Race report: BMW team stars at Spa in action-packed 24-hour EWC counter
There was non-stop action and drama when the FIM Endurance World Championship returned to Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the first time in 21 years as the Belgian track delivered a race that matched up to its legendary status.
While BMW Motorrad World Endurance Team celebrated a maiden 24-hour EWC victory to follow up its breakthrough success in the six-hour 2021 season decider last October, the circuit’s ultra-challenging nature and rain for the final five hours combined to ensure rider skill came very much to the fore in the 24H SPA EWC Motos.
As well as the efforts of riders Jérémy Guarnoni (France), Illya Mykhalchyk (Ukraine) and Markus Reiterberger (Germany), BMW’s success owed plenty to the expertise of its Belgium-based team, led by former rider Werner Daemen, and the reliability of the Dunlop-equipped BMW M1000RR.
Kawasaki-powered and Pirelli-equipped Tati Team Beringer Racing excelled to finish as the top independent team in second overall with newcomer Loïc Arbel joining forces with existing French riders Grégory Leblanc and Alan Techer.
F.C.C. TSR Honda France was holding off Yoshimura SERT Motul for the final podium spot as both squads battled back from major setbacks during the night. A lengthy red flag period to enable the clean-up of a substantial oil spillage with less than three hours meant Gino Rea would have only a handful of laps to reclaim the third place he lost to home hero Xavier Siméon in the pitstop sequence prior to the race suspension. Despite the challenging track conditions, Rea and Siméon engaged in an intense battle for position with Rea coming out on top following several changes of position. The result means Suzuki-powered Yoshimura SERT Motul, the winner of the FIM Endurance World Championship last season and April’s 24 Heures Motos at Le Mans holds a 15-point advantage in the title chase heading to August’s Suzuka 8 Hours.
Yoshimura SERT Motul had been on top after 10 hours only for Sylvain Guintoli to be forced to pit for a replacement clutch and gearbox for his Bridgestone-equipped Suzuki GSX-R1000R. The work took more than 25 minutes to complete and wrecked hopes of a home win for the team’s Belgian rider Siméon in the process.
F.C.C. TSR Honda France took advantage of the misfortune that hit its fellow Japanese team but there was despair when Rea was onboard the CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP as the chain failed after 15 hours of running. It left the Briton with no choice but to push his stricken bike back to the pits. That long delay plus the 15 minutes spent making repairs dropped F.C.C. TSR Honda France down the order before its late comeback.
Worse was to come for both squads when Anglo-Frenchman Gregg Black and Mike Di Meglio, from France, crashed their Suzuki and Honda respectively in quick succession as the Sunday morning rain intensified. Black managed to limp his wrecked machine back to the pits for rapid repairs while Di Meglio was able to continue without stopping having only inflicted limited damage to his bike.
Having started from pole, YART – Yamaha Official Team EWC was forced into an unscheduled pit stop for a replacement speed sensor after three hours. Despite the delay of more than four minutes, the performances of its riders Niccolò Canepa (Italy), Marvin Fritz (Germany) and polesitter Karel Hanika (Czech Republic) put the Austrian team back into contention. Following a battle for the lead between Fritz and BMW rider Mykhalchyk, it was the Japanese marque in front after 18 hours. But the advantage would not last when the YZF-R1, with Canepa onboard, suffered engine failure.
Elsewhere, Wójcik Racing Team EWC 77 completed the top five followed by Viltaïs Racing Igol and Team Moto Ain, which overcame an overheating issue. Team LH Racing claimed Dunlop Superstock Trophy and FIM Endurance World Cup honours in eighth overall ahead of Team Bolliger Switzerland and Team LRP Poland following a late change of positions between the latter entrants.
Team 33 Louit April Moto had led the Superstock category but lost out on glory when Kevin Calia crashed in wet conditions with his Kawasaki suffering a blown engine in the process. Team 18 Sapeurs Pompiers CMS Motobase had been second at the time but appeared to be in trouble when Baptiste Guittet was one of several drivers to crash at Les Combes. However, the French outfit managed to hold onto its second place ahead of OG Motorsport by Sarazin, which suffered with traction issues.
National Motos was in the fight for first when it retired after a stone damaged the Honda’s radiator and caused the engine to overheat. Two unscheduled pit stops for “technical issues” hit the No Limits Motor Team’s chances, which were further compromised when Stefan Hill crashed just before eight hours.
