With just one week to go for the 24 Heures Motos, the pressure is mounting. The 60 competing teams are fine-tuning the last details and making their ambitions clear. This second round of the FIM EWC 2016-2017 looks set to be particularly thrilling.
With new machines on the track and new riders in the saddle, trying to predict the winner of the 24 Heures Motos 2017 is even harder than in previous years.
Team SRC Kawasaki, the winner of the 2016 edition, remains a firm favourite, with a rejigged team comprising Fabien Foret, Randy de Puniet and Mathieu Gines. Suzuki Endurance Racing Team, the reigning world champion and winner of the Bol d’Or, also has very good chances. SERT will be struggling to overcome two handicaps: the demise of Anthony Delhalle, and having to compete with the 2016 model of the GSX-R 1000 because of some missing racing parts for the 2017 model. Even so, with the entire SERT crew cheering on Vincent Philippe, Etienne Masson and Alex Cudlin, these obstacles could well turn into incentives to carry off a fresh win.
Dual ambition at Yamaha
The Yamaha clan is making no secret of its ambitions. YART Yamaha Official EWC Team set the pace at the preliminary tests in end March. In the saddle of the Yamaha #7, Broc Parkes, Marvin Fritz and Kohta Nozane will be aiming not only to turn in a brilliant performance but also to climb on the top step of the podium at the end of the 24-hour race. GMT94 Yamaha too has solid reasons to hope for a win, including a very cohesive team: David Checa, Niccolò Canepa and Mike Di Meglio.
Honda’s new card
Honda Racing Endurance could be the surprise winner. The British team, now fortified by the expertise of Chris Pike, Tito Rabat’s head mechanic in the MotoGP, will be hitting the track on the Honda CBR 1000 RR SP2. This high-performance new machine stuffed with electronics will be in the capable hands of seasoned riders Julien da Costa, Sébastien Gimbert and Freddy Foray.
Japanese team F.C.C. TSR Honda has opted to stick to the 2016 model for the 24 Heures Motos, and will have to do without Alan Techer, who was injured during tests in Japan. Gregg Black, Damian Cudlin and Arturo Tizon will be riding the Honda #5, with Josh Hook as stand-in.
Tecmas BMW, the new factory-backed team flying the colours of the German brand, is cautiously optimistic, but can also hope to carry off a win thanks to its high-performance S1000RR and riders Kenny Foray, Lukas Trautmann, Camille Hédelin and Mathieu Lussiana.
Besides these favourites, other teams are flexing their muscles in the wings. Team April Moto Motors Events climbed on the second step of the podium last year. This year, the team managed by Hervé Moineau has changed to Honda. The new CBR1000RR #50 will be similar to the series machine. But with Grégory Leblanc, Matthieu Lagrive and Grégory Fastré in the saddle, Team April Moto Motors Events will be gunning for the podium. National Motos is pursuing the same goal, and has entrusted its Honda 2017 to Emeric Jonchière, Nicolas Salchaud and Hiraki Hokubo.
Eva RT Webike Trick Star is another team to watch out for. The FIM EWC’s second Japanese team was on the Bol d’Or podium last September. Erwan Nigon, Osamu Deguchi and Julien Millet will be riding the Kawasaki #10. Kawasaki can also count on the experienced Bolliger Team Switzerland – Horst Saiger, Roman Stamm and Michael Savary. And, after placing 4th at the Bol d’Or, Maco Racing Team is keen to keep up the momentum with riders Grégory Junod, Anthony Dos Santos and Marko Jerman.
Superstocks to watch
Because they do not get to use the quick-release wheel change at pit stops, some Superstock teams will be focusing on performance and regularity. Teams to keep an eye out for: Moto Ain CRT, Superstock winner at the Bol d’Or, with riders Alexis Masbou, Robin Mulhauser and Hugo Clère; Tati Team Beaujolais Racing, AM Moto Racing Compétition, Völpker NRT48 Schubert Motors and Yamaha Viltaïs Experiences, not to mention Junior Team Le Mans Sud Suzuki and Team LMD63 Ultimate Cup with Jules Cluzel, David Perret and Lucas de Carolis.
Free practice and the first qualifying on Thursday 13 April should provide some early indicators.