24 Hours of Le Mans motorcycles: behind closed doors, BMW and Ducati dream of breaking Japanese hegemony – sport24

This weekend in the Sarthe, the two brands are going to storm an event dominated by Japanese machines

The Japanese manufacturers still present, BMW in trouble and Ducati as a newcomer: the 43rd edition of the 24 heures Motos will be without an audience but not without a show this weekend on the Bugatti circuit in Le Mans. In the absence of the public for the first time since the creation of the event in 1978 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, only the athlete will count, from Saturday to Sunday, far from the "popular festival" that is d usual event, in the words of the president of the Automobile club de l'Ouest, Pierre Fillon.

The field is also tightened: 39 motorcycles will be at the start, against a small sixty usually. On paper, Japanese machines are favorites. The victory has never escaped them: fourteen titles for Kawasaki, twelve for Honda and Suzuki and four for Yamaha. Victorious last year, the Kawasaki N.1 has also renewed its crew, made up of the French Jérémy Guarnoni and Erwan Nigon and the Spanish veteran David Checa.

Yamaha still dominant in practice

On Thursday, another Japanese motorcycle, the Yamaha N.7, proved to be the most comfortable: best time during the two free practice sessions as well as during the first qualifying session … even if the rain disrupted it and distorted the results, which should be different in the second qualifying session on Friday afternoon. Another Yamaha, the N.77 of the Polish team Wojcik, will want to repeat the feat that saw it, almost a year ago, take second place in the Bol d'Or, the other great race of 24 hours of motorcycle endurance, canceled this year. Discreet eighth in the first qualifying session, the Honda N.5 woke up with the second fastest time in the second free practice session, run at night.

And it will be necessary, as every year, to be wary of the Suzuki N.2 of SERT. Ten times winner of the Le Mans event and fifteen times world endurance champion, the French team would pay a tribute to its recently retired founder, Dominique Méliand, who will start the race on Saturday at 10am GMT. Suzuki also leads the world championship, 15 points ahead of BMW.

BMW as an outsider, Ducati to discover

The German team, in fact, can nurture legitimate ambitions to finally dethrone the Japanese manufacturers. Third in the Bol d'Or and in the other event contested this season, the eight hours of Sepang, the N.37 will aim a little higher on Sunday. Behind these five manufacturers, a newcomer could create a surprise: Ducati, which for the first time lines up an official motorcycle in a 24-hour race.

The crew, formed by the three-time winner (2010 to 2012) Julien Da Costa, whose last 24 Hours will be, ex-MotoGP rider Randy de Puniet and Manceau Louis Rossi, winner on the same Moto3 circuit in 2012, is described as an “ideal trio”, for the team coordinator, Jean-Michel Pfrimmer. The bike, which has never run a 24 hour race, is not immune to beginner's mistakes … nor beginner's luck. Twice second on Kawasaki then Honda, Randy de Puniet also warns: "It's endurance, nothing is ever played (…) There will be surprises", he told AFP. His teammate Julien Da Costa agrees: “I have never known a 24 hour race without a grain of sand”. Experience shows that in endurance, anything can happen. It is this same experience which, in the race, can make all the difference.

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