The two Official Yamaha Endurance teams took first and second on the podium respectively for the 2017 FIM 24 Heures Motos at the Bugatti circuit in Le Mans, turning the event into a two horse race as they fought less than a minute apart, over the entire race, ending 11 laps ahead of the rest of the field in their own class.
GMT94 Yamaha's David Checa enjoyed a strong start, fighting in the front pack from fifth at the first corner to rise back to fourth, before handing over to teammate Niccolò Canepa who came back out to third position. Canepa was able to increase the pressure before handing over to third rider Mike Di Meglio who continued on the same form to get the race into play. It wasn't long before the French team were up in to second position in their rhythm and chasing race leaders YART Yamaha Official, the two soon leaving the rest of the field behind. The early hours of the morning saw committed riding close the gap down to around 15 seconds, before YART began to again stretch it out. As morning broke over the circuit GMT94 raised the game again, cutting the lead back down to around 20 seconds as the two Yamahas continued their duel for the win.
With just over four hours remaining Mike Di Meglio was on fast form, dropping the gap quickly to Nozane in front. An unfortunate contact with a back marker caused him to crash out, but Di Meglio himself was not slowed and with just under four hours to go he was able to catch Nozane, fighting closely through the first three turns for the lead that would become the overtake that secured the race victory.
From that point the GMT94 Yamaha Official riders were able to slowly stretch out the margin to the final lap, wrapping up the race after an exhausting 860 laps and 24 hours. Adding to the drama, Canepa fell ill with fever during the night, continuing to ride until 9am in the morning through fever and sickness before retiring to allow his two teammates to complete the final seven hours between them.
It proved to be a great start for Broc Parkes on the no.7 YART machine from second on the grid, fighting to secure an early lead and immediately dropping into the 1'36s lap times. The Australian led until lap eight when a safety car came out for a couple of laps, bunching the competitors and bringing the competition in. He fought with the group until handing over to Marvin Fritz, who came out to lead the pack again. Fritz kept the pace up, maintaining the lead for his stint before passing on to young Japanese talent, Kohta Nozane. Nozane ensured the team's race leading pace was respected, keeping the YART YZF-R1 at the front of the pack whilst displaying incredible corner lean angles as he powered around the Bugatti circuit.
The three worked hard to keep and grow their lead as day turned to night, the riders taking repeated faultless turns on their R1. As the night turned to early morning, fellow Yamaha riders GMT94 Official had worked hard to close the gap to just over 15 seconds by 5am in the morning. The YART Yamaha trio then picked up the pace again, growing the gap to nearly 50 seconds just over an hour later. After leading the race for an incredible 20 hours, the gap wasn't to last, as the daylight brought with it an unexplained loss of pace. GMT94 were gradually able to regain the time creating a tense, exciting atmosphere as Yamaha hunted Yamaha on the Bugatti circuit. The winning pass was made with Di Meglio passing Nozane with just under four hours to go. YART kept their pace high as the clock counted down, discovering at the final riding stint of Parkes that the bike had been accidentally switched to wet map resulting in a lower bottom end power. As a result they crossed the line in second place 19.819 seconds behind GMT94 to secure second.
Yamaha Viltaïs Experience enjoyed a great start to their Le Mans weekend, riders Axel Maurin, Bastien Mackels and Florian Alt working hard to secure the Superstock pole position. A great start to the race saw them quickly in sixth position, climbing to fifth after the first pit stop. From there their pace continued to increase, as they climbing to a highest of fourth as they battled for the Superstock victory. Without doubt the most competitive stock team on the track, an unfortunate technical issue with an oil filter plagued them twice, costing valuable time. Despite this they kept coming back and working even harder, and had regained second position in the Superstock class when an unfortunate crash in the final hours again set the clock back. They eventually brought their YZF-R1 home in a hard fought third position, ninth overall.
I don't think I've ever done a 24hr race like this, it was incredible. I have to say congratulations to YART, their riders made it a Superbike race that lasted for 24hrs, 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.
