While spectators are having fun and enjoying the party vibe at the Bol d’Or, riders continue lapping through the night. Reduced visibility and enhanced engine performance are among the elements the night holds in store.
“It’s at night that the bikes run best. That’s when we can do some great lap times and get to the highest top speeds. These days, electronic injection makes for consistent engine performance; there was lot more variation back in the days of carburettors”, explains Steven Casaer, technical chief of Honda Endurance Racing.
The main challenge for the teams is to “ride as fast as possible”, according to Christophe Guyot, the GMT94 Yamaha team manager, with a tiny sigh; he’s only too aware of the risks the riders face and the problems they’re up against. Night-time is the trickiest part of the race – reduced visibility, humidity and so on. But “experienced riders have no problem riding at night,” Guyot goes on. “There’s no room for feelings; their reactions are conditioned by their markers.”
For SERT rider Anthony Delhalle, “night is the key moment of the race.” You have to know how to get into it and get used to the darkness, but the hardest bit is getting out. “That’s really a hurdle to get over, because of the accumulated fatigue.” Overtaking is another problem. Less experienced riders tend to ride in a group, which frees up the track somewhat, but when the fastest riders draw level with them things can get complicated. A mistake, or bikes running into each other: that can happen so quickly.
How does it feel to ride a racing bike through the darkness at high speed? “Sometimes you can be on that long Mistral straight thinking about what’s going on around you, like the public having a good time, and it feels awfully lonely,” Anthony says. “But it’s actually good for my riding; I can concentrate better because I’m not distracted by the visual elements outside the race that I can see in the daytime.”
Night is part of the appeal of endurance racing; it’s the time when anything can happen. Says Steven Casaer: “By dawn you already have a pretty good idea which position you’ll be in when you cross the finish line.”