Danny Webb suffered a fall early into his first stint on the Superstock pole-sitting Wójcik Racing Team STK 777 Yamaha, which was also delayed by an accident for Maek Szkopek. BMRT 3D Maxxess Nevers dropped out of contention following a spate of delays. A crash for 3ART Best of Bike during the early hours of this morning led to a second safety car period after an accident for the JMA Racing Action Bike close to five hours had resulted in the first safety car. Despite the JMA team’s Suzuki catching fire, exhaustive repairs enabled the squad to continue. Falcon Racing was denied a strong result by a blown engine, but Pitlane Endurance, Team Aviobike, RAC 41 ChromeBurner and Énergie Endurance finished in the top 20 among the eligible teams. TRT 27 / Bazar 2 La Bécane, Team 202 and ADSS 97 all finished, as did Formula EWC outfit Motobox Kremer Racing.
There was early heartache for Webike SRC Kawasaki France with Randy de Puniet crashing out shortly after two and a half hours of racing. After Florian Marino had led the pack into La Source for the first time and was part of the five-way fight for first during the opening hour, hopes of a strong result unravelled when Marino fell following contact at the chicane nearing the end of his stint. More than three minutes were lost while repairs were made to the ZX 10R before Etienne Masson could begin his stint, which was hampered when he also fell at the chicane due to brake issues. It led to a six-minute delay before de Puniet’s crash compounded a miserable afternoon. Marino, meanwhile, was taken to hospital for checks following his fall.
ERC Endurance-Ducati suffered an early setback when the German squad was forced to make an unscheduled stop due to a fuel pump issue, which followed a slow start from Xavi Forès. However, with the problem returning during the night the team was forced to retire.
THRILLING START AS EWC MAKES SPA RETURN IN STYLE
The 24H SPA EWC Motos, which revived the spirit of the famous 24 Heures de Liège, began with a spectacular Le Mans-style running start in front of the packed main grandstand and in blazing sunshine. The opening hour then delivered stunning action and multiple lead changes. The entire the top five – Gregg Black, Marvin Fritz, Josh Hook, Florian Marino and Markus Reiterberger – took their turn in front as breath-taking multiple overtakes thrilled fans trackside and watching the live broadcasts around the world.
Formula EWC, Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad World Endurance Team): “For sure it was difficult, especially at the end with this weather condition. But I’m very proud and happy to win my first 24-hour race, together with my team-mates. For sure this victory belongs to the team because they worked their ass off for the last few years and they deserved to win this race. Maybe we were not the fastest in this race but we made no mistakes and the technical stuff was working and we are quite happy about this. Most, our first win last year was special, especially the last few laps. Today was in the end easier for us even with the rain making it difficult to race. For sure we have a look in the championship, we are not so far away but there are only two races left so we will see. We will try our best.”
Superstock, Lukas Trautmann (Team LH Racing): “It’s incredible. For me I planned to be the spare rider for the team and after so many years of holiday I needed to get my feeling back and get some kilometres in the World Endurance Championship. It was not planned to be racing but it paid off. We had a super race, the bike didn’t have any issue, no one crashed, no mistakes. The pace was not incredible but if you want to finish first, first you have to finish.”
HOW THE BONUS POINTS WERE AWARDED
In EWC races with a duration of 12 to 24 hours points are awarded after eight and 16 hours in Formula EWC and the Superstock categories with the top 10 teams per category scoring as follows: 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.
WHAT’S NEXT: SUZUKA 8 HOURS, JAPAN, 5-7 AUGUST
The Suzuka 8 Hours is back on the FIM EWC calendar in 2022 having not taken place since 2019 due to the global health crisis. Operated by Honda-owned Mobilityland, Suzuka features a unique figure-of-eight layout and presents a considerable challenge for riders thanks to its wide variety of corners. Opened initially as a test track for the Japanese motor giant in 1962, the venue hosted the first edition of the famous Suzuka 8 Hours motorbike race in 1978, nine years before staging its first Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. The Suzuka 8 Hours has been a popular feature on the EWC calendar and a key fixture on the international calendar since with leading grand prix motorcycle racers taking part – and winning – over the years.