The #111 Honda Endurance Racing team has dropped out of the FIM Endurance World Championship. A move, that is regretted by the whole Endurance community – fans as well as in the paddock. EWC-Mag.com decided to pull out this feature in remembering the Honda UK team’s history in the Endurance.
2011: The Road’s training team
The Honda Endurance Racing team entered the Endurance World Championship in a different approach: It was meant to be a team for the Real Road Racing riders to get them time on the bikes before hitting the roads such as the legendary Isle of Man TT. Therefore the Neil Tuxworth owned squad was formed as „TT Legends Teams“.
The team was purely made for the Road Racers, with John McGuinness maybe not being the quickest on closed race tracks, but surely the man to catch in the paddock due to his roads and especially TT success.
The team would race all the rounds of the World Endurance Championship.
Cameron Donald was also part of the first Honda UK Endurance squad.
McGuinness would go on to „complain“ about Tennis pros earning millions for a 1.5 hours game – and he would come home with 500 bugs after finishing a 24 hours motorcycle race. But he did finish quite a lot of those – which is a achievement already.
The Honda TT Legends finished the 2011 FIM Endurance World Championship in 7th position with 43 points.
2012: The Road Trainers
The initial program would continue in 2012, with Road Racers seeking track time and confidence in their bikes for the main event of the year, the Isle of Man TT.
The late Simon Andrews joined the squad in 2012 – his first proper factory ride.
Oschersleben in Germany proved to be one of the best tracks for McGuinness time wise. Many were bantering it would be due to the close armco barriers which would remind him to Macau’s Guia Circuit, on which he won the Macau Grand Prix in 2001.
Not bad for a „training team“: The TT legends climbed up to 4th in the overall championship, collecting 97 points.
2013: Collecting Laps
2013, the „Endurance-idea“ was all across the road racing paddock. McGuinness had taken the 2012 Superbike TT and Superstock TT wins – and the big road racing names wanted to „have the same“ as the dominator.
And there were some real big names amongst the McGuinness team mates that year:
One of those was Michael Rutter – Mr. Macau. The record winner of the Chinese race would become part of the team.
Nowadays, he is a big star at the Isle of Man. Well. If you carry the name „Dunlop“, you are a star without having to win anything. Back in 2014, Michael Dunlop had won seven TTs prior the Le Mans 24 hours. And McGuinness still was the man to beat. And he was doing Endurance. So why not team up with your hardest opponent?
2013 was the worst year results wise, as the Legends classified 18th in the championship with only 16 points.
2014: The #111 is back
Honda changed the approach of Endurance for the 2014 season. It was not longer supposed to be a „training bike“, not longer to getting laps in for the Road Races. It was now about success. It was back from #77 TT Legends Team to the #111 Honda that was legendary in Endurance racing.
And 2014 would be a year affected by rain. At the Bol, organizers even considered a red flag situation before the start, should temperatures decrease below 2 degrees during night time. Which they never did. But everyone was expecting snow at Magny-Cours…
With the change of approach, Honda also decided to change the riders. As Endurance racing is a „French affair“ and back in those days no one would ever have a chance on success coming from outside France, the #111 would henceforth count on three French riders.
At the German Speedweek Oschersleben, the 8 hours of Germany, the Honda Endurance Racing team would take the first race win with Julien Da Costa, Sebastien Gimbert and Freddy Foray.
The year ended in 7th with 63 points.
2015: Full Attack
The team had re-grouped and a first race victory from the previous year under the belt, so it was full attack mode in 2015.
Continuing with Da Costa, Gimbert and Foray, the trio took another win in Germany at the Motorsport Arena Oschersleben.
Despite the Oschersleben victory, the #111 finished the year down in 9th of the Championship with 50 points to the name.
2016: Try harder
2016 was one of the best years, as the #111 finished all the races held in France, Portugal, Japan and Germany.
The 12 hours of Portimao would prove to be a good hunting ground, as the team stepped onto the podium in third position.
2016 also would be the last year of the „Classic“ season format.
Oschersleben would be the final round of the season, with the new season 2016/2017 starting at the Bol d’Or the same year.
The season 2016 ended in fourth position with 72 points.
