News 13 Mar 2010

EWC: Teams and Aussies prepare for 24 Hours of Le Mans

All the favourites were back on the Bugatti race track this week for two days of testing ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the first round of the 2010 Qtel FIM Endurance World Championship scheduled for 17-18 April.

Yamaha Austria Racing Team is serenely carrying on its development work with Michelin and Igor Jerman, Gwen Giabbani and Steve Martin, three 2009 world champions. On the track they met the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, nine times world champion – including four consecutive years from 2005 to 2008.

With Vincent Philippe, Guillaume Dietrich and Daisaku Sakai as a replacement rider, the SERT wants to score high at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They have been working very hard to enter the race in mid-April with the best set-up between the new Showa suspension and Dunlop tyres.

Like the SERT, Yamaha France GMT 94 Ipone is back chasing the title. They closed a deal with a new tyre supplier in the discipline: Bridgestone. Yamaha France GMT 94 has to schedule an intensive development programme on the 2010 R1. David Checa, Gregorio Lavilla and Kenny Foray, who made a strong impression last year on the Kawasaki GSR, will race the official Yamaha.

As a new challenger on the World Endurance scene, the team BMW Michelin is a true eye-catcher. But the BMW S 1000 RR was not the only thing people were talking about. Multiple FIM Endurance World Champion Matthieu Lagrive was not present alongside his teammates Sébastien Gimbert and Erwan Nigon. The incompatibility between BMW Michelin’s partners and the sponsors that personally supported Matthieu Lagrive for many years has led to a clash. BMW Michelin is now considering, amongst other options, to contract another world champion, Sébastien Charpentier.

A rider like Matthieu Lagrive could not stay long without a bike. From last Wednesday at Le Mans, he was pairing with Damian Cudlin on the Honda BMP Elf 99. This new permanent team is managed by Michel Bartholemy, former Kawasaki team manager in MotoGP, with the support of EMS 99, a structure that was behind the team Acropolis when they took the third place at Le Mans 2008.

Karl Muggeridge and Marc Fissette, as a replacement rider, are also announced on that Honda. So it seems that BMP Elf 99, who keeps a low profile for now, could make a strong impression with their very experienced riders. The team has already signed one of the best lap times, with Matthieu Lagrive in 1’39.0.

As a newcomer with the permanent teams, but already known for some great endurance results, the Suzuki RAC 41 City Bike was also at Le Mans to test their GSX-R. The bike claims an extra 10hp from last year and the team is entering three new riders: Greg Junod, Greg Black and Olivier Depoorter.

Although they can lay claim for the 2010 title, the Kawasaki of Team GSR is a strong contender for Le Mans victory. The official Kawasaki seemed to be very confident during these pre-season tests on the Bugatti race track. The work done on the suspensions and the development carried last winter with Pirelli gives them some claim for a podium towards the end of the season, as they did last year at the Bol d’Or.

Julien Da Costa, Olivier Four, Gregory Leblanc and Thomas Metro will race the Kawasaki GSR. The Honda Michelin Power Research Team was also back on track at Le Mans with William Costes, Josep Monge and Hugo Marchand. This season, the Honda won’t compete for the whole championship and will only be seen at Le Mans and the Bol d’Or.

In the Superstock class, the Yamaha LTG 57 was practicing with its new team: Nicolas Jaulneau, Kevin Denis and Adrien Ganfornina will race the bike with the support of Michael Lalevée. However, in that class, the most closely watched team is with no doubt the Junior Team Suzuki LMS, with Lucas de Carolis, Cédric Tangre, Baptiste Guittet and David Nivière. However, the Junior Team won’t enter the whole championship and therefore can’t clinch the FIM Superstock World Cup.

The next testing session for the 24 Hours of Le Mans will take place on 30 and 31 March.