EWC Inside Line with Gregg Black

2023-03-10T11:39:05+01:00March 10th, 2023|2023|

Gregg Black and his Yoshimura SERT Motul team-mates just came up short in their efforts to win the FIM Endurance World Championship for a third season running in 2022.

But with a tweaked Suzuki GSX-R1000R and the addition of the experienced Étienne Masson to the rider line-up, the 34-year-old British-born French racer is expecting to be in the thick of the title chase during the 2023 season. This is what he’s had to say.

The 2023 EWC season is a little more than a month away from starting, how’s everything looking?
“I’m feeling good and looking forward to getting back on the bike. I had a little test at Motegi in Japan last November, but I haven’t really been on a proper bike since then and before that was the Bol d’Or, so it’s been a long time. Last year we did some testing in February and spent a month and a half without riding and then got to Le Mans. This year we’re doing it all in one go, going to Jerez for the Bridgestone test and then to the Pre-Test for Le Mans at the end of March and then the race so that’s going to be good.”

Although you haven’t been testing so far this season it’s fair to say you’ve been keeping busy, right?
“I went to Spain to do some training with some French riders and some Spanish riders that I know. Instead of going there two or three times during the winter I went down there for about a month and did quite a bit of riding and I’ve been working on a client project for SERT. Also, a mate of mine, is the Flat Track world champion Gerard Bailo and I did some training with him, a bit of enduro riding and also some cycling so I’ve kept quite busy. With only four EWC races it’s important for us riders to keep up to speed by keeping busy and doing some riding.”

You have a ‘new’ team-mate this year in Étienne Masson. What does he bring to the Yoshimura SERT Motul attack?
“Étienne is a guy I’ve known for years now, we started riding together in 2013, we rode in the Suzuki Junior team and when I moved to SERT he was already riding there in 2017. His strong points are his experience in endurance, he’s got a lot of experience, he’s focused and is a rider you can count on and that’s important in endurance racing. At 4 o’clock in the morning you don’t need to have any doubts about your team-mate and how things are going. He’s also easy to get on well with for the team spirit and all these points make him a good element and a strong person for the team.”

How hard will it be for him to adapt to a new bike and new tyres?
“He left SERT at the end of 2020 and the bike is very similar to what it was before. Of course it’s got some new parts and new things but the bike generally is exactly the same bike as it was. The main difference of course is the tyres. He’s moving from Dunlop to Bridgestone and he’ll need to adapt but I’ve done it myself and an experienced rider will be able to cope with that, definitely.”

What changes have been made to the bike for this season?
“There are some technical mods on the bike, some new aspects which will help us with the low points we had last year. The team has been working hard all winter to make some tweaky new parts for thew bike and hopefully it will be one step better.

It’s fair to say the competition in EWC is getting stronger and stronger, what do you think of the level for 2023?
“The level just seems to be getting higher and higher every year, the lap times we’re all doing at the moment are just getting faster and faster, the tyres are better, the bike technology is getting better and better and the level we’ve got in EWC is good for us riders to see just how fast we can be. But, of course, everybody is pushing and all the manufacturers are trying to get their bikes better so it’s going to be a hard battle again. But our team is one of the most experienced teams with one of the most reliable bikes out there. We still have one of the strongest packages to win the championship.”

The 2022 season ended in disappointment at the Bol d’Or. Was it difficult to get over that?
“I was over it the next day really. We had a really big disappointment in 2019 when we had an engine issue at Suzuka when we were supposed to win the championship that day and we didn’t win, seven minutes from the end we blew the engine and that was really hard and took a while to get over that. What I retained from 2022 mainly was our strong performances in all races. We had a few issues in Spa with the gearbox and Bol d’Or with the engine but we were strong during qualifying and during races, the lap times were good, the team was strong, my team-mates were strong, we didn’t win the championship, but we were quite capable of winning the championship so that’s what we need to remember. If we get the bike just a touch more reliable on some aspects we can battle again for the championship.”

Your ride in the Suzuka 8 Hours was particularly memorable, just two riders in the team and in that heat…
“It was a strong ride, especially with just two of us riding the bike, Kazuki [Watanabe] and myself. I was really happy to have a bike and tyres to be able to defend our position in the championship because it’s a hard race to be in and to be competitive in that race is always difficult and this year was the first year that I could be really competitive during that race. I managed to lead for a little while and battle at the front and there were just two of us riding the bike. We finished third and that was a pretty good result and one of the best rides, that ride plus the ride in Le Mans was also really good so good memories. And I had a broken heel [at Le Mans] and that made it a bit tight.”

Sylvain Guintoli, who continues to be a key part of the Yoshimura SERT Motul line-up in 2023, has been doing some circuit racing during the winter. Would four-wheel racing appeal to you?
“We’ve spoken about it actually. I quite like any racing and car racing is something I could appreciate doing in the next few years. It’s true at the moment that I’m concentrating on two wheels because that’s the main part of my life at the moment. Sylvain is getting to the second stage of his career which I’m going to be in a few years as well so he’s moved on to do some car racing. It’s really interesting and it looks pretty cool so why not.”

What riders did you look up to when you were starting out?
“I’ve never really had a rider, I was never one to say, ‘Rossi is God’, or whatever, but all riders have got aspects that I’ve always tried to watch, learn from and understand their way of working. When I started watching racing it was Michael Doohan’s time, which I looked at a lot and tried to learn a way of doing it. Of course, there were the Biaggis, the Rossis and more lately Marc Marquez, riders you look up to and try and understand their way of working, but they’re not somebody you’d dream to want to be. It’s just the quality of their work and how they manage to do their career, that’s the most important thing for me.”

For those who are not quite sure, where does your English name and East Midlands accent come from?
“I was born in Derbyshire, in Derby actually, [in the UK]. My parents moved to France when I was three years old to a place about an hour and a half from Bordeaux and I’ve been living here ever since. My parents are English and I always speak English with my Dad and my Mum and I guess that’s where the accent comes from.”

FIM Endurance World Cup 2023 calendar refresher
Round 1: 24 Heures Motos (Circuit Bugatti, Le Mans, France) 13-16 April 2023
Round 2: 24H SPA EWC Motos (Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium) 16-18 June 2023
Round 3: Suzuka 8 Hours (Suzuka Circuit, Japan) 4-6 August 2023
Round 4: Bol d’Or 24 hours (Circuit Paul Ricard, France) 14-17 September 2023

More on Gregg Black: https://www.fimewc.com/driver/gregg-black/