ENDURANCE LEGENDS KICKS OFF
175 laps (and more) of retro excellence
Track day organisers and self-confessed endurance racing nuts, Rob Beale and Darin Frow have long dreamed of holding a major endurance event in the UK, reminiscent of the golden years of the sport. In May, the plan happened – and it was cracking good fun.
Alow-key event was held in October 2015 at Snetterton, and such was the positive reaction that plans were put in place to organise a major weekend event with a four-hour endurance race at its core. Thus Endurance Legends was born. The CRMC agreed to provide the organisational back-up and in Donington Park sporting director, Bob Adams, Rob and Darin discovered a kindred spirit who, like them, believed that there was potentially a great appetite for a revived and refreshed endurance event. The dream became a reality at Donington on the weekend of May 6/7, with a superb event that incorporated Endurance, ICGP and Lansdowne racing plus a wide range of other motorcycle-related exhibits and activities, the cherry on the cake being none other than guest of honour Freddie Spencer. Unlike the experimental Snetterton race, this time it was a full-on event combining a large entry of UK teams with the first round of the 2017 FIM ECS (European Classic Series), meaning that the fastest and most professional teams in Europe were all present. A total of 53 teams were entered, of which 50 (the maximum allowed) began the race.
Interest was hugely stoked by the much publicised entry of the stunning Team Classic Suzuki GSX 1100 Katana, built in partnership between Suzuki GB Vintage Parts and Steve Wheatman’s Classic Suzuki Racing team. The even bigger news was that it was being ridden by retired British legends James Whitham and Steve Parrish, alongside Michael Neeves. Furthermore, they showed they were right on the pace by qualifying in sixth, with all three riders within three seconds of each other. Sunday afternoon witnessed the glorious sight of 50 machines lined up in the sunshine ready for the Le Mans style start and at precisely 15.00hrs they left the line for what turned out to be a drama-packed four hours. Before most could even set their stopwatches sensational news came through that Whitham, who was intent on taking an early lead, had crashed the Suzuki heavily at Roberts Chicane. The mortified former Superbike, Super sport and GP star walked backed to the nearby pits only to discover that the team had been excluded for the rider not remaining with the bike, as required by the event regs. Discussions were underway to run the Katana on a non-points scoring basis but when it was returned to the garage it was discovered to be too badly damaged to continue. On news of the crash a few moments of disbelief and disappointment descended upon the gathered thousands but endurance racing is about more than just one team and very quickly the race settled into an enthralling battle with the UK Legends teams, many of them well known CRMC names on 600/750cc Formula 2 machines, mixing it with the super-rapid ECS bikes.
For the first half of the race it wasteam Force (Gregory Fastre/bruno Le Bihan, Harris F1 Suzuki 1100) and fastest qualifiers, Team Alfs (Michael Godfrey/spike Edwards/john Barton, P&M Kawasaki 1100) leading the field but as the final hour loomed both teams hit major problems and it began to look like the overall win would come down to Sweatshop Phase One’s premier team of Peter Linden/ Ian Simpson (P&M Suzuki) or the 2016 ECS champions, Neate Racing (John, Steve and Sam Neate, Harris Magnum Honda 1123), with SCERT (Steve Boam/steve Clark/jonathan Lodge, Harris Suzuki XR69) and Italy’s Team Taurus (Giorgio Cantalupo/caprara Sandro/ Alejandro Martinez Mas, Suzuki XR69) also in the reckoning. As the final 40-minute shifts began we learned that the Neate Honda had lost its third gear but the Sweatshop Phase One Suzuki was in even more trouble and a desperately disappointed Simpson was forced into parking the badly smoking bike in front of the main grandstands with just 20 minutes to go. John Neate duly nursed the big Honda home to take the chequered flag with 175 laps, four laps ahead of Teamtaurus and SCERT – a victory that was nothing like as comfortable as the margin suggested. As with all endurance races, there were tales of disappointment and bad luck and also of good fortune and great achievement. Among the latter were CRMC stalwarts, Liam Mccarter and Derek Cripps, who took their Superstock GSX-R Suzuki 750 to F.2/750TT victory and, incredibly, fifth place overall, leaving many of Europe’s leading ECS teams in their wake. In the same class it was young Lansdowne regulars Sam Clews and Sam Rhodes, teamed up with Richard Ellis, who took an heroic second place on their virtually standard VFR Honda 750, an achievement that saw them chosen by Bob Adams to receive the Spirit of Endurance trophy. Among other notable rides were QRG Motorcycles (Nigel Palmer/ Konstantin Moraglis/dan Walling) who took their BMW R90 to Classic class victory on the BMW R90 and third place in the F2 for Alan Oversby and Norway’s Anders Helgerud on the Davies Motorsport CB500/4RR Honda.
James Whitham (blue leathers) braces himself for the Le Mans start. Sadly, it was to be a brief appearance, much to the disappointment of the watching thousands.
It’s 3pm on a gloriously sunny Donington Park Sunday afternoon and the race is underway.
Below: Apart from the crash helmets it could be the start of a 1960s GP as the Lansdowne field leaves the grid. Leading the charge are the Manx Nortons of Glen English (25), Chris Firmin (1), Dean Stimpson (78), Chris Bassett (64) and Mike Russell (68).
Left: Legendary British Endurance outfit, Sweatshop Phase One, were the only entrant fielding two teams but mechanical issues meant that neither of their P&M Suzukis made it to the finish. horribly wrong in the race as Whitham crashed at Roberts Chicane on the opening lap.
Above: Steve Parrish (pictured), James Whitham and Michael Neeves qualified the Team Classic Suzuki Katana in to an impressive sixth place but things went
Left: Phil Atkinson (Veryard Harris TZ350) on his way to victory in the first ICGP race.
Above: Pit lane commentator Jono Yardley grabs a few words with Nigel Palmer of the QRG Motorcycles team (Palmer/konstantin Moraglis/dan Walling).they had a successful race, eventually running out as Classic class winners on their BMW R90.
Left: Warner Racing (Sam Rhodes/sam Clews/ Richard Ellis) had no previous endurance experience yet rode their virtually standard Honda VFR750 to eighth overall/ second Formula 2.This included pushing in for fuel with just 10 minutes of the race remaining.
It’s lap 11 of the second ICGP race and leader Phil Atkinson flies over the top as the rear wheel locks up on the TZ350 at Roberts Chicane. Atkinson suffered a damaged shoulder as a result of this scary-looking crash.
Right: With a slightly wistful-looking Freddie Spencer in the wings, Neate Racing (Steve, Sam and John) proudly pose with their racewinning 1979 Honda Harris Magnum Mk1 1123.
Right: In goes the fuel on the Amici Miei 1983 Ducati 750 TT. Unfortunately the Italian team (Giancarlo Maestrini/roberto Catani/giorgio Gabellini) went out after 92 laps.
Left: Alan Oversby and the Davies Motorsport Honda CB500/4R are a familiar sight at CRMC events and the Classic TT but the little Honda is probably not everyone’s idea of your typical endurance racer. However, Oversby and Norwegian Anders Helgerud, who had never previously met, took the bike to a superb tenth place overall and third in Formula 2.
Above: Formula 2 winners Liam Mccarter and Derek Cripps (FB Racing GSX-R750) receive their awards from guest of honour, Freddie Spencer.
Below: Endurance Legends organisers Rob Beale and Darin Frow look content with the outcome of their months of hard work at the post-race presentations.