On the last weekend of May 2019, I finally took part in my first competitive motorcycle race. It would be a 2-hour Endurance race held by Valentinos Motorsports, organized during the Swiss National Championship weekend at Dijon-Prenois, in France.
We arrived on Thursday night to prepare for our 3-day race weekend, convinced that we were going to encounter many showers and wet weather; I had the rain tires at the ready.
Apart from the race, the weekend was organized like a normal track-day event, with track time split into sessions and groups. There were occasional long pauses for the Swiss National Championship qualifying and race events, which allowed us to rest and enjoy some of the action.
This would be the first time I visited Dijon-Prenois, so I spent the Friday getting to grips with the track. The track layout may appear simple and easy, and it doesn’t take long to remember where you are on track, but it’s far trickier to understand than I anticipated.
The corners are long, generally fast, and there are essentially no straights apart from the start-finish line. Each corner is linked which means that any slight mistake is carried with you for a few corners. This also meant that it took me most of the day to figure out the fastest line, which was probably still far from optimal by the end of the weekend.
The ondulation of the track also causes many of the apexes to be blind; a bit of courage is required through many of these sections.
This was race-day, so I did a couple of morning sessions to warm-up and further improve my lap times. Over lunch, I swapped some fresh tires on and scrubbed them in during a quick session before the race.
Overall the race was going to be quite simple; 2 hours split between 2 riders which equated to 2 easy 30 minute sessions each. Michael and I had never been in a race setting so naturally, we were both nervous but excited about racing head to head with others.
Before the race, we discussed our strategy and figured out how we would go about the race. I would start and do the first 30 minutes and then we would alternate over 3 pit-stops until the end. Michael would finish the race.
The pit-stops would be controlled by the rider in the pits; at each 30-minute interval, the rider on track would be called in via the pit-board. The pit call had to be acknowledged by lowering your leg and then the other rider could go and prepare his bike for the stint.
We would each ride our own bike and the rider changes were performed by transferring an armband. We didn’t really have any sort of race equipment like a pit-board, so we had to fashion one out of 2 pizza boxes from the night before.
The starting position was set by the fastest times of each team over the previous 2 days. My 1:30.058 managed to get us 27th out of the 40 starting teams; the competition was tough.
Like many endurance races organized in Europe, a LeMans start was used to kick-off the race. I would be starting the race, so I would have to run across the track and jump on the bike.
It never really crossed my mind to practice this before, as it seemed very straight forward, but in the heat of the moment, it sure seems to take forever.
My plan was to leave the bike in 1st gear but right before the start, I discovered that I couldn’t start the bike as I’d removed the clutch switch. I would need to start the race in Neutral and flip it into gear.
On top of this, I didn’t think about leaving the ignition on, which all combined meant that my start was atrocious. Not as straight forward as I thought.
I took it easy on my first competitive lap on track but I tried to minimize the damage after my terrible start. After no first-lap mishaps, I got into it and built up a rhythm. After a few battles and eventually being caught up and lapped by the leaders in the SBK class, my 30 minutes were up. Michael waved me in with the pizza boxes, to which I was quite relieved.
A half-hour of racing was far more strenuous than a 30-minute track day session. You’re pushing from lap 1 to the end and I was a lot more exhausted than I would normally be, clearly highlighting my lack of fitness.
A few small crashes and retirements allowed us to move up the running order a bit, surprising after only such a short time.
I believe our first attempt at a competitive pit stops went rather well, as Michael was able to quickly remove and put on the armband as I helped him and was on his way in no time.
Michael’s stint also went without a hitch and he maintained our position over the course of the 30 minutes.
Another easy pit stop and I was ready to do the last 30 minutes for myself, which was quickly interrupted by a large collision between 2 riders requiring the use of a safety car; another first for me.
I tried to keep the tires warm as the incident took many laps to clear, but I had no idea if what I was doing was actually working. After roughly 6-7 minutes we were able to go racing again.
About 15 minutes later into my stint another big crash, happening right in front of me as a rider lost the front in turn 1; the GoPro at this time stopped recording.
A second safety car came out and to be honest, I was somewhat relieved. I’d underestimated my fuel consumption during the first stint, basing it off more relaxed track-day sessions and not racing stints, and the fuel light had come on. Additionally, I was hot and exhausted and it felt good to cool down for a few laps before Michael waved me in for the final pit-stop of the race.
Over the course of the race, a large number of teams dropped out, primarily from crashes, which meant we’d reached a top 18 position at this point.
Michael performed another flawless stint and maintained position giving us an 18th place finish, after starting from 27th.
The race was a great experience and little taster of how a longer endurance race may be run.
The day after the race we still had another eventful Sunday, with a few sessions and the opportunity to watch further Swiss National Championship races.
I managed to push a bit harder too and improved my personal best to a 1:29.337.