If the scuttlebutt out of the FIM Endurance World Championship paddock is to be believed, AMA Pro Superbike racer Josh Hayes could be headed to Le Mans, France next week, as the American is tipped to be replacing Josh Waters in the YART squad for the final round in the Endurance Championship series.
The stout YART (Yamaha Austria Racing Team) is currently 13 points behind the venerable SERT (Suzuki Endurance Racing Team) for the Endurance World Championship title, with the 24 Hour Le Mans race being the deciding event for the top spot in the EWC.
Seeing the return of American racing legend Kevin Schwantz to FIM road racing, the 2013 Coca-Cola Zero Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race was certainly one to remember.
While the return of Schwantz overshadowed many of the other big names in the sport that competed in the event, not to mention the former World Champion’s own teammates: Noriyuki Haga & Yukio Kagayama, the Suzuka starting grid was also blessed with the entries of Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam, Josh Brookes, John McGuinness, Michael Rutter, Simon Andrews, and American Jason Pridmore.
Though a long eight-our race, the on-course action was surprisingly close, with the Top 5 teams on the same lap well past the three-hour mark. Team Kagayama was in good shape for a solid result from the onset of the race, as Noriyuka Haga put the team’s Suzuki GSX-R1000 in a solid fourth position.
The team rose as high as second-position with Team Manager Yukio Kagayama on-board, as the Suzuka specialist kept a solid pace, and benefited from the pit stops of other teams, not to mention the retirement of the FCC TSR Honda team, which had a race-ending crash with Ryuichi Kiyonari at the helm.
While the crash from Kiyonari on the FCC TSR Honda dashed the race-win-repeat hopes of World Superbike’s Jonathan Rea, Kevin Schwantz finally dazzled fans in the third hour as he took to the course. For all the postulation that the 49-year-old was over the hill for the Suzuka 8 Hours, the Texan held his own on the Kagayama Suzuki, and managed to keep Team Kagayama in the podium hunt, especially as other top teams succumbed to the rigors of endurance racing.
While we were busy getting sunburned in Austin, on the other side of the globe in Magny-Cours, men and women road motorcycles around a french track for 24-hours straight, in a little something called the Bol d’Or.
With SRC Kawasaki making a return to the pole-position, the French squad made it two years in a row at the winner’s circle, giving them a fantastic start to the World Endurance Championship. At the helm of their Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R were Gregory Leblanc, Loris Baz, and Jérémy Guarnoni, who battled through rain and the cold night to put the Kawasaki on the top step.
Campaigned by Yamaha’s Austrian subsidiary, the Yamaha Austria Racing Team (YART) has an impressive history in the FIM World Endurance Championship. Finishing third at the 76th Annual Bol d’Or 24 hour race, YART was the top Yamaha squad on the rostrum, and even upset the Yamaha France’s factory team: Team Yamaha GMT94 Michelin Yamalube.
YART was the 2009 WEC Champion, and over the last 10 years, the Stryia-based squad has finished in the Top 5 eight times. Not quite the pedigree that comes with the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT), but YART is a serious contender for the 2012 World Endurance Championship and is already giving the factory Suzuki squad a run for its money. It also so happens, that their 2012 Yamaha YZF-R1 is one trick looking race bike — photos after the jump, naturally.
Concluding its second day of qualifying, the grid for the 2012 Bol d’Or remains essentially in the same order, as the times on Friday at Magny-Cours were slower than yesterday’s qualifying session. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team’s legacy of FIM World Endurance Championship domination remains intact, which lead SERT Team Principal to say, “I don’t understand what the competition is doing!” during the press debrief. SERT’s Vincent Philippe was the only rider to break into the 1’39 time bracket. The 76th running of the Bol d’Or 24 Heures starts tomorrow at noon, local time.
The Bol d’Or 24 hours endurance race is this weekend, and is the first stop on the FIM World Endurance Championship (EWC) calendar. With the FIM averaging the qualifying laps for each teams’ riders, which is usually three riders to a team, it should come as no surprise that the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT) is once again on top of the time sheets for the first day of qualifying.
With 33 years of experience and 11 Championship wins, SERT has been the dominate factory team in (EWC), and the all French crew considers the Bol d’Or its home race. Campaigning a 2012 Suzuki GSX-R100 with a Yoshimura-built motor, SERT will have to contend with some stout-looking Yamahas, as well as the ever-learning Honda TT Legends squad. Checkout the full results after the jump.