Suzuki Endurance Racing Team's Alex Cudlin celebrates the team's 13th Endurance World Championship at Le Mans. PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF SUZUKI RACING
For most of the factory World Endurance teams this year’s 36th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was a race of crashes and mechanical woes. But for the SRC Kawasaki team of Gregory Leblanc, Fabien Forêt, Nicolas Salchaud it was the joy of victory with the team taking its fourth win in the prestigious endurance race.
Although the SRC Kawasaki team won the battle, it was the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT) of Vincent Philippe, Julien Da Costa and Alex Cudlin that won the war, the trio giving the team its 13th World Endurance Championship title.
That victory was hard-fought as SERT was one of the many teams to fall victim to crash and mechanical woes. Despite setting the pace early, SERT’s Philippe crashed and although it was just a lowside the bike suffered engine cooling problems that forced a complete engine rebuild.
“We are disappointed because I wanted it all,” said Dominique Méliand, the SERT team manager. “I wanted to win the title and the race. I started out in endurance in 1969 and I have learned that you must never give up. The crew were just great. When I said we would have to take the engine out to fix a cylinder head seal, no one said a thing even though we weren’t sure it would work. But it held for over 20 hours.”
Just under an hour and 15 minutes later, the SERT team rejoined the race in 54th place and was able to fight its way back to a 12th-place finish and secure the 2013 championship by five points over the Yamaha GMT 94 team.
Also falling victim to early race crashes was Foret on the winning SRC Kawasaki team and David Checa on the Yamaha GMT 94 team. So the top three spots in the first five hours went to the factory teams of BMW Motorrad France Team Thevent (Sylvain Barrier, Josh Waters and Sébastien Gimbert) in first, Monster Energy Yamaha YART (Broc Parkes, Josh Hayes and Igor Jerman) in second, and Honda TT Legends (Michael Rutter, Michael Dunlop and Simon Andrews) in third.
A group crash just short of the Musee would end the Honda TT Legends team’s hope of a podium finish as their rider Andrews was seriously injured and the bike was too badly damaged to continue. According to a statement made by the team, Andrews suffered two broken legs, broken ribs, a punctured lung and several fractured vertebra in the crash and was undergoing surgery on his leg.
Three-time AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes’ Monster Energy Yamaha YART team also had to drop out of the race a little after the halfway mark, losing their podium position and championship title due to a mechanical issue.
Also falling victim to mechanical woes, the BMW Motorrad Team Thevent had led the race for nine hours, but had to retire due to a problem with the gearshift mechanism.
The SRC Kawasaki rebounded from its early race crash and took advantage of the Team Thevant mechanical woes and took the lead. Finishing behind them in second was the R2CL team of Guy Martin, Gwen Giabbani and Dylan Buisson. The privateer Suzuki team ran a great race, finishing seven laps behind the SRC Kawasaki team while holding off the Yamaha GMT 94 team of David Checa, Kenny Foray and Matthieu Lagrive who fought back from crashes and gearbox issues to finish in third.
Jason Pridmore’s BMW Penz13.com team was another mechanical casualty and had to withdraw before the seven-and-a-half-hour mark.