In the world of motorcycle racing the Isle of Man TT is indeed infamous, and as a photographer I have been lucky enough to shoot on the Isle in the Irish Sea. When my letter of credential for the Le Mans 24 Hour Moto arrived, I was beyond ecstatic — my charge would be to cover those same TT riders as they participated in the FIM World Endurance Championship finale at Le Mans.
An overnight flight from my home in Atlanta, and a train ride from Paris to Le Mans, and I was on-site 48 hours later. There are times when arriving at a circuit that I have never shot can be daunting, but one walk thru the door to the Honda TT Legends pits and I felt at home. As much due to the familiar faces, as to the more relaxed atmosphere of the team here at Le Mans versus the intensity at the Isle of Man.
After 24 hours of racing around a tiny historic track in France, the 24 Hours of Le Mans motorcycle endurance race, and final round of the 2013 FIM Endurance World Championship has finally come to an end. A race of attrition, SRC Kawasaki claimed the top podium step, followed by Suzuki France’s Team R2CL (which was blessed with the addition of Guy Martin for the event), with Yamaha France – GMT 94 – Michelin Yamalube rounding out the final position.
The conclusion of the 24 Hours of Le Mans also means that the 2013 FIM Endurance World Championship rankings have been settled, with the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT) clinching the Championship, yet again, despite the team’s disappointing 26th place finish overall in Le Mans. Second in the Championship is the Yamaha France – GMT 94 – Michelin Yamalube squad, with SRC Kawasaki closing out the top three spot, for the four-round championship.
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.
Jorge Lorenzo’s disappointing performance at the French Grand Prix at Le Mans has been the cause of some debate. The factory Yamaha man finished a lowly seventh, his worst finish (other than DNFs) since his rookie season in 2008, and finishing off the podium for the first time since Indianapolis in 2011. To say this was an uncharacteristic performance from Lorenzo is something of an understatement.
So what went wrong? Immediately after the race, Lorenzo made it clear that he believed the problem was with his rear tire. He had had no grip whatsoever, and been unable to get any drive from his rear tire.
He told the press afterwards that the only logical explanation he could think of for his problems was a defective rear tire. Lorenzo had been fast in the morning warm up, though it was a little drier then, and the set up used was very similar to then. In 2012, Lorenzo had won at Le Mans by a huge margin, so he could not understand why he was struggling so badly in France.
Bridgestone naturally denied there had been a problem with Lorenzo’s tire. After the race Bridgestone officials told the press that they had examined the tire together with Yamaha engineers and found nothing wrong with it.
In their customary post-race press release, Bridgestone’s Motorsport Tyre Development Manager Shinji Aoki reiterated this stance. “As is always the case in these situations, his engineer thoroughly examined Jorge’s race tyres which were found to be in good working condition,” he is quoted in the press release as saying.
“In addition, I examined the tyre myself and personally discussed the matter with the Yamaha engineers and we all agreed that Jorge’s lack of rear grip was not attributable to his tyre.”
What do we know ourselves? Though nobody is saying anything other than official statements, there are still some clues we can piece together from the data available. The key fact is visible from the race footage, available to those with a MotoGP.com video pass on the official MotoGP website.
As is customary, the Bridgestone media service issued their post-race debrief on tire performance on Tuesday, in which they discuss how the tires they selected held up during the race at Le Mans the previous weekend. This week’s press release is more interesting than most, as it contains a denial from Bridgestone that there was anything wrong with the rear tire used by Jorge Lorenzo in the race on Sunday, countering claims that his tire was defective.
Speaking to the media after the race on Sunday, Lorenzo said that although he was not a tire engineer, he could think of no other explanation but a defective tire for the complete lack of rear grip he had suffered throughout the race. The setting they had used in the wet morning warm-up had worked well, Lorenzo said. In 2012, under similar conditions, he had not had a single problem, he explained, going on to win the race by nearly 10 seconds.
Defending titles is not easy. In the last twenty years, only Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi have managed to win successive championships, despite both Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner winning twice. Why is it so hard? A lot of reasons. Nothing motivates a rider, a team or a factory like losing.
Winning a championship requires a lot of hard work and talent, but also a smattering of luck, and at some point, luck runs out. Winning a title means always looking forward, eyes on the prize, while defending a title means looking back, at everyone out to get you. All these things combine to make winning the second title in a row much, much harder than winning the first one.
So far, so good. That seems to be the story from the first day of practice at Le Mans. A full day of dry weather – except for the last few minutes of FP2 for the Moto3 class, where the rain turned briefly to hail, only to blow out again as quickly as it came – means that everyone had a chance to work on their race set up.
With the top four separated by just 0.166 seconds, the top five are within a quarter of a second, and Alvaro Bautista, the man in ninth, is just over seven tenths from the fastest man Dani Pedrosa.
A good day too for the Hondas. Dani Pedrosa was immediately up to speed, as expected. Marc Marquez was also quick in the afternoon, which was less expected. Unlike Jerez and Austin, this was the first time he rode a MotoGP machine at Le Mans, and getting used to hauling a 260 hp, 160kg bike around the tight layout of the French track is a different proposition to riding a Moto2 bike with half the horsepower here.
He took a morning to get used to the track, asked for a few changes to the base set up inherited from Casey Stoner, and then went and blitzed to second in the afternoon, 0.134 seconds off his teammate.
More important than Marquez’s speed is his consistency, however. In the afternoon, he posted seven laps of 1’34, which looks to be the pace to expect for a dry race. Only two men did more, Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo having posted nine laps at that pace, with both men also consistently a tenth or two quicker than the Spanish rookie.