The 79th running of the iconic Bol d’Or proved to be a weekend of highs and lows for the Prime Factors Racing team. After securing their best FIM Endurance World Championship qualifying position and comfortably running in the overall top 15, a problem with the sprocket necessitated two lengthy pit stops and eventually forced them out of the running. Despite the disappointment, the team leave in high spirits having proven their capabilities on the world stage.
With neither of the four riders having ridden the iconic Paul Ricard circuit before, the Prime Factors Racing team utilised Wednesday’s test day to full effect – despite an early crash from Barry Burrell and minor machine troubles. Although it was a damp start to Thursday’s first official session, the sun soon appeared and the circuit dried which allowed all four riders to improve their times.
Opening qualifying sessions saw Gary Mason, who is still struggling with the shoulder injury sustained at Oschersleben, out first, finishing his session 11th in the Superstock class. Barry was next out, securing an eighth place finish in the class with 24 hour newcomer Lee Johnston going third. Despite having not ridden the Prime Factors BMW S1000RR before this weekend, Lee flew during his opening session to finish third in the Superstock class and an impressive eighth overall. Although having less experience than his team mates, Stefan Capella was fourth out and despite the sun setting was able to lap just shy of the previous three, finishing his session fourth in class.
Increased temperatures for the second and final qualifying sessions on Friday saw all four again improve their lap times, with Gary finishing eighth in class, Lee fifth and Stefan in fourth. However it was Barry Burrell who set the team’s fastest time in his session, lapping a stunning 2:00.903 circulation which was good enough for second in class and ninth overall. After combining best lap times, the Prime Factors Racing team would start the 79th Bol d’Or event from 13th place overall and fifth in the Superstock class.
Following warm up, the team made the difficult decision of deciding the three riders to compete in the race, eventually choosing Lee, Barry and Gary. With tens of thousands of fans packing the 5.8km circuit, the excitement was palpable as Lee took to the grid to start the race. Featuring a traditional ‘Le Mans’ start, he flew through the pack to be running top ten on the opening lap. Maintaining this position for the opening hour, he completed his stint in tenth place and fourth overall. Barry took over from Lee to go out second before Gary went out third.
By hour six, a quarter of the way through the race, darkness had fallen across the circuit and the Prime Factors Racing trio were holding 14th overall and 7th in the Superstock class. Maintaining position through the night, as dawn broke Lee Johnston proved the capabilities of the Prime Factors Racing Superstock BMW S1000RR by lapping faster than anyone else on track.
Disaster struck in hour 17 however as a nut on the front sprocket sheared off, leaving Barry without any gearing. Pushing the BMW back to the garage, the Prime Factors Racing team were able to get the bike repaired in under ten minutes and Lee took over to again run as one of the fastest guys on track. Disaster struck a second time just half an hour later as Lee was forced to a stop along the back straight. With the machine being returned to the garage, the team decided to weld the bike in an attempt to cure the problem however after a short stint from Gary Mason it was deemed too dangerous to continue and the team decided to withdraw from the race.
Despite the bitter disappointment, the Prime Factors Racing team leave the Bol d’Or in high spirits having shown their sheer speed and proving they are capable of challenging at the front. The team now look towards the 2016 FIM World Endurance Championship where they will enter the Superbike category as well as making their debut at the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT races.
Speaking after a disappointing end to the weekend, Team Manager Steve Plater concluded, “Obviously we’re all very disappointed to be leaving the Paul Ricard circuit without a finish, but it has been mega to see the Bol d’Or back to its best in front of a massive crowd.
The team has worked hard throughout the entire week and didn’t deserve that – we’re a new team though and we only need to look up and down pit lane to see how many bigger teams have suffered similar fates during the race. This weekend was a bit of a test for me to see how things work ahead of next year, we had a few new members in the team, some of whom are completely new to racing, so there was a bit of a learning curve. I’m impressed with how everyone worked though, especially the riders. It’s difficult when we have four fast riders but only three capable of racing.
The race went well and Lee was particularly impressive, lapping as the fastest person on circuit on a number of occasions. Unfortunately a small oil leak finished our race just hours from the end. We’ll now head back and focus on our plans for 2016.”