2016/2017: Another set-back
The #111 would again continue with Julien Da Costa, Sebastien Gimbert and Freddy Foray, but the year proved to be a tough one.
The Slovakia-Ring 8 hours would be the team’s best result.
The season had started with a DNF at the Bol d’Or.
In the end, Honda Endurance Racing finished the season in 13th position with 42 points.
2017/2018: Third in the EWC
Sometimes it can be good to tick off a bad season in the middle of the season. And it was the start for the new 2017/2018 year in the World Endurance, when the #111 changed the line-up for a fresh attack.
Former MotoGP™ rider Yonny Hernandez and Gregory LeBlanc would jump onto the Fireblade.
The race was one of the most exciting thrillers in the Endurance history, with Sebastien Gimbert fighting Germany’s race lady Lucy Glöckner on the final stages of the race for the final podium spot. The duel was a sprint race with overtakings going on in almost every corner and after almost 24 hours of racing. In the end, the #111 Honda stepped on the podium – Gimbert managed to beat Glöckner on the last lap by 0.989 seconds.
At Le Mans, the team had brought Erwan Nigon back in for Hernandez, who had another try at the Superbike World Championship beginning of that year.
It would be a great start to the new year, with a second place at the 24 hours of Le Mans – just beaten by F.C.C. TSR Honda. Unfortunately riding for the same manufacturer, the success got a bit overshadowed at the HRC headquarters in Japan.
Even though Oschersleben was a disaster, it was one of the greatest showings of the Jonny Twelvetrees managed squad on what Endurance is about – team work.
The squad was fighting for a podium spot, when Gregory LeBlanc crashed in the infamous Teuchert-Kellner-Memorial-Corner of the Motorsport-Arena Circuit with like 20 minutes to go into the race.
The Fireblade was flipped countless times through the air and would be completely destroyed in that crash.
But somehow LeBlanc would get the bike started again and brought it back to the pits. He crashed again on some fluid directly in front of the pits.
Everyone declared the #111 Fireblade dead and the race over – but it wasn’t the crew build an almost completely new bike in under ten minutes and sent the riders back out on track. It was a Endurance master piece by the mechanics – as well in preparation and how the bike was built, as in the process after LeBlanc’s crash at Oschersleben.
The 2017/2018 would end in third on the overall podium for #111 Honda Endurance Racing with a 127 points to their names.
2018/2019 Thinking Year wise
For the start of the new season at the 2018 Bol d’Or Honda decided to stay with Gimbert, Nigon and LeBlanc. But it was a disastrous start to the season, with just 9 points from the 24 hours of Le Castellet and those from in between the race. The team had a DNF. It was a bitter pill, especially after the heroic podium at the same spot just 12 months before.
So the year 2019 was another fresh re-start. Only Sebastien Gimbert stayed in the team, but in Yonny Hernandez and Randy de Puniet two former MotoGP™ riders joined – or re-joined – the squad. It was a fight for the podium all year.
At the 2019 Le Mans 24 hours Motos, the team not only had changed some riders, but also parts of the crew. But this proved not to be a bad decision as in the end Gimbert, Hernandez and de Puniet stepped on the Le Mans podium in second position, just 1 minute and under one lap behind the winners of SRC Kawasaki. The race was decided in the last five minutes, when #111 had to splash-n-dash for some more fuel, otherwise could have won the race. A 15 minute prior race ending safety car was not enough to make it through.
Slovakia-Ring came along with tricky mixed weather conditions. Again the #111 trio was fighting for the victory, but a crash of de Puniet threw the team back. In the end there were some points to grab for P8.
Oschersleben was another DNF – but the team could not do anything about it. Starting from P2, the squad earned 4 qualifying points but that was it. In the race, Hernandez slid out on the oil of the YART Yamaha going into the ultra fast tripple corner.
Suzuka always is a tough one for the European teams but the 2019 edition was one with also most of the Japanese factory teams making no mistakes. The #111 Honda Endurance Racing team finished in 13th position – and got informed after the race that this one was the last one for the squad.
In its final season in the FIM Endurance World Championship, the #111 Honda Endurance Racing team finished sixth with a total of 101 points.
Words & Photos: Toni Börner / highsidePR