European Classic Endurance
Imola 1st / 2nd September 2017

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It has been many years since I was last at Imola, in fact 2002 to be precise when I was racing with Phase One in the World Endurance Championship and we won the Imola 200.

I'm the last Briton to win it since Paul Smart back in 1972 so it was a very emotional return for me.

Very little had changed with the exception of the pit lane garages had been extended down towards the first corner which had in turn changed the size and shape of the start/finish chicane, now much slower and tighter, not to everyone's liking but the rest of the circuit is totally awesome.

We had a free practice on Friday but when we arrived it was still very wet from heavy rain overnight, thankfully my session was later in the day and by then the chances were it would be dry.

However Mick and Jonny's session was still quite damp but as they hadn't been there before it was important for them to get out for at least a few laps to orientate themselves.

It was amusing that while Mick and Jonny were out they both were running number 59 on their bikes as Mick was on the race bike and Jonny on the T bike.

 

Now someone did it, but funny thing was nobody admitted it, as they both got black flagged towards the end of their session due to overtaking under a yellow flag.

My session came around but was red flagged after just a few laps then restarted, it was great to be out there on such a superb circuit.

I knew the shape of the track and knew what was coming next corner by corner but was struggling to get the correct track position.

 

The pit lane at Imola is huge and is almost half a kilometre long so it was really important that we had an accurate speed limiter in the pit lane or we would end up with a penalty and a fine to boot.

 

My solution was to get the Sat Nav out of the car and stick it to the screen of each of the bikes, then run them in the back of the paddock up to 60kph in second gear and record the exact RPM. Both bike tacho's read slightly differently and one was 4000 rpm and the other was 3700 so at least we had a ball park figure to play with now.

The next day was our first qualifying session, rider one, two and then three, I was out first and quickly got down to some good times.

The bike felt good with only a few minor tweaks I thought we or I at least could race this no worries.

Both Mick and Jonny considering it was their first time there did a great job and we were in the top five after the times were averaged out.

 

The second session traditionally was quicker and so it turned out, I dropped in to low 05's and felt I could do them all day without the traffic which was at time really bad, there were 80 starters and a lot of smaller capacity machines that were slow in the corners and slower on the straights making it difficult to circulate consistently.

The boys raised their game and we ended up in 5th place for the start.

There was a dilemma of which machine to go with, each had positives and negatives and we wound up Alf saying take the engine out one bike a swap it with the other overnight, you can imagine what he thought of that.

But to be honest there wasn't that much in it and we ended up with the T bike.

 

I had done a few starts this season, as the strategy generally is to get a good position in the first session to maintain that for the rest of the race.

 

So I was elected starter, Mick second man and Jonny third rider in fact it was our sign on schedule so we stick with it.

 

The weather was looking good and because it was a day race we would be racing in a hot period of the day so hydration was going to be a factor.

We formed up on the grid and had a practice star as normal then reformed and waited for the normal start procedure.

Always a nervous time mainly as there is too much time to think about things instead of just getting on with it.

After wishing few of the guys good luck we were soon running across the track to our respective machines.

Gregory Fastre made his usual super rapid start but I was hot on his heels as we ran down towards the first turn. I wanted to stick with him for as long as possible knowing how quick he could run but was surprised after half a lap I was find I was wanting to go quicker and past him on the drag up the hill for the first time.

Feeling comfortable I got my head down and was surprised to open up a decent lead until we start to lap the slower riders/machines.

It was a lottery when you caught a group as to how to get by them, sometime it was easy then next time you ended up almost run off the track trying to get by them. The lead stretched then concertinaed down, I was lapping in the 04's when I had clear track but it was impossible to keep the times consistent.

Finally my pit board said BOX and when I pitted we were in the lead.

Mick was waiting and I handed over to him with just the news the clutch was delicate and would slip if you clutched the engine too much into the corners to stop the rear wheel chattering.

He stormed off and after a steady few laps got going.

We deliberately pitted early so we all would have a reasonable length of session. After all the first riders had pitted and the leader board settled down and we were running in forth place. Jonny did a great job to and we maintained our position.

Endurance racing is a cruel sport and even the best prepared teams can have issues, the Championship leaders Team Neate had been in the pits a few times with battery issues, there was obviously a problem but they just couldn't figure out what it was and they were out after two hours.

Team Force were out too, both Phase One machines were down the field lapping slower than we expected but there was an Italian Guzzi team pushing hard and leading so handing back to me for my second session Jonny said just go for it.

I felt very confident and pushed as hard as I could setting a new fastest lap catching the Guzzi and taking the lead again. Wanting to hand over a decent lead I just kept my head down and my pace up. Mick was waiting for me as I pitted and soon roared away for his stint, he did another great job and we were running in second place.

 Jonny got his slot and it was looking so good not only for a podium place but if I could get a decent session and we brought Jonny in slightly early extending my session length a win was on the cards.

 

Alf and I were just talking about it as I was dressing ready for my session when Jonny went missing, and the was seen running down the pit lane the wrong way with the bike.

Jonny said 'its rattling' and when we got it back in the pit box we fired the motor up and it sounded like a bag of spanners with smoke coming out of the exhaust and carb.

Shutting down the motor we all knew it was over, it didnít matter what it was the bike was going now where.

 

It was a bitter blow for the team, we genuinely were running at he front with a realistic chance of our first win, well over due too. I hugged Alf and commiserated with him telling him he had the best bike out there.

As I said, Endurance racing is cruel and Team Scert sharing our garage had a huge oil leak in the last fifteen minutes and just couldnít stop it leaking and were refused entry to the track by the garage marshals and were out.

 

The Guzzi won overall and the 1000cc class.

 

I was very happy to get the fastest race lap - that's a special thing when you think of the quick guys out there - told you Alf builds a great bike!