Opening round: Bol d’Or
A new FIM EWC season gets underway on 16 and 17 September, with the Bol d’Or on the Paul Ricard circuit in the South of France. This opening round is a crucial one. It is one of the two 24-hour races on the 2017-2018 calendar, offering the winning team a hefty 60 points. It will also be the first battle involving all 59 teams selected from a record 75 applications to compete, with new rider trios harbouring new ambitions.
This year’s edition of the Bol d’Or – the 81st – is set to be an edge-of-seat race. An early round of tests on the Paul Ricard circuit at the end of August offered a glimpse of the new rivalries likely to emerge in the course of both the FIM EWC world championship and the Superstock World Cup. All eyes will be on GMT94 Yamaha. The reigning world champion, which scooped three wins at last season’s five races, will be locked in close-knit competition with rival squads. David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Mike Di Meglio have to outdo themselves to hold on to the title.
A new machine
Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, winner of 15 world titles, will finally be taking to the track with a GSX-R 1000 2017 that is evidently performing beautifully, entrusted to riders Vincent Philippe, Etienne Masson and Gregg Black – the new ace up SERT’s sleeve in their bid to wrest back the FIM EWC title in 2017-2018. They will be one of the cornerstones of this new FIM EWC championship featuring a number of other changes. GMT94 Yamaha will be engaged, like last season, in a fratricidal battle with YART Yamaha, the official factory-backed Austrian team comprising Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz and Kohta Nozane on the R1. And F.C.C. TSR Honda France has made no secret of its ambitions. After placing fourth in the 2016-2017 championship, the Japanese team has signed up for the entire season with an eye on the title, and will be fielding Australian rider Josh Hook together with Frenchmen Alan Techer and Freddy Foray (previously with Honda Endurance Racing).
British official team Honda Endurance Racing has revamped its rider line-up. Endurance specialist Gregory Leblanc will be Sébastien Gimbert’s teammate this season, alongside a first-timer straight from MotoGP and Moto2: Colombian rider Yonny Hernández.
Veteran EWC squad Bolliger Team Switzerland has also made several changes. The Swiss private team will once again be hot on the heels of the factory teams with riders Roman Stamm, David Perret and Robin Mulhauser. Another team to watch out for is Maco Racing, which placed 6th in the 2016-2017 FIM EWC. Riders Greg Junod, Anthony Dos Santos and Louis Bulle will take to the track at the Bol d’Or on the Slovakian team’s Yamaha.
Just for the win
Though they’ll only be competing in two of this season’s races — the Bol d’Or 2017 and the 24 Heures Motos 2018 – two teams will be launching themselves into the fray for the Bol d’Or win. Team SRC Kawasaki is among the favourites, with a rider line-up comprising Mathieu Gines, Randy de Puniet and Fabien Foret, while Team Tecmas BMW is gearing up to do battle at the front end of the race with riders Kenny Foray, Julien Da Costa and Camille Hedelin.
A Superstock clash in the offing
A closely-fought Superstock battle is also on the cards. The 2016-2017 World Cup winner Yamaha Viltaïs Experiences will only be racing the Bol d’Or in the Superstock category, after which the team is giving itself all winter to prepare a high-performance EWC machine for the 24 Heures Motos. So the Yamaha #333 will be a serious contender for the Superstock win one last time with riders Axel Maurin, Bastien Mackels and Florian Alt.
The seasoned squads in this class include Tati Team Beaujolais Racing’s French line-up (Julien Enjolras, Julien Pilot and Kevin Denis) and German team Völpker NRT48 (Stefan Kerschbaumer, Jan Bühn and Lucy Glockner). But AM Moto Racing Compétition could well snaffle a surprise victory, not to mention Moto Ain CRT, WSB Endurance and newcomers to the entire season, like Swiss squad Zuff Racing Team, French teams JMA Racing Action Bike and RAC41 Honda, Italy’s No Limits Motor Team and Polish squad Wojcik Racing Team.
In any case, one of the most keenly watched Superstock teams at the Bol d’Or will be the Kawasaki-mounted Ecurie Chrono Sport, with its all-new line-up comprising Louis Rossi, Alexis Masbou and Italian Superbike and Moto3 rider Matteo Ferrari.
The first official tests of the 81st Bol d’Or, the opening round of the 2017-2018 FIM EWC, will start at 9.30am on Thursday 14 September.