HOW IMPORTANT IS POLE POSITON?

2015-08-21T00:00:00+02:00August 21st, 2015|8 Hours of Oschersleben 2015|

Is it vital to be up front and centre on the grid in endurance racing? Is it justified to have a specific tyre set-up for qualifying? We asked some team managers for their views.

Pirelli supplies its teams (YART, SRC, BMW) with tyres designed for use in qualifying. Dunlop (SERT, GMT94, Honda) doesn’t. And that makes an obvious difference to timesheet rankings.

After a run of bad luck at both the 24 Heures Motos in Le Mans and the Suzuka 8 Hours, Monster Energy Yamaha YART took provisional pole right from the start. “I genuinely think we’re the fastest squad,” says team manager Mandy Kainz. “Yes, of course, we’re using qualifying tyres. But our main priority is to show everyone our potential. Qualifying isn’t vital, but our results so far have been so poor that we’ve got nothing left to lose. Unlike our rivals, we don’t have a championship-winning strategy. But we do have a great bike and some really good riders, so our only instruction to them is: take whatever risks you have to; just make sure you stay ahead!

The SRC Kawasaki team, which is also using Pirelli tyres, were in second place yesterday, though their bikes had to be totally rebuilt after their crash in Japan. “Yesterday, we decided to forget about qualifying times,” team manager Gilles Staffler explains. “We focused on the bikes. It’s tough to do a complete rebuild in such a hurry – and in August, when most suppliers are closed. We focused on measuring their performance, not trying to clock really fast times. But we still got pretty good results. The starting grid position is key, because a front row rider has a clear field for the first few laps. If he’s way back on the grid he might collide with another bike; he’ll push harder to catch up with the front runners, which means taking more risks. I’d prefer not to use qualifying tyres for the second session, but I’ll be honest: if my riders are lagging behind in the last few laps I won’t hesitate to get them out!”

Dominique Méliand, team manager of the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, has very clear views on the subject. “Pole position exists, doesn’t it? So it must be important – not crucial, but important. Being first or third on the grid doesn’t change much, but if you’re 25th it can be a real handicap! Pole position is a reward for riders, and it shows the mechanics the bike is working well and they’ve done a good job. It energizes the troops! And it’s important for media coverage. But we all know it’s impossible to try for pole when you’re up against teams using qualifying tyres, because there’s a half-second lag from the get-go!”

His views are echoed by Christophe Guyot, team manager of GMT94 Yamaha. “Using qualifying tyres in endurance racing is too stupid for words! We’re at a disadvantage. Dunlop should either step in and get the rules changed, or give us qualifying tyres too. That would give a whole new pace to the entire qualifying stage. Every team hopes to take pole position: it’s a kind of obsession in endurance, like in every other discipline. Even if it doesn’t affect the outcome of the race in any way, it’s important for the riders and for the team in terms of both traditional and social media.”