Suzuki Endurance Racing Team Manager Dominque Meliand reflects on the 2012 World Endurance Championship season that saw the French GSX-R1000-mounted team clinch its 12th World Title after one of closest and most-exciting finishes in the series history at the Le Mans 24-Hour race in France.
The 2012 World Endurance Championship season ended with a perfect outcome for SERT but it was not without its ups and downs.
For the opening Bol d'Or race, we had prepared in meticulous detail as the Magny-Cours track is very trying on machinery and also riders. It's a closed, short layout which leaves little time for pilots to recover within a lap.
The beginning of the race was excellent for us; after the first three rider stints, we had already opened up a reasonable lead from our competitors. Unfortunately, there were a few raindrops and Vincent Philippe fell and broke his collarbone while coming back to the pits in order to change tyres. In spite of his injury, he got the machine back to the pits before he had to withdraw from the race. I decided to continue and finish the race with two riders, even though there were 22 hours left. It was a daring bet but Anthony Delhalle and Fabien Foret believed it was possible to finish the race with two riders; a feat that is not normal in a 24 hour race, and their great achievement was recognised by all the other teams as they came home in second position.
The second race at Doha in Qatar was held in very high temperatures. During the month of June the temperature is close to 50° C during the day and so the race took place entirely at night to benefit from milder temperatures. We arrived with a temporary second place in the Championship. Kawasaki, the series leader, was not participating, so we absolutely needed to reinforce this advantage by getting some additional points. But we suffered with some mechanical issues, which we still cannot explain, that led to two broken oil radiators.
However, the dexterity and the speed of all the technical team allowed us to limit our time in the pits making repairs. I'm lucky to have one of the best teams in World Endurance Championship; our people never give up and they have often reversed the course of Endurance history. We finished fourth at this race but we took the World Championship lead thanks to efficiency of our technical crew.
Suzuka in Japan was the third round: It's an excellent event and one we always want to win. We won this race once and each time we go to Suzuka, it's with a hope to get the victory again. The circuit is fabulous, the spectators are numerous with some 100,000 people. We had prepared well for the 8-Hour race: Big John, our engine specialist, stayed in Japan for all the month of July and went to Yoshimura in order to prepare the racing engines. Some other SERT people as well as the riders also moved to Japan mid-July to make some tests. The Team joker and our new rider, Yukio Kagayama is well known and a very popular rider, so to have him on the team was a great draw for the event.
The race was almost perfect for us. We remained in the top-three and was up to second and challenging for the lead when Vincent, who was returning from injury, fell in a fast curve and the second place disappeared. He brought the motorcycle back, but by the time we had repaired it, we had dropped down to 15th. It was a huge disappointment but on a positive, we still led the Championship.
For the fourth round at Oschersleben in Germany, everyone was determined to win. As usual, Vincent started very fast and wanted to prove that the Suzuka mistake had been forgotten and that only the result acceptable would be the top step of the podium. Anthony Delhalle and Yukio Kagayama confirmed this in an incident-free race that we won and increased our lead in the series.
It was all down to the final round at Le Mans, our home race - SERT is based in Le Mans - so the stakes were huge. We all wanted to win, but we couldn't make any mistakes. It was tempting to push for the race win, but played it safe and finished second, which was enough to secure our 12th World Endurance Championship victory.
Overall, it was a complicated season, a World Title won with tenth of seconds, but a superb victory which reflects on all the people who worked so hard for this. Dunlop made huge efforts to find tyres able to overcome the competitors, Motul put all its energy into an outstanding lubricant guaranteeing the right working of the engine during the 24 hours of the race, and all our partners - Yoshimura, Bihr and Moteo - worked miracles, so a big thank you to them. Now, we cannot wait for the 2013 season to start.
Communication Team Suzuki - www.suzuki-racing.com -