Bol d’Or 2019: Afterburner

Talking points, highlights, stories and much more… 

Marketing disaster

The “biggest” headline in the built up to the 83rd Bol d’Or had been the withdrawal of the #111 Honda Endurance Racing team. Disaster struck in for the organizers as the whole event merchandise was branded with the red 111 Honda from the previous year. Another sign of “bad marketing”: They choose Gregory Leblanc for the cups and shirts – and he wasn’t riding for Honda all year. Instead one could have opted for Sébastien Gimbert, who was supposed to do his final race of his career at this Bol d’Or. Instead, he was just visiting. “I had some other offers,” he told EWC-Mag.com. “But I always said: my career started with 111, I wanted it to finish with 111.”

Fuel appeasement

It was hard discussed by all teams – privateers as factory ones – when the organizers had released the single fuel supplier only a couple of weeks prior the Bol. Initially it meant a big effort for the private squads as the price per litre was much higher than for the highest fuel on petrol stations – but had more or less the same octane.

However, organizers and teams went on to discuss the topics and now the price for the fuel for Bol d’Or had been lowered, as it is for the rest of the season. Furthermore for the 24 Le Castellet they offered a cheaper 98 one for those teams who did want to use it. 

In the end it was a lot of fuss about nothing. 

Fuel.

Well, speaking the safety points of the single fuel: One of the reasons to introduce this rule was safety. It was justified by the reason, every single of the 60 team’s would carry around 1,000 litres of petrol in their lorries or inside or behind the pit boxes and that this would be an safety issue. 

Instead, there was the Panta fuel station inside the paddock – with one lorry carrying around 40,000 litres of petrol. In one place. In the middle of the paddock. Well, … 

EWC-Irta?

Some team managers have raised the idea of founding a team’s association like the IRTA in Grands Prix racing, but non of the “big team” was part of this meeting. Actually it was held to discuss further details about the Sepang meeting for those who have not raced outside Europe and the fuel regulations. 

The raised idea about the EWC-IRTA in a way might be a good idea, but on the other hand not. 

The organizers of Eurosport Events got two main targets: To once make a profit out of the Endurance, which is not the case yet – and to reach that, the second target is to hold and establish permanent teams. 

With that, of course, they try to hold the politics down. And this is good. The team managers are now connected to a WhatsApp group to shorten the distance and better the communication. 

Further: This is a world championship and those “applying” for the position to be the team’s spoke person are not speaking any English. 

Sepang

It really is going to happen. For some of the teams and riders it will be the biggest adventure of their life’s by taking part in the race at Malaysia. 

Of course, there are many concerns, especially with the new 108% qualifying rule and the fact, that Petronas Yamaha will field the #21 Factory Yamaha bike from Suzuka with the MotoGP riders Franco Morbidelli, Hafizh Syahrin and the World Superbike Pro Michael van der Mark. 

Teams are asking for more track time to ensure their rider’s pace and getting the times. 

But it is not only the current MotoGP riders, there are more former premier class riders in the field. And those have by far the most mileage at the SIC on their clock, as almost all winter testing is happening here. 

Organizers are trying to put another test in. Again: Eurosport Events is listening to the concerns of “their” teams and acting accordingly. Big thumbs up!

There is just one thing to raise concerns again: The new logistic manager who is to take care for the team’s freights comes from Poland and speaks: Polish, Italiano and French. No English… 

The race

Some hate it, some love it. But it was a truly washed out start to the 83rd start of the Bol d’Or. The man to shine in the first hour was Gino Rea, who simply looked to like the wet and was on fire. A Wojcik Yamaha in the lead in the opening stages! The team was over the moon, when he returned to the pits after his first stint. 

Actually it was a opening sprint race until the first crash of the race later resulted in a safety car and an oil spill through turn 1. The neutralisation of the race took around 45 minutes. 

And it rained.

And rained.

And rained.

It even got heavier. 

Red Flag: Right or not?

Normally one would assume in a paddock of almost 60 bikes – making it almost 200 riders in the same race – there would be controversy. 

