The 2018 Bol d’Or: A crazy race!
Featuring multiple lead changes, high drama, major setbacks and many reversals of fortune, the 82nd Bol d’Or was a thriller of a race, packed with suspense for the entire 24 hours. A look back at the highlights of mid-September’s opening round of the 2018-2019 FIM EWC on the Paul Ricard circuit.
The opening lap set the stage for the rest of the race. Team SRC Kawasaki France’s Randy de Puniet rocketed off pole and into the lead, but Suzuki Endurance Racing Team rider Gregg Black overtook him in the first corner, only to see Kenny Foray flash past, crouched behind the windscreen of the ERC-BMW Motorrad Endurance bike, on the Mistral straight. With three different riders in the lead in the first two minutes of the race, it was clear the 2018 Bol d’Or was shaping up to be a gripping 24-hour battle.
45 lead changes in 24 hours
Team SRC Kawasaki France wrested back the lead in the second lap, ahead of Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, ERC-BMW Motorrad Endurance, F.C.C. TSR Honda France, YART Yamaha and Honda Endurance Racing. All six factory teams took over the top spot at some point. In all, the lead changed hands 45 times in the course of the 24-hour race. Team SRC Kawasaki France spent the lion’s share in the lead, with 430 laps out front. But, like several other teams, the Kawasaki squad experienced a few hairy moments and setbacks.
A slew of reversals
ERC-BMW Motorrad Endurance was the first to fall by the wayside when their bike took a beating after a collision and subsequent crash. The BMW squad withdrew in the course of the night. YART Yamaha suffered misfortune towards 7pm when Niccolò Canepa crashed after the bike developed an oil leak. The Austrian team got back on track in 25th position, 7 laps behind the leader, and proceeded to finish the race in 2nd place, a mere 54 seconds behind the winner. At 9pm or so, F.C.C. TSR Honda France dropped back 8 laps because of electrical issues. Team SRC Kawasaki France, who were leading at that point, had similar problems around the same time and lagged one lap behind, giving Suzuki Endurance Racing Team the opportunity to coast into the lead. But a damaged footrest plate and a crash shortly after midnight then caused the Suzuki team to drop back and hand over the reins to Honda Endurance Racing – who were subsequently forced to return to the pit box with engine problems that led them to withdraw on Sunday morning. All these incidents and changes in fortune gave Team SRC Kawasaki France the chance to take back the top spot and carve out a 4-lap lead before experiencing a fresh set of electrical woes less than 3 hours from the finish.
Having surged back into the fray after their problems in the early part of the race, F.C.C. TSR Honda France took over the lead and focused on staving off YART Yamaha’s relentless climb back up until the 3pm finish.
New track, new records, new numbers
The 2018 Bol d’Or, held on a slightly modified Paul Ricard circuit, also saw new lap records and numbers being set. Randy de Puniet set a fresh lap record in qualifying (a 1:54.007) on a track whittled down to 5,673m from 5,791m, while YART Yamaha’s Broc Parkes posted the fastest race lap (1:55.487).
Of the 59 teams on the starting grid, 37 classified at the finish. The new 24-hour record number to beat at the Paul Ricard circuit is 698, i.e. the number of laps completed by race winner F.C.C. TSR Honda France and by YART Yamaha.