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.
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.
While our attentions may be on this weekend’s inaugural MotoGP round at the Circuit of the Americas in Ausin, Texas, the World Endurance Championship (EWC) season is also kicking off with the 2013 Bol d’Or. A 24-hour that now takes place at the in Magny-Cours circuit in France, the Bol d’Or is one of two 24-hour races on the EWC calendar, and is in its 77th running.
At the top of the heap for tomorrow’s grid is the SRC Kawasaki team (WSBK’s Loris Baz is one of the team’s riders, for trivia points), which won the Bol d’Or 24-hour racing last year, upsetting the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT). Despite the upset defeat, SERT went on to win the EWC title outright in 2012, and remains the favorite for the 2012 season.
Though SRC is the team to beat to the finish come Sunday, it goes without saying that you cannot count out SERT from a top-step finish with their Suzuki GSX-R1000 endurance race bike. Yamaha France’s GMT94 entry finishes out the top three spots, and is another strong contender, as is fourth-place starter BMW Motorrad France Team Thevent.
Despite Qualifying 9th in the EWC field (12th overall), the Honda TT Legends crew is upbeat about their pace, and tip their consistency as being a deciding factor come tomorrow’s race. Fastest on the team, Michael Dunlop will move from being the team’s back-up rider, and instead will replace Michael Rutter, who is still nursing his leg injury from pre-season testing.
McGuinness, Andrews, and Dunlop will be hunting a Top 5 finish over the 24 hours, with a podium being an outstanding result ofr the factory Honda squad.
With the weather changing almost constantly during the weekend’s race and close to freezing at night, the 76th annual Bol d’Or proved to be both an exciting and grueling race that saw teams changing to wets, slicks, and cut-slicks almost constantly in the pit stops. Racing for 24 hours, the SRC Kawasaki Team did the unthinkable, and beat the heavily favored Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT) in this year’s Bol d’Or endurance race. Losing most of its time in the pits, SERT had to contend with a crash in the fourth hour of the Bol d’Or, which sent lead-rider Vincent Philippe home early with a broken collarbone.
Completing the remaining 20 hours of the race with only two riders, SERT was able to close the gap to SRC Kawasaki in the final hours of the contest to only 60 seconds, but after several more pit stops the team would have to settle for finishing just on the same lap as the Kawasaki squad, as they slowed their pace to ensure victory. While one could make the argument that SERT lost the race instead of SRC Kawasaki winning it, riding a flawless and careful 24 hours is a part of the winning strategy in the FIM World Endurance Championship. Kudos to the SRC Kawasaki Team.
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.