Phase One - A Brief History
25 years and three World Championships - the most successful private team for a generation...
Phase One Endurance was formed in 1985 by Russell Benney and Martin Prout. The first race was the 1985 Bol d'Or, competing on a Harris framed Kawasaki GPZ 750. The team qualified last in 80th place and finished the race in 42nd place. During the meeting the mechanics rebuilt the engine three times and constructed a wiring loom from scratch. It was a steep learning curve for the team. However, the whole experience proved to be a catalyst, and the team were eager for more.
The following year Phase One bought a second hand Yamaha FZ750 which they prepared for endurance racing themselves. Although their knowledge was limited, they were learning quickly. Five 14th places were the team's reward in 1986 and 1987, despite reliability problems. The team struggled on with the same bike and finances until 1988, when they bought a Honda RC30. This bike gave them much needed reliability, only failing them twice in its time of service. In 1990 there was a big breakthrough with sponsorship from Phil Jessop, owner of Riders of Bridgwater.
In 1991, Kawasaki supplied two ZXR750s in time to prepare them for season ahead. The ZXR finished 12th at Spa. During the race, 22 hours of rain made riding conditions atrocious, but the Phase One team were able to make much progress with the new equipment. At the other extreme, in the same year, the team competed in 38 degree C conditions in Malaysia to finish 5th.
Phil Jessop's continued support allowed the team to make some changes in 1992. With mechanics and logistics in place, Russell was able to employ top quality riders to offer a more competitive package. At Phillip Island this became evident with Phase One finishing third, its first World Championship podium place, in freezing conditions.
1993 was a great season for Phase One. American Doug Toland joined the team for two races and helped them to fourth place at Anderstorp. This was followed by one of the Team's greatest achievements, winning the Spa Francorchamps race. This was the first win for a privateer team since 1990 in a Endurance World Championship race. The team were crowned joint World Champions at the end of the season, a true reflection on their potential. The following year Anglo-Kiwi Robert Holden joined the team and, with Steve Manley, formed one of the best endurance rider partnerships of the 1990s.
The team's good form continued through 1994 with a third place at Spa and second at Bol d'Or.
In 1995 French GP star Bruno Bonhuil joined Holden and Manley to finish 4th at Le Mans and the team went on to qualify in pole position at the Assen Six Hour race. Phase One eventually finished fifth after leading until the throttle cable broke. The second bike suffered a puncture but managed to finish third. At Spa that year the team were holding third place until a crash put paid to their chances.
1996 and 1997 saw moderate success on a much reduced budget. The team struggled with the ageing ZXR750 Kawasakis, but still managed to run in the top ten at each event. That was to change through 1998. The team switched to Suzuki machinery in the form of the GSX-R750, the bikes being enthusiastically supplied by GT Motorcycles of Plymouth and the main importer Suzuki GB Plc. Phase One rewarded their backers with superb fourth and seventh places at Spa and the Bol d'Or using a fresh new team of riders; Warwick Nowland, Tony Rees and Brett Sampson. The team achieved sixth place overall in the World Championship, just 10 points behind the official Suzuki France works entry and 22 points ahead of the works Yamaha Team.
1999 started with the Team's shortest ever race when Stephane Mertens hit the back of Brian Morrisson's factory Yamaha as it broke its crank on the 1st lap. The brake system was too badly damaged to be recovered. This set the scene for a season characterised by technical problems preventing full exploitation of potential, although a top 10 finish at the Bol d'Or provided a sweetener.
2000 started with a ninth position at Le Mans despite a 57 minute stop to replace a piston. This set the stage for a string of impressive performances involving a string of second places including a wet Spa Francorchamps. The year proved the Team's best ever. The bike was both very fast and extremely reliable and with an excellent rider line-up of Mertens-Linden-Nowland, it finished six out of six races. This led to the team winning its second World Championship by a clear margin from the French GMT94 Team.
For 2001 the championship engine capacity changed to 1000cc for the first time. In response, the team changed to GSX-R1000 Suzukis. Once gearbox and fuel injection deficiencies (so far as endurance racing is concerned) had been overcome it was all systems go with 3rd at Brands, 4th at Spa, a win at the Oschersleben 24hrs and 3rd at the Bol d'Or, with a young James Ellison paired with Igor Jerman. The win came after a huge battle and a rejected offer from the leaders to cruise to the finish!
2002 saw the break-away of the French and Belgian classics into a separate championship. With the teething problems of the GSX-R1000 Suzuki behind them the team was off to a flying start and was 5th and 1st in the Masters and World Championship respectively after one round of each at Le Mans and Imola. The win at Imola was as much a result of the speed of the Phase One bike as the misfortune of others. The next race at Silverstone resulted in a 2nd place and the next Masters race saw a 3rd at Spa to take the team to 2nd in that championship and with more than a sniff at the 100,000 Euro prize! Unfortunately a string of disappointing results ending due to crashes at the two 24 hour races put paid to its chances. A bit of honour was saved with a 4th at Vallelunga but the early promise of the season was wiped out and after a punishing schedule the team only managed 4th in the Masters and 5th in the World Championship. 2002 also saw the emergence of a credible junior team which finished 12th in the championship. In achieving this the shell Academy team as it was known gave valuable experience to more than six riders.
