In spite of their understandable favourite status at the 40th running of the Le Mans 24 hours, the Kawasaki SRC team did not make good on early promise during the 2018 race.
On Saturday April 21 the start of the race began in overwhelming heat in front of a crowd who enjoyed the racing spectacle under the radiant sun which shone over the Sarthe area that the race takes place in for several days.
From the beginning, Randy de Puniet rode with authority to be among the race leaders. In fact it was as race leader that he handed the famous number 11 bike over to Mathieu Gines the second rider who fell on his out lap in the "Esses bleus corner" damaging the iconic green machine. 5 laps later, the proud Ninja was again back on track, sadly in 46th position! Yet by 1 a.m in the morning 39 places were gained.
There is hope; the podium could still be reached by the official Kawasaki entry. Then, more issues, the machine was overheating…and for very good reason, there was no water left in the radiator due to gravel damage to the cooling system.
A pit stop beckoned that would be mentally hard for the entire team and again ten laps would be lost, the hopes of podium were gone except if good fortune took a hand!
Again, all of Gilles Stafler’s team showed an unwavering mental attitude refusing categorically to give up. Like Jérémy Guarnoni, Randy de Puniet and Mathieu Gines - who demonstrated commendable team spirit – the riders circulated lap after lap with remarkably consistent times in the deep of the night. A few hours and more overtaking moves later, and despite being 15 laps behind the leader, the noble Kawasaki N°11 finished in a very brave 5th place.
Pierre Scomo, Kawasaki France Race Manager commented: “The summer weather was a real surprise. During the testing sessions 15 days ago, and on the same track, it was 20 degrees less! In these race conditions it is very simple, you can’t fall. I noticed also the competitive spirit of the SRC staff and the riders at the same time who proved their value time and time again!
I sincerely thank them (Gilles and Isabelle Stafler as well as all the technical team). I also would like to take the opportunity to thank the partners who made the trip and particularly Christian Luc Cibot and Valérie Garde / ELF, all the Pirelli team, Olivier Sindezingue / Hella plus other partners all of whom I cannot mention here. Finally a final thank you for the Kawasaki ELF retailers, it was a pleasure to spend time with them.”
Mathieu Gines: “The week had begun well and our times were good and close. I was really confident for my first session. I recognise of course I made a mistake but I cannot explain my fall. Fortunately, the bike did not suffer too much. I was affected physically when I rode again on track but, understandably, was very motivated to redeem myself…and I think I succeeded. My times demonstrated that was the case it in spite of the pain to my damaged right little finger. I now look forward for being in Slovakia next month and I hope SRC will take the victory”