Le Mans 24 Heures Motos: a hard fought race
An intense competition has enlivened the first eight hours of the 38th edition of the 24 Hours Motos. Many twists have allowed several teams to take the lead under the Le Mans sun, in front of a large audience. At the end of the first intermediate FIM EWC ranking, it is SERT who takes the overall lead.
Gregory Leblanc managed the best start and brought his Kawasaki SRC into the lead at the first corner, closely followed by his direct competitors Honda Racing, Monster Energy Yamaha YART, SERT and BMW Motorrad France Team Penz13.com, while GMT94 Yamaha stalled on the starting grid and was way down in the standings after the first lap.
While Vincent Philippe, riding the Suzuki SERT, was leading the race, an intense battle took place between all these works bikes, continuously overtaking each other at a very strong pace.
The first twist occurred when Fabien Foret, who had started his stint on the SRC Kawasaki in second place, fell in the Virage du Chemin aux Bœufs. After 14 minutes of repairs the bike returned to the track but went from second to 30th place, nine laps behind the leader.
At the end of the second hour, the Honda Racing entry, ridden by Julien Da Costa, Sébastien Gimbert and Freddy Foray went into the lead, thanks to an extremely fast machine and impressive fuel consumption. This bike was the only one able to stop after stints lasting one hour and 36 laps, with a 39-lap stint in the early evening. They looked well on the road to hold onto the lead. But this was without taking into account mechanical factors as at 9:02pm the Honda hurriedly returned to the pits with a clutch problem. Eleven minutes later it set off again in 14th position. Its problems were however not over as one hour later Freddy Foray had to push the bike back from the Virage du Musée after an electrical failure.
The pace at the front is still high and several riders successively lowered the lap record. The SERT bike leads following the issues affecting Honda Racing and, apart from a small fall from Anthony Delhalle early in the race, he and his teammates Vincent Philippe and newcomer Etienne Masson, are regularly setting very good lap times.
They are closely followed by the Monster Energy Yamaha YART bike, whose riders Max Neukirchner, Ivan Silva and Sheridan Morais are not giving up, racing their bike until close to the limit of fuel before returning to the pits to fill up.
Despite some bad luck at the beginning of the race, the GMT94 Yamaha made a spectacular comeback to settle into third place by the end of the first third of the race. David Checa, injured during practice, still suffers from a damaged knee but is sticking close to Kenny Foray and Matthieu Gines to remain on the provisional podium.
Swiss Team Bolliger Switzerland are perfectly fulfilling their role as challengers as they lie fourth at 11pm just in front of the National Motos team which is also the first Honda. Both teams are running well and quickly, without mistakes and aiming for a podium finish. Nonetheless, in endurance racing anything can happen.
The BMW Motorrad France Team Penz13.com has not seen a lot of consistency from its riders but despite a “stop and go” penalty for speeding in the pits, is in ninth place in the standings after eight hours of racing.
In the Superstock class, the Junior Team Le Mans Sud Suzuki is leading the World Cup despite a fall for Baptiste Guittet early in the race. They are followed by Team Traqueur Louit Moto 33, which overtook the Qatar Endurance Racing Team who had held first in class for a long time.
As Dominique Méliand, team manager of race leaders SERT said: “It’s going to be a long night…”