Report from Rob McDonnell
He may be semi-retied these days, but reigning British champion John Mitchell upheld national honour at the grueling 12 hour Pont de Vaux classic in France on Sunday, winning a heat and securing second overall in some of the worst conditions in living memory.
Despite only having a handful of races this year, the Yamaha mounted Scot, who was won the event twice before in 2004/05, was in imperious form as part of the slick French-based TR Racing team.
“I’m absolutely delighted with that. Racing is just a hobby for me these days,” admitted Mitchell. “So, to get a podium in a race like this is fantastic.”
The squad, which also included Thomas Remacle of Belgium and Yohanne Gillouin of France, won the opening three-hour race on Saturday, a race that ended in chaos after heavy rain arrived half way through, forcing the red flag to come out with around 15 minutes left to go. With conditions so bad many riders did not see the red flags and carried on for several more laps!
In the opening hour it was the Can-Am team of Warnia/Zimmerman/Frederick that swapped the lead throughout, with the Yamaha outfit if Couprie/Maessen/Montabani. However, once the rain arrived in force, several teams moved into contention, including the French team of Ciclet/Magnin/Ramel on a Suzuki and Mitchell’s outfit, making it a four-way battle at the front.
The order at the red flag was Mitchell, Ciclet, Warnia, Couprie.
The second five hour race on Saturday night was even worse, with the track treacherously wet and with most of the race run in the dark it made the machine’s lights almost useless.
Officials had taken the unusual step of letting teams have their machines back after the first race to clean their lights and make sure they were working properly. Quads usually stay in a parc ferme between races and have to start as they finished the previous race. However, most lights were largely ineffective in the early stages.
Fortunately no more rain meant the worst of wet mud was skimmed off the surface, but deep ruts that could not be seen caused many problems.
Mitchell’s team ended sixth after an accident in the poor conditions.
“I went into the hairpin at the end of the main straight and someone hit me from behind and pushed me into the slop at the side of the track. I lost a lot of time trying to pull it out again,” he said.
Mitchell went into the final four hour race on Sunday in fifth place overall, four laps behind the leader, and only had an outside chance of a podium, with four strong teams ahead of him. However the grueling nature of the event played into his hands.
First Romain Couprie’s Yamaha, the winner for the last two-years, blew up at half distance as he battled for the lead, which effectively put Mitchell’s team in the battle for third.
Then, with just 15 minutes to go, the leaders, Ternynck/Cheurlin/Jay, blew their motor on the flat out main straight with victory in site. It was a bitter blow for Ternynck, who has been runner up the last two years.
Their demise handed victory to Ciclet/Magin/Ramel, who posted 185 laps in total, with Mitchell’s team doing 180, with the Suzuki of Mangeot/Legendre/Hatout sneaking into third, 48 seconds behind them.
European champion Jeremie Warnia’s hopes were ended in race two when one of his American team-mates crashed their Can-Am and repairs took several laps.
The hopes of the British Rocketman racing team of Carl Bunce/Chris Cooper/Ricky Tordoff however were dashed during the night race. They had gone into the event as one of the pre-race favourites, after third overall last year, and in the opening race they finished in seventh and were still very much in the hunt. However, in race two, as Bunce closed in on the leaders and was setting some of the fastest laps of the night, disaster struck.
“A guy came out of the pitlane and decided to race me to the next corner, where he just took me out,” said Bunce, whose LT-R Suzuki was left with a broken steering column. Bunce pushed back in the dark for repairs, but lost 12 laps before returning down in 73rd place. They climbed back up to 52nd by the end of race two, then eventually to a highly creditable 12th overall, after finishing the final race in fourth. Despite the breakdown they still ended as the highest placed British team. The next highest was their Rocketman Suzuki stable mates, Chris Murphy/Ant Barrett/Geoff Sharp, who managed three mechanically trouble free races to secure 16th spot overall, one better than their previous best of 2011.
The veterans, who all ride in the Masters class with the NORA club, were all keen to beat the all Scottish team of fellow vet Ian Neill, chairman of the QRS club in Scotland, who was riding with youngsters Leon Beda and Scott Sinclair.
They won the “sportsman bet” with Neill’s outfit coming in a fine 25th on a ten year old Laeger Yamaha Banshee up against the modern four-strokes.
“I rode it at Le Touquet, then I’ve rebuilt it from the bottom up.” said Neill. “It didn’t miss a beat all race.”
Indeed in the opening race Beda, the fastest member of the squad, almost had it in the top ten in the opening hour, a testament to man and machine!
The third Rocketman Suzuki squad of youngsters Laurence Stopps/Aaron Pole/Jak Griffiths were delighted with their debut Pont de Vaux, ending in 27th place out of 104 starters. Again their Suzuki ran faultlessly and their only hitch came in race one when officials gave them a lengthy stop-go penalty as a punishment for missing their scrutineering slot by two hours.
The next best British team on race results was the Honda mounted trio of John McKnight/Steve Atkins/Rob Bassett, who put in some strong rides, with 21st in race one, 41st in race two, after a night time collision with a bale meant a tie rod and brake cable needed to be replaced, then 36th in race three. However, despite being classified in all three races, they have not been included in the overall classification, because it is claimed they did not ‘cross the line properly’. It is unsure at the time of going to press the outcome of this matter.
The Honda of Jon and Ben Morgan/Andrew Downes ended a lowly 63rd after a string of problems. In race two an electrical short caused countless problems, finally forcing them to strap a torch to the handlebars to finish the race! Then in the third they had a valve tighten in Parc Ferme and had to push to pit lane to effect repairs while the race as running, before they could start.
The much-heralded entry of former PDV winners Richard Cole and Paul Winrow, along with PDV podium finisher Stuart Walker on a newly built Banshee was popular, (especially with the French), but not too successful. They ended 81st overall after overheating in race one, sitting out an hour of race two until the conditions improved, then a sick motor in race three.
Youngsters Jack Naylor/Thomas Downes and Liam Garbett – the youngest team in the race, with Naylor only recently turned 15, had a baptism of fire, ending 89th, largely due to a battery problem in race two, then blown rings in race three.
Northern Ireland’s Emma McQuaid, riding in a European all female team, impressed in the opening race, getting her Can-Am up to 26th in her opening stint, before her team-mates dropped them back to 36th. However, they didn’t make race two after the engine blew-up in the slow down lap in the hands of her Belgian team-mate.
RESULTS: 1 Yoann Cicket/Yann Magnin/FlorianRamel (Suzuki) 185 laps, 2 John Mitchell/Thomas Ramacle/Yohanne Gillouin (Yamaha) 180 laps, 3 Florian Mangeot/Etienne Legendre/Julien Hartout (Suzuki) 180 laps, 4 Jeremia Warnia/Josh Frderick/Ty Zimmerman (Can-Am) 177 laps, 5 Arnaud Thiry/ Guy Meertens/Valentin Renson (Yamaha) 177 laps, 6 Thibault Lefrancois/Samuel Blancke/Thibault Barthe (Yamaha) 172 laps.
Source: Quad Magazine Press Release
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