But it wasn’t. EWC-Mag.com has not heard a single voice raised by a rider or team manager that would have asked for the race to carry on. 

It was dangerous, there was a lot of water on the track, much more coming from the sky and more than heavy winds. 

Ironically the conditions got better minute after minute – but only after the re-start had been postponed to 6 a.m. the next morning.

There was almost no rain and no wind all night long. And. Almost no sound and noice from the camping. It was a even too wet day for the French fans. 

The Re-Start

There have been a lot of different formats in Endurance racing: 200 miles, 6 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours, 24. 

But a start at 06 o’clock in the morning, with around 10 degrees, in wet and windy conditions behind the safety car – that should be a novum in the EWC. 

The first world championship points had been awarded after 8 hours – with just 2.5 of those riding.

Normally, it now would have been just one more hour of racing to the points for 16 hours at 7 am. But those were pushed to 10:30 – what has been a good and fair decision by the organization. 

Considering everything, race direction acted wise and had everything under control. 

Still, it was a strange thing to see everyone lining up in the dark in the morning on the main straight to go into the race behind the safety car. 

No more rain

Hard to believe but there was no more rain coming in but it took felt ages until the Paul Ricard Circuit really could be considered a dry track. 

Some teams took intermediates, some others don’t have such a opportunity depending on which tire manufacturer they had chosen. 

Points

Points were awarded after 8 hours – for only 2.5 hours of riding. The 16 hours point mark would have been at 7 o’clock in the morning, so just one hour after the re-start. 

Taking all facts in consideration, the additional point mark was pushed to 10:30, so at least another four and a half hours were held in ridden conditions. 

Pace.

As soon as it had dried out, it were Ilya Mikhalchik (BMW), Loris Baz (Yamaha) and Mathieu Gines (BMW) that made the pace and set new lap records. The one of Gines got cancelled after the race. 

Lucy-tastic

German femal rider Lucy Glöckner took the second fastest time of the Superstock category and over long distances she was lapping the times of the leading pack. In the end, her GERT56 team got 14th overall and 5th in Superstock. 

No luck for big players

Three top teams were swept out in the same incident. F.C.C. TSR Honda France suffered an engine failure on their Fireblade at around 09 o’clock in the morning. Even though rider Mike di Meglio pulled away from the racing line as quick as he could, there was some oil on the track. 

First it was Erwan Nigon from the World Champions of #1 SRC Kawasaki who fell victim to the blurred road ahead of him. It was not a big drama, as the Frenchman was able to lift the ZX-10RR again and stood on his feet. 

But then out of a sudden YART Yamaha rider Baz was the next to hit the smudgy patches – and his R1 slid into the Ninja and into Nigon. The whole pack exploded and was in fire – for a moment even Nigon. 

Soon after, also the #101 and #3 bikes crashed on the oil, but both riders standing on their feet and able to pick up the bikes again.

Luckily no one of the involved got injured, but the firefighting operations took over half an hour as even the tire barriers were blazing fiercely.       

In the end it is SERT

After that fire, there was just one team on fire: Suzuki Endurance Racing team. Vincent Phillipe, Etienne Masson and Gregg Black had the opponents swipped away and were left untouched in the fight for the victory. 

But it remained a fierce battle for second, third and fourth between #77 Wojcik Yamaha, #6 ERC BMW and the new #37 BMW factory team. 

Somehow Wojcik managed to pull a little gap in the closing stages, so the fight for P3 was on between Mikhalchik and Gines. The latter clearly was faster in this stint, riding with a broken shoulder. The new French Champion overtook the new IDM German Champion and pulled another 4 seconds out of him. 

Final ranking after everyone had left

The ERC Endurance team with Gines, Julien da Costa and Louis Rossi stepped on the podium in third position but got denied their podium, all championship points and the race’s fastest lap soon after. 

They were found with a 24.5 litres big fuel tank, which is not conform to the regulations. That’s why all the other teams stepped on place up, including the #37 BMW Motorrad World Endurance team with Mikhalchik, Julian Puff and Kenny Foray earning the final podium spot. 

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