FIM Endurance World Championship 2016-2017
The 2016/2017 FIM Endurance World Championship (EWC) season started with the 24 Hours Bol d’Or, at Circuit Paul Ricard, near Marseille, France.
This season brings major changes to the EWC’s format. Six races are planned, starting in September at the 24 Hours Bol d’or, and ending in July 2017 at the Suzuka 8hours race at the Suzuka circuit in Japan.
Of the 55 teams competing in the championship, four are riding Honda CBR1000RRs, of which two teams, European-based Honda Endurance Racing (#111 - Julian Da Costa / Sebastien Gimbert / Freddy Foray / Stephen Mercer) which finished the prior season 4th, and the newcomer to EWC racing, three-time Suzuka 8hours champions F.C.C. TSR Honda (#5 - Shinichi Ito / Damian Cudlin / Kazuma Watanabe / Arturo Tizon), are considered contenders for the title. Vying for the Independent Trophy are privateers RAC 41 CBO (#41 - Cyprien Schmidt / Pierre-Yves Bian / Gaetan Gouget), and in the less modification-friendly SST class, Zuff Racing Team (#26 - Kevin Zufferey / Vincent Buclin / Adrien Pittet / Bernard Bally).
Race week began on September 15, with free practice and qualifying sessions on the Thursday and Friday, followed by the 24 hour race spanning Saturday and Sunday. Unlike the Suzuka 8hours, qualifying is determined by the average of each riders’ best times. The teams worked solidly preparing their bikes during free practice, resulting in F.C.C. TSR Honda 4th, and Honda Endurance Racing 5th on the starting grid. RAC 41 CBO would start the race in 26th position, while Zuff Racing Team was 35th.
At 3pm on September 17, the riders dashed towards their bikes in a Le Mans-style start to the 24-hour long battle.
Foray, starting rider for Honda Endurance Racing, was off to a good start, battling for position in the leading group. F.C.C. TSR Honda’s Watanabe, on the other hand, was slow off the mark, and was running in 20th. Both RAC 41 CBO and Zuff Racing Team had reasonable starts, and were able to maintain their positions.
Watanabe was determined to make up lost ground, and by the time he handed the bike to team-mate Cudlin, F.C.C. TSR Honda was up to 9th place. By the time Cudlin switched with Ito, they were running 5th. After Honda Endurance Racing’s Foray handed his bike over to Da Costa, they were up to 2nd, and their 3rd rider, Gimbert, held 3rd position.
In contrast to sprint races, factors such as mechanical issues and safety cars play a large part of 24 hour racing. This year’s Bol d’Or was no different with the safety car on the track four times, but F.C.C. TSR Honda took advantage of the situation, and pitting to replace unreliable components, and maintained 6th position. At around the 7 hour mark, Honda Endurance Racing, then running 2nd or 3rd, crashed. Both Da Costa and the bike suffered minimal damage, and after a 25-minute pit stop for repairs, was back in the race in 19th position.
As the race developed and night fell, teams were revising and devising their strategies. F.C.C. TSR Honda took time in the pits to replace components such a brake calipers, to ensure they could complete the race, and reviewed their rider schedules. Watanabe volunteered for a double-stint, which not only reduced the other riders’ loads, but improved his average lap times, giving the team a boost. 49-year-old Ito, former Grand Prix motorcycle racer, defied his years with an outstanding performance, keeping the team in 5th position.
After their crash, Honda Endurance Racing kept on pushing hard, and at the 16 hour mark, were back up to 11th position, within reach of a top 10 finish. With 3 and a half hours left, however, Gimbert pitted with mechanical issues. After 30 minutes of repairs he was back on the track, but had to pit again after a single lap. The gearbox was to blame, and with 3 hours remaining, the team determined it was not fixable, and retired.
In the closing stages of the race, and as teams were suffering with mechanical problems, F.C.C. TSR Honda’s decision to take time in the early stages to replace faulty components paid off, taking them to the checkered flag in 5th place, with 674 laps completed. The two other remaining Honda-powered teams also safely crossed the line, with RAC 41 CBO in 16th place, and Zuff Racing Team 19th, earning each of these teams championship points.
|1||Suzuki Endurance Racing Team|
|3||TRICK STAR Racing|
|4||MACO RACING Team|
|5||F.C.C. TSR Honda|
|6||MOTO AIN CRT|
|16||RAC 41 CBO|
|19||Zuff Racing Team|
|34||Honda Endurance Racing|