BMW Motorrad Motorsport
Le Mans, France, 13/04/2016, FIM Endurance World Championship
The famous 24-hour motorcycle race in Le Mans was held for the 39th time last weekend. The long-distance classic once again demonstrated that it is rightfully regarded as one of the toughest endurance races in the world. There was once again a thin line between triumph and dramas, celebrations and set-backs in Le Mans this year.
It was to be an eventful weekend for the seven BMW teams that competed with the BMW S 1000 RR in Le Mans. They did have pole position and a podium finish to celebrate, but there were also moments of disappointment.
The temperamental April weather posed a challenge for everyone. It was bitterly cold and qualifying, in particular, was repeatedly disrupted by rain. The showers did hold off after the start, but a perilous combination of conditions repeatedly presented the teams with the tricky task of selecting the right tyres. However, the fans in the grandstands did not let the miserable weather dampen their spirits: as always there was a full house in Le Mans, with young and old enjoying a festival of motorcycle racing together.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans kicked off the 2016 FIM Endurance World Championship (EWC). Two classes took to the track together: the Superbike class (EWC SBK) and the Superstock class (EWC STK).
The first highlight for the BMW Motorrad Motorsport community came on Friday: the Penz13.com BMW Motorrad team secured pole position with riders Kenny Foray, Mathieu Gines and Lukáš Pešek. Team principal Rico Penzkofer’s outfit is in its second season in the Superbike class and pole position confirmed that it is now competing on a par with the more renowned works teams.
“Pole position in Le Mans is very special,“ said Penzkofer. “That gives the entire team an extra boost of motivation going into the race. We saw as early as the first practice that everything was falling into place perfectly – riders, team, bike. To finish on pole gives you another boost.“
The opening hours of the race continued to run perfectly for the Penz13.com team. The number 13 BMW S 1000 RR was in the top three and challenging for the lead – and that despite conditions being anything but easy.
“Everything came together nicely. The team did a great job in the garage and the pit stops were really quick,” said Penzkofer. “After six hours we had spent less time stationary than any of the other teams. The drivers did an outstanding job out on the track. And the bike was in top condition. The RR was running like clockwork.”
However, as night fell over Le Mans, a series of unfortunate incidents unfolded. Mathieu Gines skidded sideways on the start/finish straight and the RR slid over the kerb. This did not initially appear to have had any far-reaching consequences and the team was able to continue the race as usual. Later on, however, problems arose with the swing arm and rear axle: “Apparently the bike skidded over the kerb in such a way that it bent something in this area. You could see that it was really badly scratched there too.”
As such, the team did what any team would do in a 24-hour race. It changed the swing arm, among other things, and tried to get the RR back out on the track as quickly as possible. Despite the lost time, anything was still possible. However, there was to be another consequence of the damage. “The gearbox output shaft was being pulled so hard by the chain that some oil has leaked out,” reported Penzkofer.
And so it was that the team came to a difficult decision: to retire. “I just felt it was too dangerous,” stressed Penzkofer. “It could have held out for the remaining 16 hours. At the same time, however, the oil could suddenly have started spraying out. We could not risk this resulting in one of our riders, or the other riders, crashing as a result. If you cannot be certain, you have to put safety first.”
Although plain and simple bad luck had resulted in an early retirement from the race, Penzkofer’s summary was more than positive. “I think we certainly showed what we are capable of. We have a really good trio of riders, who suit each other excellently. It was certainly a golden touch to secure the services of these three riders. All three are consistently quick and get on extremely well. And they are really happy. They approached the team every day to tell them how superb the bike was. You are always pleased to get that kind of feedback.”
“As a team, we improved a lot of aspects compared to last year – particularly the pit stops. The HP Race Support did a great job on site. The fuel consumption was optimised, meaning we could complete five laps more on one tank of fuel than last year. So, there are a lot of positive things to take from the weekend. And we saw that we can be right up there at the front of the field.”
Penzkofer‘s friend Ingo Nowaczyk is among those, for whom there was a happy ending in Le Mans. His team Völpker NRT48 by Schubert Motors ended the marathon in an impressive seventh place overall – enough to earn them the third spot on the pdoium in the Superstock class. The number 48 RR was ridden by Bastien Mackels, Dominik Vincon and Stefan Kerschbaumer.
“It is true – we are representing BMW Motorsport on the Superstock podium. We may have been running second in our class until just two hours from the end, and then slipped back into third place after a crash, but that is still a great result,” said Mackels.
The remaining BMW teams also all reached the finish after 24 hours of racing. The French Tecmas Racing Team – BMW finished 18th overall on its Le Mans debut. The GERT56 HMT by RS Speedbikes team ended the classic in 31st place. The 24Racing – Piste Libre – Epsilon team left Le Mans with 36th place to its name, while the LRP Poland RR crossed the finish line 43rd after 24 hours. And the IVR BMW Motorrad CSEU team also finished the race – albeit in 45th and last place. However, that is a whole different story.