TEAM Force survived the battle of attrition at Donington Park this weekend to take the four-hour endurance win while early leaders Neate Racing were forced to retire.
Following a victory at the event last year, after which they went on to take the European Classic Endurance title, Sam and dad John Neate, along with third rider Bob Collins, were hungry for another win on home soil.
But a back-to-back win wasn’t to be for the family team, as bike issues forced them out of contention while the Belgian squad cruised to victory.
In the combined qualifying to determine the order of the endurance race’s traditional Le Mans-style start, Neate Racing powered to the top of the time sheets as they took the front grid spot ahead of Italy’s Team Taurus and Team Force.
The Harris Magnum Honda trio quickly grabbed the lead when the lights went out, leading Team Classic Suzuki for the first 30 laps. And despite popping into the pits and briefly relinquishing the lead to Team Scert, Neate Racing was back out front within just eight laps.
The Neates and Collins led Team Classic Suzuki for another 30 laps before former British Superbike champ John Reynolds nabbed the lead on the GSX1170, but moments later it was Team Force ahead of them all.
It looked to be a tight battle at the sharp end with just over 80 laps completed, but Neate Racing hit the deck while dicing with the Belgian squad, forcing a trip to the pits to assess and repair the damage.
The defending champs were back out on track soon after, but an oil leak from their crash led them to their ultimate retirement and handed Team Force a healthy lead.
From there, Stephane Mertens, Bruno le Bihan and Gian Mertens had no trouble taking the chequered flag after nearly 180 laps with over two laps to spare ahead of Pete Boast and Guy Martin on the Team Lincs Classic Suzuki, with the Moto Guzzi of French squad Motobel rounding out the podium.
Team Force team boss Christian Hames admits his squad’s plan and following it was a key to their success at the weekend.
“This was one of the toughest endurance races in the world, as many riders are ex/still at the top of EWC, SBK, BSK and IRRC,” he said.
“After the misfortune at Le Castellet, the motorcycle was rebuilt from A to Z and made its first rounds on the Donington Park circuit with very little tuning information. A huge thank you to Harris Performance technicians for their help in rebuilding the frame.
“We were unable to perform free runs, so made the decision to make our chassis adjustments during the unique drivers qualification at the expense of pure time.
“The drivers and mechanics did a great job and followed a perfect race plan.”
*Images: Paul Soulby