My life as a tester in Endurance

Federico Natali was a road races rider, he raced at the Isle of Man. Then, in search of new stimuli, he now landed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Now – in his own words – he does a beautiful job: the tester for a team that runs the World Endurance Championship. And he drives a lot on track.


His name is Federico Natali, and he I discovered him three years ago. I was working for a different magazine, and a common friend put us in contact. Federico was about to run the Bol d’ Or, the legendary French 24 Hours. We agreed for him to write a daily report from the track, and it went very well. If it wasn’t for the fact that a technical trouble put his team out of the race from the last round of practice, and we failed to tell the story that we were waiting for: the race.
In the meantime, a friendship was born with this nice bloke from Tuscany, who raced on the Isle of Man and who is often on the track – also to avoid speeding on the road.
With him today we begin to talk about Endurance, a Championship once considered the refuge of retired people, and that today instead is flourishing, with the participation of many big names.

 

Federico landed there in 2015, after racing and completing races in 4 different categories of Manx GP – Newcomers, Junior TT, Senior and Supertwins. He needed new challenges. So, thanks to Suzuki Italy, he made his first experience in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as second rider.

“In such long races, the riders who run are 3 plus a reserve. Even the reserve pilot must qualify during a dedicated round; to be always ready to replace one of the rider holders. Until Saturday morning, when the warm up is over, the team decides who of the four drivers will be able to race. At this point the task of the reserve – nowadays called the 4th pilot – is over. Since 2016 I have chosen to be the 4th full-time pilot and tester “.

Riders, strange people…

Why this choice?
“Because being the tester is perhaps one of the most beautiful jobs in the motoring field. You spend many hours on the saddle, to test all the components of the bike that will race. Schedule is hectic and you work regardless of the weather.
A good part of free practice days are dedicated to running new engines. It begins by being careful not to raise the rev counter beyond 6 thousand rpm, gradually reaching 10 thousand. But it takes a lot of time, fortunately! Every 100-150 km you increase by 1000 rpm.
Then you have to run up and try out the suspensions, and provide feedback on multiple setups to communicate to the drivers who will be actually racing. On a test day, more than 12 sets of brake pads can be run-in, which will then be set aside for all changes during a 24 Hours.”

What are the main difficulties?
“First and foremost, you must be able to drive almost to the limit with tyres that are used even for 3 hours, or 100 laps. And of course we must also consider the evolution of the bike’s behaviour in relation to weight. Then you start the test with the 24 liters tank full, and stop when there are about 3 liters left. On the other hand, spending so much time on the saddle, you get an excellent driving sensitivity; just what you need to record and communicate to the team every little change and anomaly that the bike highlights in the various stints “.

How did you get involved in this?
“Everything started after passing the chequered flag of the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2015. I raced with a Suzuki GSX-R 1000 STK of the No Limits Motor Team, that I shared with Stefano Pedrini and Jacopo Zizza. The latter – that is the italian commentator on the British Superbike on Eurosport – last year started a new Endurance project.
Zizza is the team manager of the Ducati Special Team, the team that won the Le Mans 24 Hours 2017 in the Supertwins category. And in 2018 he will take part in the World Championship with a completely renewed team, which can count among World Champion 125 and 250 GP Manuel Poggiali amongst its riders. Zizza will be the 4th pilot, and I am the test driver – also because of our friendship. As a matter of fact, in mid-March we scheduled a demanding session on Cremona (Italy) circuit. Just in case someone wants to come and say Hi…”

 

Look, we will follow you!
“Moreover. I will write these pages myself; to take you on a motorbike with me, and to tell you about the Endurance seen from within. See you soon Netbikers!”.

 

A snapshot from Natali’s previous life, road races

 

On the Isle of Man roads

 

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