Federico Natali tells the story of the unfortunate 24 Hours of the Ducati Special Team, of which he is the test driver, and the rather troubled 24 Hours of his fast friend Kevin Manfredi, competing with Team Louit #33’s Kawasaki ZX10R.
By Federico Natali
We started out with very high expectations in the Ducati Special Team. With three top drivers (Poggiali, Massei, Ancelin) we dreamt of a high-level performance. As in 2017, when we won the Supertwins class, right here at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
But races, and especially Endurance, are filled with unexpected events. It begins with Fabio Massei, who a week before leaving for France had an injury and had to give up.
Then Manuel Poggiali he crashed in free practice on Thursday, causing an important head injury. And the verdict of the hospital was categorical: Manuel cannot run.
Two replacement drivers were hired in record time. Ricardo Saseta arrives from the Spanish CEV (Spanish Superstock Championship) and Pierrot Lerat – the reserve of the Suzuki#58 team – the night before the race. Of course, he didn’t know our bike, which he only tried for a few laps during the warm-up; but at 15 hours we are ready for the start.
We started 55th, but after an hour we were in 47th place. At the first pit stop, however, the engine was too hot. Be it the air temperature that we weren’t expecting – 30 degrees – but the engine is at 120°, and started to leak oil. After a few minutes another unscheduled stop and the verdict of the mechanics: engine broke, we have to withdraw.
It’s the first time we’ ve retired so early in a 24 hour period. The guys on the team have spent a week fighting against everyone and everything, but this time there is nothing to do. I’m pi**ed off, excuse my French.
And there is another sad note. My friend Kevin Manfredi, who yesterday made an exceptional 1’37″3 with Team Louit #33 Kawasaki, only half a second slower than the first Superbike (EWC). It seemed it was the good time to win the Stock category at Le Mans.
The day of the race the team decided to start the race with his teammate, Corentin Perolari; Kevin was the second driver. The young French driver got off to a good start and immediately positioned the bike at the top of the Stock category and eleventh overall. Then, at the end of the first hour, he returned to the pits and the mechanics started working: there was a problem with the electronics that needed to be fixed. Kevin started off again 4 laps behind the leaders, in 50th overall.
My friend never gives up, he puts his head down and starts to race at a 1’39” pace. After an hour he hands over the bike to his teammate in 40th position! At 8 pm, they 35th.
Later on, during the night they will permanently end the race because of electronic problems.
Here we go, the World Endurance Championship is also this!