It is probably fair to say that outside of France, the FIM Endurance World Championship is on the peripheral vision of most motorcycle race fans, well apart from the MotoGP star-studded Suzuka Eight Hour event that is...
However Endurance racing is arguably the ultimate test of rider, team and machine and thanks to a growing number of ‘big names’ entering the sport, regular live coverage shown globally and renewed interest from the factories, the FIM Endurance World Championship is growing from strength to strength.
For Öhlins, it’s a key discipline to demonstrate the capabilities of its products and the 2015 season saw the top three in the series all run Öhlins suspension units!
With races varying between a gruelling 24 hours, and a ‘slightly’ more manageable eight hours, Endurance racing is a team game as the riders and crew work together seamlessly. With a typical weekend seeing a day of testing, a day of official practice, a day for qualifying and then finally race day, it is intense, – it’s estimated that a team will complete more laps during one Endurance event than a rider would in the whole of a Superbike season!
Each team competing in the Superbike and Superstock class is allowed to run four riders during testing, practice and qualifying with the fastest three going forward to the race (teams can elect to run two riders for the eight hour races). Whilst only one bike can be used for the race, many teams run two bikes for the opening days – with most using an extra fast ‘qualifying’ engine to secure the best possible position on the grid.
Of course, with three riders using the same machine over the course of the race, it is impossible to set the bike up perfectly for each of them so the various sessions before the race are spent trying to find a suitable compromise. To make things even more interesting, alongside trying to find an ideal set-up for three riders of varying size, height and style, the team also has to combat extreme changes to the track. Running for 24 hours, track temperature changes drastically over the race duration; from cool night time temperatures to sunny afternoons – and that does not take into account any changes in the weather, if the rain arrives the race continues!
An Endurance race is not about flat out banzai laps, but consistently fast average speeds and it is no exaggeration to say a race can be won or lost in the pits. With around 25-30 pit stops during a 24 hour race, there is no rest for the team as they have to remain constantly alert for their rider, in case of any unscheduled stops.
Capable of changing rider, tyres and refuelling in under a minute it truly is one of the most important parts of the race – take a walk around the paddock any night and you will see teams repeating the pit-stop process again and again... and again!
As with all motorsport, bad luck could strike at any time; a mechanical problem, a tyre problem, a crash – any one of these could put a rider out of the race, but if the rider and bike are able to get back to the garage, then the race continues and its down to the mechanics to get the bike back out as soon as possible.
For the top teams, such as the SRC Kawasaki squad who finished third overall this year, that usually means a matter of minutes. The 2015 season proved to be a real mix of highs and lows for the Gilles Stafler run team. Held over four rounds, the 2015 FIM Endurance World Championship began in April with the iconic Le Mans 24 hour race.
Securing pole position, riders Gregory Leblanc, Matthieu Lagrive and Fabien Foret were confident of powering the ZX-10R to victory. Unfortunately despite leading the opening laps a crash just two hours in meant it was all hands on deck to repair the machine and get it back out.
As a testament to the team, the Kawasaki was back out within minutes and only nine laps behind the leader. Fighting through the night, the team were able to climb back up the leader board to eventually take second place at the chequered flag!