F.C.C. TSR Honda get Title defence off to perfect start
The FIM EWC world champions lived up to their title by starting off the new season with a win at the Bol d’Or. On the Paul Ricard circuit, F.C.C. TSR Honda France’s riders Freddy Foray, Josh Hook and Mike Di Meglio snatched victory from YART Yamaha’s Broc Parkes, Niccolò Canepa and Marvin Fritz.
There was a mere 54-second gap at the finish between the Japanese Honda team and the Austrian based Yamaha squad, which had started from 2nd and 3rd position respectively on the grid.
Wepol Racing pulled off a surprise third place and tussled for the lead at stages with F.C.C. TSR Honda, as can be seen in this video below of an on track battle between Freddy Foray and Danny Webb.
The Penz13 squad, who finished 2nd at the 2017 Bol d’Or on a BMW, had switched to Yamaha on the eve of the 2018 edition. “We got our first look at the bike on Tuesday, just before the race,” says Mathieu Lagrive, who partnered with Daniel Webb and Sheridan Morais to ride the Yamaha #13.
Wepol was also involved in a lengthy battle with Bolliger Team Switzerland (Kawasaki), who finished at the foot of the podium thanks to riders Roman Stamm, Sébastien Suchet and Jonathan Hugot.
How F.C.C. TSR Honda took victory
Riders Freddy Foray, Mike Di Meglio and Josh Hook fought hard aboard the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade after having dropped back into 15th place at one point, after a small issue that required an extended pit stop.
Digging deep and pushing hard lap by lap, the Honda trio continued to make up places and scored extra championship points at the eight and 16-hour stages in 10th and sixth places. Towards the end of the race they had the podium in their sights moving into third and then into second.
Victory was the next step and the riders took this challenge in their stride taking the lead with three hours to go.
With a careful pit stop strategy and having created a safe lead over YART, F.C.C. TSR Honda France crossed the finish line victorious.
YART close but no cigar…..
It was Marvin Fritz’s first opportunity for the YART team to both start and end the EWC race, the young German enjoying the unique pleasure of the Endurance start process, running across the track to jump on the YART Yamaha R1 race bike.
The first hours unfolded to plan, but disaster was to trike with newly joined team member Niccolò Canepa crashing as the dusk gathered on the Paul Ricard circuit. Despite losing nearly the entire engine’s oil capacity, Canepa was able to make it back to the pit as the safety car took to the track. With the clock ticking down the YART team delivered a miracle and were able to get the R1 back on track in record time, re-joining in 27th position.
With any chance of a race victory now impossibly distant, the team’s focus was now switched to completing the 24 hours and taking as many points as possible for damage limitation to their title hopes.
The night hours flew past, with Fritz, Canepa and Parkes making steady inroads into the gap to the front pack, gradually moving up despite losing all electronic rider aids as a result of the crash. As dawn broke at 7am the team were incredibly back to 6th place and looking more determined than ever.
As victory became a more realistic target, so the team’s pace increased even further, Australian Parkes scoring the fastest lap of the race some 500 laps in!
As the morning wound on, the team were able to reach second position and had established a race-winning pace that put them on target to catch and pass the leaders. With a better fuel strategy to support them, they were unfortunate to be denied the opportunity to make it a reality as the final safety car of the 24hour race came out, dashing hopes of a win.
YART Yamaha eventually brought it home in 2nd position, having made a dramatic comeback from a serious crash and mechanical repair, taking 2nd in the title challenge as the season begins and scoring 33 provisional points.
Broc Parkes – YART Yamaha Official EWC Team
“It’s frustrating that the safety car came out at the end, the leaders had no fuel left, one more lap and we would have had them, but to be fair at 5pm yesterday I thought we were going home! To come back from where we did to get the finish we did is great. The team worked really well, when we had the problem and came back, it was bigger than expected but they worked super fast and got us back out there, we never gave up and it worked out.”
Mandy Kainz – YART Yamaha Official EWC Team Manager
“We didn’t give up and we pushed until the end, finally the boys made it. In endurance everyone has problems, so it was expected that we had an issue, No one has no problems in a 24hrs race! Niccolò’s crash left a hole in the bike and we lost nearly all the oil! After the crash we had no electronics for traction control, wheelie control etc. which makes it an amazing performance by the boys. It was a fantastic job by the crew as well to get the bike repaired and back out there as quickly as possible. Without the last safety car we could have closed in on the leader for the win, our boys were fresh and ready for it. It’s a great start to the championship for us, and a great result for Yamaha.”
Never over till it’s over in Endurance
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team were often in the lead, but various technical gremlins and a capricious clutch caused Vincent Philippe, Etienne Masson and Gregg Black to drop back to 5th at the finish.
Other favourites too saw their podium hopes go up in smoke, like Team SRC Kawasaki France.
The final act of the drama-filled race came when Randy de Puniet, Jérémy Guarnoni and David Checa’s Kawasaki suddenly developed electrical problems, as a result of which they finished 7th after leading the race during the night and in the early morning.
The intensity never let up: from the 10 seconds separating the 3 teams in the lead 5 hours into the race to the 30-second gap between the podium contenders 3 hours from the finish. At the finish, 5 different manufacturers were represented in the Top 6 of a race marked by incessant lead changes.
A Superstock in 6th place
As in the EWC class, the Superstock podium was international. German team Gert56 rapidly took the lead when Team 33 Coyote Louit Moto, the initial leader in class, had an engine problem. The Gert56 Superstock BMW with Julian Puffe, Stefan Kerschbaumer and Filip Altendorfer finished this year’s Bol d’Or in 6th place overall.
Franco-Japanese squad Webike Tati Team Trick Star (Kawasaki) took 2nd place in Superstock with riders Julien Enjolras, Kevin Denis and Osamu Deguchi. The team had also won the 2017-2018 FIM Superstock World Cup.
Italian squad No Limits Motor Team (Suzuki) won 3rd place in Superstock with riders Eddy Dupuy, Luca Scassa and Michael Mazzina, additionally winning the Anthony Delhalle EWC Spirit Trophy for putting up a determined fight throughout the race.
Not all of the teams who started from the top positions on the grid were able to finish the race. ERC-BMW Motorrad Endurance were 4th on the grid, but gave up shortly after nightfall following a collision and crash two hours into the race.
Honda Endurance Racing also threw in the towel on Sunday morning because of major engine problems.
SET Racing got itself noticed among the FIM EWC rookies for a fine performance. The all-new Swedish team had settled into 10th place after starting from 30th, but withdrew at noon on Sunday with a broken engine.
Bol d’Or Results 2018
F.C.C. TSR Honda France (Hook, Foray, Di Meglio)
YART Yamaha (Parkes, Canepa, Fritz) +54.244s
WEPOL Racing Yamaha (Webb, Lagrive, Morais) +1 lap
Bolliger Team Switzerland Kawasaki (Stamm, Suchet, Hugot) +3 laps
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (Philippe, Masson, Black) +7 laps
Gert56 German Endurance Racing Team BMW (Puffe, Kerschbaumer, Altendorfer) +10 laps
SRC Kawasaki France (DePuniet, Guarnoni, Checa) +11 laps
Webike Tati Team Trickstar Kawasaki (Enjolras, Denis, Deguchi) +12 laps
Motobox Kremer Racing Yamaha (Kemmer, Dehaye, Ortiz) +19 laps
Mercury Racing BMW (Hanika, Perret, Jezek) +19 laps
Next Up – A long break!
The next race on the 2018-2019 FIM EWC calendar is the 24 Heures Motos on 20 and 21 April 2019 on the Bugatti circuit in Le Mans.
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