the final order for Saturday’s running start at 15h00 CET.
That means Le Mans-based Yoshimura SERT Motul, which features Gregg Black, Sylvain Guintoli and Étienne Masson in its Bridgestone-equipped line-up, will begin the day and night classic at the front followed by YART Yamaha (Niccolò Canepa, Marvin Fritz and Karel Hanika) and F.C.C. TSR Honda France (Mike Di Meglio, Josh Hook and Alan Techer), which starts the defence of its FIM Endurance World Championship for Teams.
UK-born, France-based Black, who set the pace in the Blue Rider session on Thursday, which was held on a drying track before earlier rain returned shortly afterwards, said: “It’s always good to see when you’re pretty fast in all the conditions as that’s our objective for the race. Qualifying was hard with the wet and dry and you had to choose the right tyres at the right moment, but it shows the team is ready and prepared and we can be fast. Of course, it’s a confidence boost for the race, especially for us here at Le Mans, the team’s home track, that’s important for everyone and it’s five points in the bag for the championship, which is great for us. But it’s not important in endurance if you are first or fifth off the grid, what’s important is 3 o’clock on the Sunday after the race and we’re confident for that.”
The mixed weather during Thursday’s running and the rain-hit Friday session made for challenging track conditions and resulted in several riders suffering falls. They included Mike Di Meglio (F.C.C. TSR Honda France), Yoshimura SERT Motul’s Sylvain Guintoli and Florian Alt from Honda Viltaïs Racing. Despite his issues on Thursday, Frenchman Di Meglio was “very satisfied” at the completion of Second Qualifying. “Third place is good and it’s some points for the championship,” said Di Meglio said. “It will be nice, we are all very close and if we stay together we will enjoy the fight. I hope to make a nice result.”
Karel Hanika qualified on pole with a sub-record lap last season but tumbled down the order when he was unable to fire up his Yamaha after taking the running start. However, the Czech YART rider is confident a solution has been found. “Our engineers have worked hard and we are quite positive in this matter for starting the race but you never know what is going to happen. Hopefully we will have some luck but you don’t win the race at the start, we have to be competitive for the whole 24 hours.”
Leading independent outfit Moto Ain is set to start the 24 Heures Motos in fourth position followed by Honda Viltaïs Racing, winner of the 2022 season-deciding Bol d’Or, and ERC Endurance Ducati. EWC newcomer KM99 is seventh on the provisional starting grid followed by BMW Motorrad World Endurance Team, TATI Team Beringer Racing and Team Kawasaki Webike Trickstar with Wójcik Racing Team EWC next up.
In the battle for Dunlop Superstock Trophy and FIM Endurance World Cup honours, Team Louit April Moto was quickest in qualifying ahead of Tecmas-MRP-BMW Racing Team, 3ART Best of Bike, Wójcik Racing Team STK, National Motos Honda, Chromeburner-RAC41-Honda, OG Motorsport World Endurance Team and Team 18 Sapeurs Pompiers CMS Motostore, the winner of the 2022 Superstock title. BMRT 3 D Maxxess Nevers and JMA Racing Action Bike complete the top 10 Dunlop-equipped Superstock runners.
Kevin Calia, who is partnered by fellow Italians Christian Gamarino and Simone Saltarelli, on Team Louit April Moto’s #33 Kawasaki, said: “Pole position is not important because the race is long and always in Le Mans it’s a tricky race and we hope the rain will not come so it can be easier. But we have a good team because Simone and Christian are very similar on the race pace so we can fight. But we know many teams are very fast because in stock the level is very close. We have to do our work as always, try not to do a mistake and hope for the luck because last year we had many issues by being unlucky.”
The challenge for the EWC teams now is to transfer their qualifying form into the weekend’s 46th 24 Heures Motos, a challenge made harder by the fact dry conditions are expected on Saturday and Sunday in contrast to the weather experienced during qualifying. And the challenge in store won’t be made any easier by forecasts of ambient temperatures as low as five degrees centigrade during Saturday night.
Teams will get one final opportunity to prepare for the EWC opener during the 45-minute warm-up session from 09h30 on Saturday.
LIVE TIMING: https://www.its-live.net/#/live/ewc/2023/24hmans
HOW TO WATCH: https://www.fimewc.com/where-to-watch