When injury prevented Bastien Mackels from competing in his home round of the FIM Endurance World Championship last season, the Belgian ace started counting the days to the second edition of the 24H SPA EWC Motos for his big chance to take part in the race he once marshalled as a teenager.
Riding for the Dunlop-equipped, Yamaha-powered KM99 squad, the new Belgian EWC entrant for 2023, 36-year-old Liège resident Mackels has a big opportunity to challenge for a podium finish alongside French team-mates Florian Marino and Lucas Mahias.
This is what he’s had to say about that crash, the twice-around-the-clock EWC event and taking on the demanding 6.985-kilometre Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps from 16-18 June, including “the best corner in the world”, Raidillon.
You were supposed to take part in the first 24H SPA EWC Motos last June but ended up missing the race. What exactly happened and how tough was it not to be competing?
“In the first free practice during the IDM event in Germany two weeks before the race in Spa I had a crash and broke five bones in my right foot. For me it was like a disaster because I had been waiting for this race since I was a kid. The first time I had been at a race track was for the 24 Hours of Liège when I was a marshal in the pitlane around 15 or 16. I was dreaming to be a rider but I started racing really late, when I was 23, and Spa was already off the EWC calendar. So when I knew it was possible to finally ride for 24 hours in Spa I was really happy but then the crash happened and I was really disappointed.”
Had you taken part you might well have finished on the podium based on the result of your old team, TATI Team Beringer Racing?
“When I see the result of my old team and my team-mates it was really impressive to finish second, I was supporting them of course and every stint I was in the box with them. I was really happy for them, but it was even harder for me knowing I could have done that myself.”
All of what happened must give you even more motivation for next month’s race, right?
“Exactly and even more so because I am with a Belgian team and, let’s say, we can be one step better because it looks like we will be more competitive. My team-mates are really strong and the motivation is on the maximum of course. We can speak about pressure but it’s not so much about pressure, it’s about focusing on every session we have to do, every stint we have to do and really get focused on the result, that’s the main objective.”
But Spa is far from easy, just explain how difficult it is to put a good lap together given the variation of corners and speed?
“I know Spa really well but every time on the first day when you come back to Spa the circuit is so fast that you have to let one day for your brain to understand how fast is it, how faster is it compared to all the other tracks you have in Europe and even in the world. Of course we have to be patient and really concentrated on every corner, every lap of the track. We have to manage the speed on this track because it’s so much more faster than, let’s say, Le Mans. But it's still not enough because the track allows you to go even faster so you have to learn lap after lap and get focused. It looks not so physical but you spend so much time in the long corners, left, right that it asks a lot from your body.”
The weather is always a factor at Spa but just how difficult is it to understand and anticipate the changeable conditions?
“In Spa it’s even more difficult because the track is so big. In the past I remember it being dry in the paddock but wet and rainy on the other side of the track so it’s something you must be focused on. If you see a cloud coming you really have to take care about that because it’s possible that it’s raining on one side but not the other side. But in every endurance race you have to be really concentrated on the weather because it’s easy to make a mistake. If I knew something special about the weather I would keep it for me but it’s not really like that! I remember once we had hailstones and you could see these balls of ice jumping on the track, we were braking but we could see these balls of ice in the last chicane, it was really unbelievable. You really can have everything and maybe two weeks later it could be 35 degrees and you cannot breathe.”
Having not done 24H SPA EWC Motos last year, where does your knowledge of the track come from?
“The first time I went on a race track was in Spa and then, of course, trackdays. I did the 6 Hours of Spa and before when it was for eight hours. I won it in 2008, it was my second race. I also did some races there in 2010 and 2012 in Belgian and Dutch superbikes.”
Were you in favour of the changes that were made to the track for last year, particularly the realignment of Speaker’s Corner?
“For me it’s much better, much more safe because before if you crashed you were directly in the rock. But it’s a much more interesting corner because you have a different level of entry and exit, this moment when you can really easily lose the front or even both wheels. Before the corner was really bumpy and every lap was really hard for your body and your bike.”
What will you do to get prepared for the 24H SPA EWC Motos?
“We will do the test two days before but we don’t have extra track time available. But this is good and much more beneficial than trying to do some trackdays. I will also ride my Supermoto bike on the karting track a Spa, not a dirt track, only Tarmac. It’s just for fun but of course I try to make every stint in full gas to make it efficient for my training.”
It’s a busy schedule on Friday 16 June with free practice, both qualifying sessions and night practice all on the same day. How difficult will that be?
“The key will be not to have a big crash and don’t’ make mistakes so we can use the time we have on track as best as possible. For the riders it will be really hard because you have to spend the time on the bike but we always like to have some recovery time, which is really important for us before the 24-hour race. If you want to be really competitive and focused on the result we will have to spend time on us and thinking less about the other things. We are a Belgian team and we want to share time with family, friends, sponsors, partners and media but some things we will have to miss.”
In terms of a result what can you achieve?
“I believe in a podium, to be honest. In Le Mans we were competitive but we had some crashes and we destroyed a little bit our ambition. But we have the speed and the team looked strong and able to manage the tricky situations when we had the crashes. We always aim to have races without any problems and if this happens we can be on the podium for sure.”
Finally, what’s your favourite corner at Spa?
“It’s Raidillon, there’s no question about that, it’s the best corner in the world. Every rider who comes to Spa wants to try this corner. I can’t wait to be in the first lap because the first lap in Spa when you go full in fifth, this corner is amazing, you cannot compare this feeling. The compression in the corner is really incredible, I love it so much and every lap you are waiting for this corner. Full in fifth gear it will be something like 265kph with the slowest point around 200kph, amazing.”