Getting ready for the Bol d'or - Part 1
Wednesday is inscription and inspection day at the Bol d’or of the FIM Endurance World Championship. There is only a rider’s meeting at 19:30. I will then take a bit of time to explain how I was able to get here and what I see in this amazing opportunity. My great friend Hervé, mechanic for the Atomic Motosport Team, came to me with this crazy idea in the 2015 racing season when he saw that I was riding fast and wasn’t falling very much(once in the last 5 years). Unfortunately I was unable to go. In 2016 the team didn’t do any races as they were waiting for the new Suzuki GSX-R1000 models. So during the 2016/2017 winter, we talked again about doing the trip and I made the decision to go do the 24H Endurance in 2017 knowing very well that I would be 4th rider, so I had to show them how fast I could be in order to be part of the race. It took me a lot of sacrifice for to be able to make it. I missed most of the 2017 CSBK season so I could keep a budget. In 2017, I only made it to two race weekend for that particular reason: The experience of an International 24 hours race.
In the middle of the season, one of the team riders injured himself so a spot was open for another pilot. Since most of the French riders were already taken in other team at that time in the season, another Canadian was able to join the team. We knew that one of the riders wouldn’t do the race for any reason like the speed, crash in practice, injury, etc. So if we would all survive the test, qualification and night practice, a decision would have to be made on are the chosen pilots. The great thing is that at the end of the 2nd qualifying, all 4th rider become eligible for other team to pick. A lot of team might be missing a rider. So the chance of doing the race is pretty high.
The race being held on September 16-17 from 15:00 to 15:00(France time), we had 2 test days prior to the event on August 29-30. I arrived in France August 24th, just a couple of days after the last CSBK round at CTMP. We got to the Circuit Paul Ricard a day before the test so we could meet the complete team, and at my great surprise everyone was volunteering. In fact, 95% of the people in the paddocks were volunteers, so there is a lot of passion regarding this sport in Europe.
The Mythical track of Le Castelet is pretty cool, but very comparable to our great track like Tremblant, Mosport, Calabogie with just a lot more run off area. So much that it was difficult for me at first to get reference point (imagine during the night). Knowing very well that a crash at the test would be decisive, I tried learning the track without taking too many risk while trying to make some decent lap time. It was difficult for us Canadian to make our mark as we do not have any Endurance race experience and they have no idea about the CSBK, who we are and what we can do. We were actually strangers in the team. After a couple change on the bike, the second were falling by themselves. Considering that those bikes were completely new, and it was their first time going fast, they weren’t all that bad. The team worked very hard to give us a good bike.
The team, formed from carpenter, cook, mechanics and different other job; hasn’t worked together since 2 years. So the test weren’t only for the rider and bike, they were for the whole team trying to get better communication and discipline. For sure there was some mistake and adjustment to be made. In the middle of the last session of the test, one of the rider lost the front going into corner 1 and had a small crash. When the bike came back, it took under 10 minute and the bike was back on the track and practice was resuming.
Having 2 hours in the morning and 3h in the afternoon, being four riders made it difficult to get lot of lap in. We barely manage to get 30 laps each, including entry and exit laps, over the 2 practice days. At the end of the test, I was just half a second shy of the best lap of the team (note that it takes more than 2 minutes to do a lap). We then had a 2 weeks off before riding again.
Getting back to the track on Tuesday September 12th for the final practice day before the official weekend, the team manager took the decision that 3 riders would ride for that practice day. Since a rider crashed at the test and he was a little bit slower, he got put on the side for the day. There was a lot of wind with gust at around 50km/h. Let me tell you that at full speed on the back straight we were moving around a lot. There was even some corner where the bike just didn’t want to lean into the corner with the side wind. The setup of the bike got a bit better but it was difficult knowing if it was bike related problem or wind related problem. Next day, it’s a day off but the team work a lot to finish the garage (box) and the bike so it would be ready for qualifying.
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