Looking after Phase One
Britain’s top world endurance team goes into Sunday’s MCN-backed Silverstone 200 as championship leaders and with a fierce ambition to reclaim the world title they last lifted in 2000.
The privateer Phase One squad have had their best start to a season since they were established in 1985. Mike ‘Spike’ Edwards and American Jason Pridmore stormed to victory in the opening Imola 200 round on the QB Carbon-backed GSX-R1000. Now the pressure is on for their home round.
But team boss Russell Benney is looking forward to the challenge. He said: " It’s going to be a tough job to shield the team from the pressure so everyone in our pit enjoys the event. That’s the secret. We work huge numbers of hours to get the bikes prepared but we’re a privateer team so we can be a little light-hearted – though we still take what happens on the track very seriously. "
Seriously enough to win the 2000 world title... even though their GSX-R750 didn’t actually win a race that season. Last year they weren’t as lucky. The technical problems which came with using the then new GSX-R1000 took their toll. Even so, they managed to win the Oschersleben 24.
Now they have a year of development behind them – and the 2002 bike has proved a winner from round one. Benney said: " We’ve improved weight distribution by moving a lot of electrical parts from the seat to the nose. We also found a good set-up for the non-championship race at Le Mans that worked at Imola too. We’re confident it’ll be good for Silverstone. In fact the only place I think we’ll need to radically change our set-up is the non-championship 24-hour race at Spa. The bike is set up to turn quickly but the high-speed Spa track requires a lot more stability. "
Pridmore will miss Silverstone due to a clash with a US championship round. Benney said: " We’ve got Frederic Moeira, an able French supersport rider, and Spike. I hope but don’t really expect that he’s faster than Spike. If he is maybe we’ll be top four. If not maybe we’ll get fifth or sixth. "
Benney is playing the long game. His well-drilled team can rely on good pitwork and consistent lap times to pick up time. Imola showed how competitive the 200-mile " endurance sprints " can be with just 22s separating first and second and only 13s between third and fourth. Look forward to more of the same at Silverstone.
MCN chats with Russell Benney:
MCN: Why do you continue to race endurance when you could run 23 hours untroubled and then get sidelined by the smallest technical glitch?
Benney: Endurance racing is still a great challenge – and the challenge changes from year to year. It can be technical one year to getting the right manpower the next – and chasing sponsorship money. This year’s the challenge is resourcing a mammoth nine-race programme – and it’s not just us suffering. The entire paddock is facing the same problem.
MCN: What do you think of 200 miles races?
Benney: There’s a place for them – but only the Imola 200 should be part of the World Endurance Championship. I know Silverstone has to be 200 miles this year but I hope Octagon sticks to its guns and makes it a longer race next season.
MCN: You’ve never done the TT as a rider or as a team owner – surely that’s a challenge?
Benney: I’m sure it is. The reason I never went to the TT when I was racing was that I was studying engineering exams in my early twenties and they were all in June. By the time I’d got them completed I was 23 and thought it was too late to spend two or three years learning my way around the Mountain course.
MCN: Why chase world endurance when you could field a competitive BSB team?
Benney: There’s no challenge in a 20-odd lap thrash around Donington. I enjoy the challenge of resourcing the best team package. The engineering challenge of building a competitive bike to beat better-equipped teams. That’s what gives m a real sense of achievement.
Team run on a shoestring by volunteers:
Phase One’s team changes from year-to-year because the team is made up entirely of volunteers. No one gets paid, not even team boss Russell Benney.
The annual budget is around £100,000, peanuts when you consider BSB teams have budgets of up to £1.5 million.
Phase One’s endurance main rivals, the Chinese-backed Zongshen team, have that level of backing while SERT, the French factory Suzuki team which is only racing in four 24 hour races this year, has a £1 million fund.
Phase One relies on a hardcore crew of four to five but numbers over 30 during a race weekend – and some of them help out at the team workshop in evenings during the week.
New members come via the team’s supporters club, which has run since 1990 and has as many as 600 paid-up members at any one time. Supporters club members pay £8 and get newsletters and discounts on team merchandise in return.
Benney said: " In 2000 our pit crew included people from South Africa, Sweden, Germany, America and the UK. The reason we have such a turnaround of people is that they have other lives, which are subject to marriages, births, changes in jobs – and any other commitments you can think of.
" My greatest regret is not having the continuity of staff to maintain a rolling development programme during a season. We all got back from Imola and desperately needed to get the bikes rebuilt but we all had to go to work and were too tired to do anything for a few evenings. "
If you want to join the QB Carbon Phase One Endurance team supporters club write to: Bath Parry, Phase One supporters club, Moxhill House, Combwich, Bridgwater TA5 2PN, enclosing a cheque for £8. There’s a website, too: www.phaseone.co.uk