THE BOL D’OR RETURNS TO CASTELLET

2015-09-04T00:00:00+02:00September 4th, 2015|Bol d'Or 2015|

After an absence of more than 15 years, the Bol d’Or will be taking place once more on the Paul Ricard circuit in Castellet. The riders, team managers, organizers and spectators all seem thrilled to be back on this legendary track tucked away amid the hills of the Var. What’s more, the final round of the FIM EWC on 19 and 20 September will unveil the new endurance world champion.

Expect a closely fought duel between the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team and the GMT94 Yamaha team, with only 23 points currently separating the leader, SERT, from its runner-up, the factory Yamaha team. With 60 points up for grabs (40 for the winner, plus 10 bonus points each for the team in first place 8 hours and 16 hours into the race respectively), the game remains wide open. All the more so because, statistically speaking, another two teams – Bolliger Team Switzerland and Junior Team LMS Suzuki – are still in the running for the championship title.

The return to the 5.8-km track at Castellet has been met with excitement, but also with trepidation, because of the 1.8-km long straight where riders can hit top speeds of over 320 kph.

After the preliminary Bol d’Or tests this week, SERT team manager Dominique Méliand is sceptical whether the machines can handle the long stretch at top speed lap after lap for the entire 24 hours. “It’s a fantastic site for spectators, who can combine a seaside trip with an opportunity to watch the race. But as far as we’re concerned, there are plus and minus points, as on all the other circuits. The track has changed, and this preliminary round of testing has enabled us to trim the bike set-up, which will need fine-tuning during the official tests. But the long Mistral straight will be the clincher, that’s for sure: those bikes will be running at full revs for at least 18 seconds!”

The team hot on SERT’s heels, GMT 94 Yamaha, is firing on all cylinders after its recent win at the Oschersleben 8 Hours. “It’s such a pleasure to be back at Castellet! There’s no other track like it in the world – packed with history, in a fabulous setting: sea, sun and cicadas. We’re here as front-runners, and we’ve got what it takes to grab the victory and the title,” says a confident Christophe Guyot, the team manager. “The track isn’t physically tiring for the riders, but it’s mentally very demanding, requiring a lot of concentration because of the very high top speeds. It’s also a very technical track, which is good to top-condition gearboxes and engines; a wide track with very few visual markers.”

While many of the riders will be discovering the circuit for the first time, for others it’s a return trip – like Honda Endurance Racing rider Sébastien Gimbert, who remembers the 1999 Bol d’Or 1999, when he was already in the saddle of a Honda: #111. “It’s a superb circuit, and it gave me my love of speed. It’s great to be back on a fantastic track like this one. And besides, this is practically home for me. I live 60 km from Castellet, and I’m a member of the Moto Club Paul Ricard. We know we’re no longer in the running for the title, so we have to win the Bol d’Or to forget our lacklustre results this season.”

SRC Kawasaki is following the same strategy after abandoning the race at Suzuka and then at Oschersleben. Gilles Stafler’s team is also aiming for a victory in the 24-hour race, at which he’s something of an expert (SRC won the last Bol d’Or at Magny-Cours in April 2014).

The SRC Kawasaki team has recruited Erwan Nigon as back-up rider, alongside Gregory Leblanc, Fabien Foret and Matthieu Lagrive. “We’ve worked on set-up and fuel consumption during these preliminary Bol d’Or tests. We have a homogenous team; all of them put in a fast, consistent lap time of 1’59. Fabien Foret was a whisker ahead, clocking up a fastest lap time of 1’58 during testing.”

Monster Energy Yamaha YART is also playing the “victory or bust” card. Max Neukirchner will be back in the saddle for the race, alongside Broc Parkes, Ivan Silva and Sheridan Morais.

SERT topped the podium the last time the Bol d’Or took place at Castellet in 1999, with riders Terry Rymer, Jehan d’Orgeix and Christian Lavieille.