DEFENDING European Classic Series champions Neate Racing got their title defence off to a strong start yesterday as they took victory in round one during the Endurance Legends event at Donington Park.
ONLY 27 of the 50 teams that started Sunday’s four-hour endurance at Donington Park finished the race, and father John Neate, along with brothers Sam and Steve Neate, led the charge after 175 laps.
After Saturday’s three qualifying sessions in mixed weather conditions, each team’s average fastest lap was calculated to determine the lineup for the Le Mans-style start, putting Team Alfs in first position, followed by Belgian juggernauts Team Force and UK stalwarts Sweatshop Phase One, then Team Monex Edge RST, Neate Racing and Team Classic Suzuki completing the top six.
When the starting gun went off on Sunday, it was the 2016 season finale winners of Team Force that thundered into the lead aboard their Suzuki GHX F-1, with the No.3 Sweatshop Phase One Suzuki following closely behind and Team Taurus nipping at the heels of second.
Unfortunately for ex-Grand Prix rider Steve Parrish, former British Superbike Champion James Whitham, and Thundersport racer Michael Neeves from that other publication, Whitham cocked up on the very first lap with a spill heading onto the Wheatcroft Straight and the damage to the previously-immaculate Team Classic Suzuki Katana ruled the trio out of the race virtually before it had begun.
Neate Racing had work to do as they fought to keep up during the opening laps, and from lap 30 the family-run team were eyeing up a nearly one-minute deficit to leaders Team Force. Team Alfs, Sweatshop Phase One, SCERT and Team Edge Monex RST all took jabs at third place as the Neates crept their way back up to the front.
On lap 61, the Belgian duo fell victim to the Englishmen who snatched the lead, but it remained so for only three laps before their Harris Honda Magnum required a pit stop and Force were back out in front.
When Neate Racing emerged from the pits, it was the No.3 of Sweatshop Phase One who they had to contend with for the runner-up spot, but on lap 76 the first team of two retired, leaving their No.4 bike the only contender left in the race.
The remaining Sweatshop bike took over second place on lap 81, but the Neates regained momentum after a vital pit stop and levered them back to third on lap 86, where they remained for the next 26 laps.
What was meant to be a routine trip to the pits on lap 113 for Team Force turned into an extended stay, and when they emerged three laps later, first place was over seven minutes out of reach.
Just under two minutes off the lead were second-place runners Sweatshop Phase One, with Team Taurus and SCERT battling for third. But when Sweatshop contributed to the 46 percent attrition rate just 20 laps from the finish, Taurus was promoted to second with SCERT rounding out the rostrum just behind.
Neate Racing was never troubled after the Team Force retirement as they took the chequered flag over six minutes and four laps ahead of Team Taurus, with SCERT just 14 seconds adrift on the final step of the podium.
Early rostrum prospects Team Alfs and Team Edge Monex RST both fell down the order due to machine issues – while the former retired in the pits on lap 107 following a crash and irreparable damage, the latter developed a chronic misfire, but salvaged an 8th-in-class finish at the flag.
The European Classic Series now heads to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps at the end of June for the annual Biker’s Classic and round two of the 2017 campaign.
*Images: Ian Boldy