The main team dashed to an impressive and trouble free 2nd position at Imola in the opening round of 2003. Unfortunately the meeting was marred by junior rider David Carr breaking a leg, some ribs and collar bone during practice. Assen saw Phase One's James Ellison on top form as the team took another 2nd place. Brno was more of the same with Jason Pridmore and Olivier Four turning in the good laps this time. The Albacete race was a story of crashes and a fight back from last place to sixth. However, although the team was still second in the championship they were slipping further away from leaders Zongshen. That was to change at Suzuka with a fantastic 2nd in class and 4th overall finish. This was achieved on a bike that was very competitive and a with a gritty ride by Pridmore. Many of the leading bikes crashed out on spilt oil on the first bend which also made the job a little easier. It was the best non-Japanese result at Suzuka for over a decade and was followed by another great result at the Oshersleben 24 hour round. This time the team finished second and took a 23 point lead in the championship as the Zongshen bike crashed out on lap 2. The junior team was also coming along well and up to 10th in the championship. This meant that the team only needed three points from the final round at Vallelunga and they duly scored four to win the team's third World Championship.
2004 saw a switch to Yamaha R1 based machines with backing from Yamaha Europe. The first year was used for development and learning with serious title challenges in both 2005 and 2006 resulting in 4th and 3rd places in the world championships. The first race of 2004 at Assen revealed electrical problems with the new bike and the second in China heavy fuel consumption and a clutch weakness. Albacete was no better with a failed gearbox. Suzuka was perhaps the best result of the year, 5th in class despite a slow puncture in one session. Oshersleben saw the team sidelined after a 4th hour crash took out one of the riders and Patrick Piot refused to complete the race with two riders. The junior team had led the senior team in the championship all season but honour was finally salvaged for the seniors with a 4th place at Vallelunga lifting it 6 points above the juniors and just scraping a top 10 finish in the championship.
The next year saw an unremarkable 4th at Assen and the same result at Albacete after a series of minor technical problems. At Suzuka the team finished 7th in class. The junior team was constantly snapping at the heels of the senior team but both teams saw much improved results over the previous year. At Oschersleben the senior team failed to finish due to a dropped valve and were overtaken in the championship by the juniors who finished 6th despite crashing three times! The SEA team then built on this with a fine 7th place in the non-championship Bol d'Or. The final race at Vallelunga saw the seniors finish 2nd to take 4th in the championship. The junior team finished 6th in the championship, its best ever result.
In 2005, 2006 and 2007 SERT totally dominated the championship but the Phase One challenge in 2006 was the most consistent yet on the R1 Yamaha, with the team being clearly third best and finishing in 3rd position.
The season started at Assen with a creditable 3rd. This was one better than 2005 and set the tone for the season perfectly with the final position of 3rd in the championship also being one better. Le Mans was the team's turn for a mechanical failure with overheating problems taking the bike out, Yamaha Austria also taking their bad luck share in this race. Albacete saw 4th and at Zolder 5th, following a crash by Damian Cudlin. Suzuka saw the Team finish second in class. Oschersleben saw all the main contenders finish in order so Phase One were 3rd again and the final round at the Bol d'Or saw the team finish 6th.
2007 saw the introduction of a new four valve engine, slight changes in frame geometry and gas forks. The rider line up of Warwick Nowland, Glen Richards and Didier van Keymeulen looked very strong but unfortunately a series of small but ultimately race destroying technical problems left the team with an uphill struggle to seriously attack the championship. Crashes by Didier at Albacete and his subsequent absence due to further crashes in his World Supersport rides, plus the absence of Glen due to his commitment to win the British Superstock Championship meant a lot of rider disruption with Stefan Nebel and Pedro Vallcaneras stepping in. The hingepin race of the season was a fine 4th at the Bol d'Or. In the final race at Qatar Steve Plater was drafted in and proved beyond doubt that the bike was the fastest private bike on the grid, leading for the first hour until the SERT rider Vincent Phillipe knocked him off and severely damaged both bikes in a desperate attempt to end the first hour in the lead. The team was once again fighting back through the field for points, a situation that characterised the 2007 season and resulted in a lowly 7th place in the championship.
With the technical teething problems on the 2007/8 bike resolved, a squad of three fast and consistent riders could have won in 2008! Unfortunately it was not to be as sufficient sponsorship could not be found to secure such a package. As a result, a series of less than ideal riders was drafted in to support permanent rider Damian Cudlin. Despite leading races on several occasions, including at Le Mans and Albacete in the hands of James Haydon, the stand-in riders crashed too often and could not generate consistent results. The highlights of the season were an almost total lack of mechanical or pit crew failures, 3rd permanent team home at Suzuka, 4th at Oschersleben and 5th in the Bol d'Or. Also, the team took part in the Isle of Man TT races for the first time, running Steve Plater in the Superstock class, finishing 8th and achieving a highly creditable 10th in the Senior race with Michael Dunlop.
2009 saw the team struggling with a much reduced budget and a commensurate reduction in pre-season testing. As a consequence, teething problems with the new cross-plane crank Yamaha R1 showed up at round one contributing directly to a DNF. Performances in the other 3 races were reasonable but unremarkable. At Qatar however the team ditched its regular riders and James Ellison and Glen Richards rejoined. The result was remarkable. The full potential of the machinery was released for the first time and the team took pole position, led for the first hour and finished the race in a superb second place, just one lap down on championship winners YART.
© 1998 - 2009 Redleg Interactive Media / Phase One Endurance
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