2nd race - le mans (f)
May 15, 2004
Bonjour la France! After the spectacular start to the season in Daytona/USA, the BMW Motorrad BoxerCup is back with a flourish in the "Old World". After a real devil´s ride, the Austrian Thomas Hinterreiter of the BMW Motorrad Austria Team won over a distance of 71.06 kilometers ahead of Markus Barth (D) of the BMW Retail Subsidiaries Boxer Racing Team and Brian "Pit Bull" Parriott (USA), Team San José BMW. When Stéphane Mertens (B) rode into the gravel on the 12th lap, this cleared the path for his pursuer.
During the entire race, Hinterreiter fought hard duels with Panichi (99), Barth (6) and the Spaniard Fernandez (23), until he was finally able to break away from the leading group in the last third of the race, pulling away to an unstoppable victory. He took the cup from Grand-Prix legend Randy Mamola beaming with joy. Riders Markus Barth and Brian Parriott earned their podium places in a furiously battled virtuoso finale, and so the very same riders gained the top three places as did 2 months ago in Daytona - though this time in a different order. Now Hinterreiter takes over a solid lead in the total rankings with 45 points, ahead of Daytona winner Parriott (41 points) and professional motorcycle tester Barth (36 points).
The conditions could not have been more perfect for fans and riders at the legendary Circuit Bugatti of Le Mans. Glorious sunshine heated the new asphalt surface of the 4.180 metre circuit, improving tyre grip. The catastrophic rain battle of last season was a thing of the past.
Thomas Hinterreiter found the fastest line in the two qualifyings the previous day and thus took pole position. Alongside him, Stéphane Mertens (21) of the Team Bikerworld Nürburgring, Markus Barth (6) and Sébastien Legrelle (45) represented the BoxerCup establishment in full force. In front of a packed grandstand, the 29 flat-twin ´boxers´ set off on their wild stampede. The fans held their breath as Gwen Giabbani (71) launched into the race somewhat too vehemently and was forced to leave the track temporarily. Barth got off to a lightning start, though Legrelle (B) was quick to catch up with him.
"Four left-hand bends, nine right-hand bends, two full- throttle straights - the stop-and-go nature of this circuit demands a lot of the rider", commented Markus Barth. And suddenly a 13-metre wide track becomes a narrow passageway when 29 ´boxers´ are heading for the ideal line of the chicane. In particular Roberto "Panick" Panichi (99) - by his own admission a rider who prefers to brake late - caused a few stopped heartbeats amongst racing fans and fellow riders as he shot up from behind to make friendly contact with the man in front.
On the first few laps, Mertens pushed his way inexorably forward from fifth place, using even the tiniest gap to get past Hinterreiter, Barth and Legrelle. In the long drawn out Dunlop right-hand bend on the fifth lap, he then took Panichi too by choosing the faster line and held a virtually undisputed lead for the next few laps - until a visit to the gravel on lap 12 cost him points and a victory.
After this, the path was clear for his dedicated pursuers. Led by Markus Barth, the leading group chased relentlessly round the circuit. Barth and Hinterreiter were involved in repeated brake duels, until the latter pulled away on the 14th lap. Hinterreiter extended his lead and sped towards the finishing line unrivalled. Legrelle looked strong towards the end but suddenly slowed down shortly before the finish, allowing Barth, Parriott and Panichi to pass.
Barth had secured second place, but up until the ´S´s before the finishing straight it was not clear who would gain third. With a little more skill in his accelerator hand, the American Brian "Pit Bull" Parriott put Panichi down to 4th and thus maintains his prospects of an overall victory in the cup and the first prize of a BMW M3. But there is still a long way to go. The young Franz Aschenbrenner also put on a great show: for almost the entire distance he led a mid-field group including R. van der Molen, A. Busquets and the two Italians Rangheri and Rosetti of the Dream Car Team.
BoxerCup ambassador Randy Mamola was in attendance again of course, following the race from the pit lane. He made no secret of his sheer admiration for the skill of the riders: "Even I sometimes don´t know how this horde of boxers gets through chicane 1 at the same time. It´s a perfect show for all racing fans." All 6 remaining races of the 2004 season will also be held as part of MotoGP racing weekends - a great sporting accolade for the most highly rewarded motorcycle brand cup in the world. We look forward to the third round.