This race was amazing, very hard, very close fighting with YART, the lap times were so close. It was more difficult with Niccolò being sick as I had to finish the race with David. I was afraid how I could do it physically with short break for food and massage between rides, but we did it and found a great pace to become first. When I was behind Nozane I gave 100%, it was like qualifying but for 32 laps!
We are really happy for the final result, winning a 24hr race is something unbelievable, it's my first time so it is something incredible. I'm a little upset because I was feeling sick all night with fever so it was really hard for me to ride every stint here where it is really physical. The gap from YART was really close so we had to push a lot all night. At 9am I decided to stop. My teammates did an amazing job taking the victory, I want to say thanks to them and the team, they did an amazing job. It's been a fabulous day for me!
If we are going to fight with anyone I want it to be with Mandy as he is my friend. I'm very happy for him as he proved that his team is incredibly strong and professional, he deserved the battle we had. His rider line was also so strong, it was important that we also had a strong rider line up to compete. Mike and David and Niccolò were amazing, and I think in all the riders from both teams were the best of the whole race. It was a two-team race between GMT and YART. After two hours settling in to the race we were ready to fight and then the only bike that was impossible to catch was YART! Their pace was unbelievable. We tried many strategies and it took until 20hours to reach them. Congratulations to them, and to Yamaha because for us to fight like that we needed an amazing bike, strong, reliable and fast. This success today is a sign of the Yamaha family all working together across teams and engineers to share our data and learings so we can all be more competitive. Finally of course thank you to my team who worked tirelessly through the weekend to make it a win.
From a team perspective I think we did a great job, unfortunately we didn't win the race but we only lost five points to GMT over the whole weekend. We showed that as a team we are very strong and we led over 20 hours of the 24 hour race. We just missed out a little bit at the end. We knew this would be one of the hardest races for us, the eight hour races will be better and riding at circuits that the other two will know. The positive is we performed really well, now we can look forward to the next races and we are not too bad on points. Congratulations to my teammates who did a great job.
It's my first 24hrs so I'm really happy for second place, its good to finish and get good points, only five less than GMT because we led after 8 hours and 16 hours. We made a good job, Bridgestone were great, its just a shame we had the issue with the wet map that we didn't find until nearly the end when Broc had his last stint and was on the pace again. We are on a good level and now we focus for Oschersleben, Slovakia and Suzuka. I'm happy for the team, we are fast and in with a chance.
The race was really long, but an amazing experience for me. I really enjoyed riding with my teammates, my English isn't so good for communicating but we still managed to find a good way to work together to make the best set up and feeling, which is really nice. I'm really tired today, but I think tomorrow I know I will want to come back next year with the same teammates and win the race!
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.
GMT Yamaha Official EWC Team - Yamaha YZF-R1 - 860 laps 24:04:27
YART Yamaha Official EWC Team- Yamaha YZF-R1 - 860 laps +19.819
Team SRC Kawasaki - 848 laps +12 lps
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team - 848 laps +12 lps
F.C.C. TSR Honda - 843 laps +17 lps
Tati Team Beaujolais Racing - 837 laps +23 lps
Moto AIN CRT - Yamaha YZF-R1 - 834 laps +26 lps
Maco Racing Team - Yamaha YZF-R1 - 831 laps +29 lps
Yamaha Viltaïs Experience - Yamaha YZF-R1 - 829 laps +31 lps
AM Moto Racing Competition - 824 laps +36 lps
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team - 95 points
TEAM SRC KAWASAKI - 92
GMT Yamaha Official EWC Team - 71
F.C.C. TSR Honda - 67
YART Yamaha Official EWC Team - 62
MACO RACING Team Yamaha - 54
EVA RT WEBIKE TRICK STAR - 53
Tati Team Beaujolais Racing - 48
MOTO AIN CRT Yamaha - 48
Yamaha Viltaïs Experience - 38