Competing in their first Endurance World Championship event of 2011 on a S 1000 RR, Team BMW Motorrad France 99 contested the legendary Bol d’Or 24-hour race on 16-17 April and finished in third place, after 803 laps of the Magny-Cours circuit.
As well as demonstrating the potential and reliability of the RR as an endurance-spec machine, the team also qualified in third place and set the fastest lap of the race (1:41.177 at an average speed of 156.948 km/h) on their way to securing a first-ever QTel FIM Endurance World Championship podium for the RR in this hotly-contested series.
The winner of this year’s race was the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, which marked its fourth consecutive victory at the Bol d’Or by leading from start to finish. Second place went to Team SRC Kawasaki – another team well established in this class of racing – with BMW Motorrad France 99 riders Erwan Nigon, Sébastien Gimbert and Damian Cudlin completing the podium of this 75th Bol d’Or.
In fact, this final podium place was challenged all the way and was the target of a hard-fought duel between BMW Motorrad France 99 and the Bolliger Team Switzerland Kawasaki. However, despite encountering the usual technical difficulties faced in 24-hour endurance racing, where machines are worked harder – and for longer – than in any other form of two-wheeled motorsport, the French BMW team overcame the odds to seal that important podium finish, much to the delight of team rider Sébastien Gimbert.
“I took things easily in the early stages, as I was mindful of the objective of just finishing this race,” he said. “With many teams dropping out in the first few hours, I held back a bit and kept some energy in reserve in the first two stints, but without losing touch with the riders in front of me. We had some problems with the brakes, so we had to be careful of making any mistakes. At around 1.30am, we were struggling with these issues, so it made for a busy night as we were forced to make some pit-stops to try and rectify things. This caused us quite a delay, so we really had to push hard throughout the remainder of the night to make up for lost time. That said, it was great to finish on the podium and a wonderful reward for the entire BMW team as well as for us riders. Without a doubt though, our best is yet to come...”
His French Superbike Championship team-mate Erwan Nigon also encountered difficulties throughout the night, but was delighted to overcome these issues and work with his crew and team-mates to achieve this hard-fought podium.
“My first stint on the RR was difficult as it was very hot and the brake problems impeded me considerably,” he said. “I wasn’t enjoying myself out there, but when it was my turn to go back out on the bike again, the outside temperature had dropped, which improved things and I was able to find my rhythm and put in some consistently fast laps. Unfortunately, soon afterwards, a mechanical problem forced me to return to the pits. Once that was fixed I encountered new problems with the brakes. With my riding style, I use a lot of rear brake, and I was forced in this instance to only use the front brake, which made things very tense out there for me! That said, our lap times remained fast and I am really happy to finish on the podium. In four years of endurance racing, this is only the second time that I finished in the top three, so it’s thanks to BMW and the team that this result could be achieved.”
The third team member was Australian Damian Cudlin, who is also racing an RR in the German IDM Superbike Championship in 2011. He made a good start to proceedings and was enjoying the experience of top-level endurance racing in the early stages, but had his own share of problems to overcome, including ‘arm-pump’.
“Things went extremely well at first, but at about 7.20pm, I too started to encounter issues with braking, which I didn’t think would be affecting me as early as my second stint on the bike,” he said. “In fact, this problem was compounded by an old injury in my right arm, which made riding very difficult through the night – exhausting in fact – but I was aware of the threat from the Bolliger Team with whom we fighting for third place, so I had to keep going for as long as I could. However, I began to really suffer with arm-pump, and this was starting to affect my lap times and I could no longer keep pace with my team-mates. Therefore, to give us a chance of holding onto third place, we decided that Erwan and Sébastien would ride to the end of the race. Thankfully, they were strong enough and fast enough for the challenge and made it safely to the chequered flag.”
In the end, out of 52 starters, just 35 teams were able to reach the finish line of this 75th Bol d’Or and no one was more pleased to see the RR on the podium than Team Manager Michael Bartholemy, who witnessed the fight from beginning to end and was extremely proud of everyone involved.
“There was plenty of action throughout the 24 hours of racing, and because of the technical problems that occurred during the night, we knew that victory would be difficult to aim for,” he said. “That said, the leading two teams have many years of experience in this series, while we are still comparative novices, so this makes the podium finish even more special and convinces me that we can continue to improve on this solid start.
“Our strategy for the final hours of the race allowed us to overcome the threat from the Bolliger team and achieve our podium dream, thanks to the hard work of the team and riders, as well as the performance of the Michelin tyres that gave our riders the confidence to perform very fast laps throughout the 24 hours. I am especially pleased with this result because we haven’t seen a BMW on a podium in the world endurance championship for many years. In doing so, we’ve shown that the RR is a great machine, able to compete with Japanese manufacturers who have been present in the championship for such a long time.”
Also worth mentioning is the podium finish achieved in the Superstock class at the Bol d’Or by BMW Team Van Boenig Motorsportschool, with riders Michael Filla (CZE), Werner Daemen (BEL) and Matti Seidel (GER) finishing third on the RR.
The next round of the Endurance World Championship will take place in Spain where an eight-hour race will take place at the Albacete circuit on 21-22 May.