An insider’s view of the Bol D’Or with David Bancell
When Gareth Jones asked me to accompany him for his new stint in the World Endurance Championship, at the Bol D’Or at Magny Cours how could I refuse!
The Bol D’Or is possibly one of the biggest events in the WEC, especially in France, and from all accounts the craziest so I just had to go. Plus catching up with Gareth in Europe was a great opportunity for me as I had not seen him race since he won the Reece Scholarship as well as just spending some time together and trying to keep him awake for 24 hours! And hopefully I could help wherever I could.
Gareth was riding with a French Team, R2CL, which is a private team that finished 4th overall in the 2013 WEC Superbike class and were 2nd in last year’s Bol D’Or, a very good team, on a Suzuki 1000. Gareth’s partners were the very experienced Gwen Giabbani and UK mega-star Guy Martin who is no stranger to the Oz and NZ motorcycle community!
At the end of 2013, Gareth was left without a 2014 ride in Europe. Then the deal for him to do the WEC rounds as well as official tester for Dunlop’s program all came about only at the end of January so there was little time for him to get things arranged in Europe like accommodation, car and caravan etc. So the few weeks or so lead up to the race was, let’s just say, rather hectic!
Gareth had flown to the UK and started testing almost immediately for Dunlop while at the same time trying to finalize his arrangements for the year and was definitely under the pump to get ready for Magny Cours! I had been travelling in Romania and Turkey and was waiting for the right time to meet up with Gareth before heading to Magny Cours.
Eventually we hooked up in Tubbergen, Holland, where a few of the Oz boys had lived at one time or another – Gareth, Jed Metcher, Adrian Nestorovic, Dave Johnson to name a few. Rob Vennegor (RT Motorsports) who was a Dutch sponsor and big time supporter of the Oz racers picked me up in Germany to bring me back to Tubbergen while I waited for Gareth. Tubbergen was also one of my first European race circuits I attended in 1977 when I was mechanicing for Chas Mortimer so a re-visit after some 37years was something else! I even borrowed a bicycle and did a lap of the old circuit! I hadn’t ridden a pushie for over 50 years!!! THAT was an experience, but it was such a great way to get around and also see the track.
After Gareth picked me up we went back to Emmen (Holland) where he had arranged an apartment and although not quite ready it was certainly liveable – and it was in a great location with lots of bars and restos and as an added attraction we had a Dutch “pot-café” above us. I didn’t realize in the first few days why so many happy smiley people were coming and going until Gareth told me what is really was! What a laugh, so many people of both sexes and all ages from 18-80 were coming and going! Fair to say we didn’t go upstairs for a “coffee”!
We then did a “quick” trip to Germany (1000klm round trip) to pick up Gareth’s old gear from his 2013 IDM Yamaha Team – good to see the “official” IDM Yamaha Teams Headquarters.
Finally back at Emmen we gathered our things in readiness for the 2 day road trip to Magny Cours, leaving the Sunday before the race and arriving Monday at Magny Cours.
After setting up our caravan next to the R2CL teams hospitality unit and meeting all the team etc, we then caught up with Oz racers Wayne Maxwell, Rick Olsen, Damian and Alex Cudlin, Jason O’Halloran and Bryan Staring who were all racing in various Teams, although Damian and Jason were reserve riders and would only race if one of the main riders was injured etc.
Team R2CL had a very good set-up with 2 bikes, although only one can be used, and plenty of mechanics/helpers. All the guys and girls were pretty cool and worked tirelessly.
After watching Gareth during practice I was incredibly impressed with how professional he went about his business and the way in which he was handling the bike – obviously 6+ years in Europe had really paid dividends! He was very fast and very smooth, and was continually in the top 6 or so with his times, it was great to see.
The R2CL team qualified 13th with times averaged out over the 3 riders – Gwen put in the fastest lap with a 1:42.069, Gareth was only .3 behind on a 1:42.385, and Guy managed 1:44.885 giving the team an average of 1:43.113 and 13th place.
The 24hour race started at 3pm Saturday and commenced under some of the worst conditions possible – freezing cold and wet. Gareth and I had discussed the race at length and we were both very happy when told that he was to do the 3rd stint, and while not experienced in long distance racing, we felt that the 1st stint would be chaotic and like a sprint race – we were right! Each rider would do a one hour stint before changeover with fuel and tyres.
Guy started the race and within the first hour had unfortunately crashed twice due to the rain and very slippery conditions. Gwen then took over and proceeded to put in some good laps until he also went down in the very tricky conditions. This put the team some 15laps down at this early stage.
Gareth was next and his first foray into WEC 24hour racing. He rode superbly and put in consistent and fast times bringing the bike home for the next change-over to Guy. We had discussed the strategy for the race and agreed that the best process was for consistency over the 24hours and Gareth did this superbly.
Gareth and I had worked out that at each break he would have some massage work by the Teams physios, maybe something to eat, have a drink and try to rest, while my role was to keep his leathers, helmet and riding gear dry with the hairdryer in the caravan! It was so cold that we decided to leave the electric fan heater running in the caravan while we were out on the track so it would be warm when we got back, a move that proved very beneficial during the long night!
We were unsure if Gareth should try to get some sleep through the night or not. After the 2am session, some 11 hours into the race and just under half way, we were both very cold and tired and after his massage, Gareth went under the bed covers and promptly went into a deep sleep, while I set the alarm to ensure we were ready for the next stint. This proved a very wrong move as Gareth woke more tired, as you do in this situation and took a longer time to “get going”, so we decided that no more sleeps in-between were in order.
Through the night was tough – it was on and off raining and freezing wind with icy temperature. At 4am the temperature was 2degrees, and track temp around -2!! But to be honest the chill factor and ambient felt like minus20! It was not good.
At the 2am point, Amaury, the Team Manager, asked Gwen and Gareth to perform double duties which involved Gwen out first, then Gareth, then Gwen again, then Gareth leaving little time in between to rest. The plan worked elevating the team to 7th and in fact Gwen put in the overall 2nd fastest lap time of the race during this session with a one lap charge of 1.41s but consistently lapping in the low to mid 1.42’s, and low 1.43’s and Gareth was consistently lapping in the high 1.42’s to mid 1.43’s. Consistency was so important but also during the night the traffic created many more problems due to much slower riders.
The R2CL team performed brilliantly especially in the changeovers, getting the bike fuelled and changing both wheels within 11seconds!
Once the sun came up around 6.30am there was still no heat in the air or on the track until around noon, but then the rains came again, on and off, and the temperature stayed low for the remainder of the day. Gareth was asked to do the last stint from 1.45 to 3pm finish to bring it home, ensuring the team’s 7th overall and 6th position in the Superbike section. A brilliant result by all the R2CL Team and had they not lost those 15odd laps so early, for sure they would have been close to a podium again, but that’s Endurance racing – consistency and continuity is the key.
Overall a brilliant weekend, and although I am not sure I would like to do a 24 hour race again, if I was asked to, I am sure I WOULD say YES!! I always thought an 8 hour would be tough, but after this 24hour event, 8 hour races will seem just like sprint races!