24 Heures Motos green-lighted
With 60 teams from 13 different countries on the grid and more than 200 riders representing 21 different nationalities entered for this 41st edition, the 2018 24 Heures Motos has a decidedly international slant. This second round of the 2017-2018 FIM EWC endurance world championship will be flagged off at 3pm on Saturday 21 April on the Bugatti circuit in Le Mans.
The 24 Heures Motos has been officially launched. A press conference held this morning at the offices of French sports newspaper L’Equipe in the Paris region green-lighted the 41st edition with the roll-call of the 60 teams selected, out of 76 applications to compete received by race organizer ACO.
The 32 teams under contract to the FIM EWC form the core of an increasingly international cohort. Whereas 80% of the competing teams at the 2015 24 Heures Motos were French, only 63% of the squads at this year’s upcoming French round of the FIM EWC are home-grown. The championship’s more cosmopolitan flavour coincides with the arrival of more international speed championship riders who have developed a taste for endurance racing.
Among the new arrivals from the ranks of MotoGP and the FIM Superbike world championship are Italian rider Roberto Rolfo, a former 250cc GP runner-up who has joined Moto Ain CRT (Yamaha); Czech rider Jakub Smrž, who joins fellow countryman Karel Hanika and Frenchman Sylvain Barrier to ride Mercury Racing’s BMW, and Italian rider Luca Scassa, a No Limits Motor Team (Suzuki) new hire.
Another rider in the spotlight is Manuel Poggiali. The two-time world champion (GP125 and GP250) will be doing his debut endurance run on Z Racing’s Ducati. British Superbike riders Michael Laverty and Christian Iddon are also worth watching out for. They will be riding for Wepol by Penz13, the squad that took second place at the 2017 Bol d’Or. Plus, of course, Randy de Puniet, Jérémy Guarnoni and Mathieu Gines, the Team SRC Kawasaki trio.
A raft of podium-seekers
These headline teams will have to reckon with a slew of squads seeking a win at Le Mans with the world title in mind. Having racked up a succession of wins, reigning FIM EWC champion GMT94 Yamaha (David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Mike Di Meglio) looks near-unbeatable. However, their rivals have made good use of the winter break to tighten up their act.
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team is back with a new and sharper GSX-R and a trio of endurance specialists, namely Vincent Philippe, Etienne Masson and Gregg Black. YART Yamaha will be fielding an R1 in top shape, with a new Japanese rider, Takuya Fujita, shoring up Broc Parkes and Marvin Fritz. The Honda clan has two aces up its sleeve: Honda Endurance Racing (Sébastien Gimbert, Greg Leblanc and Erwan Nigon) and F.C.C. TSR Honda France (Freddy Foray, Alan Techer and Josh Hook). There will be stiff competition from the BMW ranks as well. NRT48-BMW Motorrad has received official backing from the German brand, and put together a line-up composed of Kenny Foray, Stefan Kerschbaumer, Lucy Glöckner and Peter Hickman. Mercury Racing, Wepol by Penz13 and Team Tecmas will also be flying the BMW colours. As for Kawasaki, Team SRC may be the favourite but Bolliger Team Switzerland (Roman Stamm, Robin Mulhauser and Sébastien Suchet) is not to be overlooked.
The first official tests of the 24 Heures Motos will take place on Thursday 19 April.