11-12 SEPTEMBER 1999
BOL D'OR 1999 - PAUL RICARD
There is no other country in the world where Endurance racing is so popular as in France. The Bol is THE 24 hour race of the year and it was a brave step of Laverda to enter this race, where qualifying can already be seen as a major accomplishment.
We had several years of experience at 24 hours of Francorchamps, which is also a very fast track, and which demands the absolute maximum of both rider and machine, more so than Paul Ricard.
At Francorchamps though, cornering can make up for the lack of top speed a lot more than at Paul Ricard, where sheer top speed is a very important factor and we all know that this isn't the Formula's strongest asset...
Also the many R6 Yamaha,s GSXR 600 Suzuki's, CBR 600 Honda's couldn't mix with the Superbikes (the usual exceptions excluded of course) so the Laverda was in good company.
The Laverda Corse team consisted of a nice mix of Italians, French, German and Dutch, which made conversations an equally interesting mix of languages. Sometimes I realised that I was speaking Dutch or German to French team doctor Paul Marx - one can get confused... there was good understanding when it mattered though!
There were only few new faces such as rider Angelo Conti, an experienced international Supersport 600 rider. This very Angelo was the one that proved to play a crucial role in the race because it was this pilot who had never run a Laverda before, yet he was the one that made the fastest lap times on the orange/blue Formula.
It was my task to record the lap times so I spent most of the time in the 'hut' on the guard rail together with Doris, equipped with stop watch, pen paper and equipment to show lap times to the riders. I also assisted in determining the length of each session and other things.
The time keepers
The French 'Zone Rouge' team was very much on a par with us. I think that the Italian riders were potentially faster but the French had had been practising at Paul Ricard the whole week so they were more experienced on this track and had more time to find the right set-up of the suspension. We only had the free practice sessions on Thursday to sort the suspension out and to let the riders get acquainted with the race track.
More good times...
Conti lapped 2:11 on Thursday and 2:13 on Friday and the French fastest rider lapped 2:13 on Thursday and 2:11 on Friday... Yet they were a few hundreds of a second quicker than we were. The fastest lap was 1: 57 and was put on the clocks by the factory Honda RC45.
At the almost 2 km long mistral straight, the Laverda managed a creditable 237 km/h. The honda factory bike reached 298km/h....
Both Laverda teams were pretty nervous because there were 77 entries for 70 machines that are allowed at the start. My calculations showed that if all 77 bikes qualified, then the last Supersport bike would not start. Since the Laverdas were at the back of the pack, it looked like it would be either the French Laverda or the Laverda Corse Laverda that would be allowed at the starting grid.... A miracle happened though. There was a Suzuki GSXR 600 team that suddenly appeared behind us after the last qualifying session. Indeed this bike was removed from the Supersport class and the two Laverdas could actually start the race! You can imagine what a relief that was!
2 Laverdas at the start of the 63rd Bol d'Or.
So there we were, at the starting grid in the hot sun with cheering crowds waiting for the big moment, the start of the 63rd Bol d'Or.
The bike ran very well, just like at Francorchamps. Riders Giovanni Valtulini, Angelo Conti and Alessandro Pizzagalli marched up the scoreboard in rapid pace, reaching 5th spot in Supersport class and 40th overall.
Above: three pictures of Alessandro Pizzagalli in action (Copyright all pictures: Marnix van der Schalk)
The 'Zone Rouge' team with riders William Rubio, Gilles Salvador and Rudy Servol were plagued with technical trouble and had to quit the race early in the evening.
Valtulini had a bad day. He did not manage to get into a rhythm, whereas Alessandro Pizzagalli and Angelo Conti were enjoying themselves and were riding flat schemes at good pace. They both let my stopwatch stop at 2:12 during their daytime stints, in the dark they were 2 seconds slower.
In the course of the evening, Gianni Valtulini finally found his rhythm too and he all of a sudden did many laps of 2:14 and 2:15. Then at 10.30 PM we missed the dark howl of the Laverda... Where is he? Did we miss him? Then the speaker reports that number 79 has crashed.
Bad times... Valtulini brings the crashed Laverda back to the pits.
10 minutes later, Valtulini returned to the pits with a damaged, yet running, Laverda. It took Gijs van Dijk and the factory mechanics Marco, Romano and Gianni not more than 17 minutes to fix the bike, which job included the replacing of bodywork, oil coolers, clip on and other bits and pieces. When this job was ready, Angelo Conti jumped on the bike and with an applause of the crowd, the bike was rolled back into the pit lane.
After one and a half lap, we again missed the Laverda. There had been a big crash in which approximately 10 bikes had been involved. Pace cars came on the track immediately. There was no mention of the Laverda but since he had not passed the pits, the conclusion was easy.
Angelo Conti was brought to the hospital but fortunately he was not heavily injured. He was not able to push the bike back to the pits and so this was the end of the race for the Laverda Corse team. It's all in the game....
Reserve rider Ivo Belezza interviewed on French television.
I would like to thank the factory for showing the guts and the courage to participate in the toughest race of the year and for letting me be part of it! The premiere was certainly promising. That many appearances may follow!