Sunday, 8 November 2015

Aragon 4 hrs; reflections on a great success

Aragon 4 hrs - final ECS round 2015


Sweatshop Phase One are now 2015 FIM European Classic Series Champions, after winning at the final race at Aragon on 31st October.


Despite becoming the 2013 ECS champions, during that season, it was becoming clear that the old P&M Kawasakis were coming to the end of their competitive existence. The rolling chassis continued to be as light and nimble as any, but coaxing any more reliable power from the old uni-track engines would be difficult. In short, we would need to compromise reliability if we wanted the Kawasaki lumps to make any more power. As that is never an option in endurance (always reliability first and performance second) our only way forward was to go to a four valve engine. In practical terms that meant Suzuki in the shape of the GSX1100 E models, which were available in 81/82 and were thus eligible. Our first outing with our 'prototype' GSX1100 bike was at Nurburgring in late summer 2014. And what a début it was - with a Linden /Brasher/Conroy win straight out of the box. ! Next race, at Aragon in 2014, didn't go so well, with a crank failure from second place. !

Anyway, to cut to the present; The two 'production' frames (with different headstock angles and swinging arm mounting positions) were built by P&M over the 2014/15 winter, and by the mid season point, we had considered that we had got on top of the reliability issues. Three key areas have been addressed and solutions applied. One area of engine reliability remains in question, with no obvious mitigation available. The frequency of this failure mechanism is around one event per 80 hrs and its consequences are non catastrophic, but race terminating. More work will take place in this area over the winter.

So, our  frequency of all failures (catastrophic and non-catastrophic) with the Suzuki engine during the development phase was one event per 17 hrs, now during this recent 'developed' phase it is one event per 35 hrs, so we are getting there.

With the engine now close, the riders could exploit the package - and what a great run they have had.

2nd Paul Ricard
2nd Mettet
2nd Spa
1st Paul Ricard (classic Bol)
1st Misano
1st Aragon
2nd Aragon

Leaving engines behind; we really wanted to win at Spa this year. As a team we hadn't won there since 1993...loads of seconds and thirds, but not a win since Buckmaster/Manley and Toland. That's why we ran two bikes this year - it was intended to be just a one-off to increase our chances, but when it all went wrong and Stephane and Ian suffered engine failure whist leading (and Peter and Hugh powered on to second) we found ourselves in the crazy position of having two bikes equal on 20 points, instead of one on 40 points. That meant, instead of leading the ECS by a nice margin, we found ourselves equal fifth with ourselves! So it now had to be two bikes for Aragon.

Aragon 4 hrs - the final showdown

And so to Aragon....any one of seven teams could win and six of them were there trying....and every one of them was serious. (It's a real shame that Bolliger, with Kellenberger did not make the journey).
Anyway, it was the two Phase One teams from Spa (Linden with Dickinson replacing Brasher) and Mertens and Simpson. Plus, the favourites Greg Fastré and Richard Hubin, on their Team Force Harris GSX1100s, Moto-Bel, Kaiser Kawasaki and Roadrunner Suzuki, the endurance stalwarts who had scored well in each race.

In addition, major competition should also have come from Alf's endurance, with Mike Edwards, John Barton and recently returned Mick Godfrey, plus Gary Johnson's Monex package, the very fast but infrequently scoring Taurus Suzuki and also Sam Neate should really have shown his nose.

The Sweatshop Phase One team's weekend started fairly well with a trouble free Friday practice and qualifying, which saw Mertens and Simpson get pole, with a combined time of 2.08.57, some 0.36 secs ahead of Taurus on 2.08.93, with Hubin and Fastre in 4th ( 2.09.26) some 0.5 sec  behind Linden/Dickinson who took third.

Moto-Bel were 5th, Alfs were 6th, Hampe (with Christian Haquin) was 7th, Toscane were 8th and Monex 9th. Other UK interest was with Sam Neate in 17th.

Night practice went well for Linden and Dickinson, but Mertens/Simpsons was cut a little short due to a developing oil leak, which necessitated an overnight engine change.

The race conditions were perfect. The early laps were in air temps and track temps in the low 20c region and Lindens unofficial class record (2.06.9) looked like it would surely be broken.

Taurus led the early laps with Mertens closely trailing and Fastre in hot pursuit. Linden was steady in 4th. Taurus ( having recruited local Spanish hotshot Mas Martinez to join regular man Cantalupo) pulled ahead during the first 45 mins and pulled a seven second lead on Mertens at stop one. Force were also close behind.

During the early part of the rota , Moto-Bel crashed lightly and were back in the fray after a three minute repair.

Also during the first hour, Alf's endurance, the Neates and Monex all left the stage with engine failures.

At the close of hour one, Sweatshop ( Mertens) had taken the lead, largely assisted by a speedy pitstop, Taurus were second, Force third and Linden fourth.

Hour two was equally dramatic; Fastre and Hubin met the Sweatshop challenge and put the hammer down, equalling and exceeding Simpsons times as twilight drew in. The Phase One pit stops were going well (despite only 100 secs between each bike !) but not well enough to stop Force taking a half second lead at mid-race distance. Linden/Dickinson remained fourth, behind Taurus in third.

Taurus customarily left the stage early, this time on lap 64

During the third hour Force hit trouble - their ECU became detached and pit work was necessary to get going again, they rejoined in third at the close of hour three. Sweatshop Phase One also had a hitch. A troublesome battery change at stop 4 needed some attention in the pit lane (30 sec or so), but fuelling had taken place; that meant the act was unallowed and therefore the team were penalised with a thirty second stop and go.!

So, the close of hour three saw the two Phase One teams in first and second, Mertens leading Linden by 29 secs, Force in third a further 42 secs back, with Roadrunner up to 4th one lap adrift.

The final hour was classic endurance; A big big chase by the back to backing Fastre to try to wrest 3rd position from Dickinson, who in turn was trying to hold position with the minimum of risk.
During this chase Fastre scored the best lap of the race with a new record of 2.05.779.

Whilst at the front, Stephane was doing what Stephane does; head down , hammer down, ultra fast, ultra reliable...right to the flag with a string of best personal laps in the darkness........

And for Linden and Dickinson; a textbook team performance.

Sweatshop Phase One .......first and second and championship winners.......

Thank you to Team, Riders and Sponsors alike, what a marvellous job.

Final results Aragon:

1. Sweatshop Phase One (Mertens/Simpson)
2. Sweatshop Phase One 2 (Dickinson/Lindén)
3. Team Force (Hubin/Fastré)
4. Roadrunner (van der Mark/Brand)
5. Kaiser Classic Endurance (Kaiser/Steinmacher/Deiss)
6. Les Melting Potes (Laghi/Langlois/Frattini)
7. Red Fox Tide 4 Fun (Coppens/Govaert)
8. Motobel (Charles-Artigues/Sardi)
9. German Guzzi Classic Team (Boos/Nerge/Pfautch)
10 Team Segale Classic (Tossolini/Germann/Bertschinger)
11 DuDu Team (Dumont/Duvernay/Mignot)
12 Poweracing Japauto Club (Jaubert/Sauve)
13 AML Racing (Weber/ d'Imbleval)
14 Capelli Belli (Struck/Sieg/Bohmhauer)
15 Team Carlains (Bisconti/Carlini)

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