Mat Oxley

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

24 hours of beautiful madness

On the weekend of September 20 the world’s greatest motorcycle endurance race returns to its spiritual home after a decade and a half in the wilderness at Magny-Cours. The homecoming of the Bol d’Or 24 Hours to Circuit Paul Ricard in Provence has been greeted with wild enthusiasm by those who remember the event’s heyday in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Bol at Ricard was like no other race. From a racer’s perspective it was the most prestigious 24-hour of them all, bigger even than Le Mans. From the fans’ point of view the Bol was a late summer weekend of wild atavistic abandon, punctuated by rock concerts, bullfights, hog roasts and the occasional glance at those madmen – and mad women – riding round and round in circles, their minds and bodies begging for release.

The comedown from the Bol was long and slow – for fans and racers alike – and was undertaken on nearby Cote d’Azur beaches, at least by those who understood the correct way to do things.

Twenty-four-hour racing has always been a French thing, ruled by Frenchmen riding for French teams. Terry Rymer is an exception. The Essex lad made his name in World Superbikes, then fell in love with endurance because racing day and night is an adventure like no other, during which you see things you’ll never see in several lifetimes of short-circuit racing.

Riding the dawn stint at the Bol was always breathtakingly beautiful: watching the rising sun light up the bleached rocks of the Sainte-Baume mountain ridge to the north of the track. It was a fool’s dawn, though; at 5am there are still 10 hours to go.

Rymer won the Bol five times between 1992 and 1999, first with Kawasaki and then with Suzuki. He also won the World Endurance Championship twice, recording further race victories at Le Mans and the daunting Spa-Francorchamps.

“In the middle of the night at Spa it’s all bright lights in pitlane, then you accelerate out of the pits and on to the track and, boof, it goes black, and all you can see is your two silly little headlights bouncing around,” he recalls.

“I remember getting me head down, looking over me shoulder to get into the traffic, and the little taillights coming flying past – whoosh, whoosh – and flames coming out of the exhausts. The hairs on the back on my neck used to stand up: that cold night air, the smell of brakes, the smell of tyres and hot oil. It really was a great feeling that fired me up, no matter what time of night I went out: attack, attack, attack!”

The atmosphere at the Bol d’Or was very different from dark, deadly Spa; like a race with a rock festival and funfair attached. The weather was also much better, though not always. Rymer will never forget racing through a stormy night at Ricard.

“There was lightning coming in and it was like a strobe light on the rain spray coming off the tyres. It would be daylight for a split second, then it would be night again, and for that split second every single rain drop was frozen in mid-air.”

Although Rymer was faster than his French rivals from the moment he arrived at Kawasaki, he gained more long-distance wisdom with every 24 hours. “It’s a different kind of racing: you’ve got to learn how to carve through traffic, and the big thing is trying to get the best out of a brand new set of tyres – you can make 10 seconds in that first lap if you know how to.

“I loved the whole thing and I trained really hard because you had to be fit. You also just had to have that determination, a kind of masochism, because it’s a stupid thing to do, innit? I used to stay awake for the full 24 hours. I tried sleeping once, but I woke up like a zombie. By the time it gets to three in the morning, you think, what the f**k am I doing this for – this is such a stupid thing to do!”

And not only for the racers. The Bol d’Or was always a festival of Bacchanalia for the fans – endless beers and barbecues, with inevitable results.

“You’d be coming onto the Mistral straight watching fans doing naked wheelies on bikes, then sparks flying and ambulances charging around. At dawn the camp-fire smoke lay very heavy and very dense on the Mistral. So you were caning down there in sixth gear, then for one second, which is a hell of a long time when you’re doing 190mph, you couldn’t see anything, then you’d burst out of the smoke. That kept you awake. Thinking back on it all,it was f**king dangerous.”

If the Bol was a kind of Dante’s Inferno for the riders, it was more like Mad Max for the fans, and not always in a good way.

“One year the bike broke in the middle of the night, so me and the wife are driving out of the paddock in our hire car when we get set about by hundreds of lunatic bikers with bonfire ash all over their faces. I’m trying to keep a low profile but they stop us and set about the car, banging on the windows and trying to turn the car over.

“So I had to make a decision – what am I going to do? So I stuck it in first gear, knocked over about 20 people, ran over a few legs and we were gone. Imagine if they’d caught us…”

Will this year’s Bol be as wild? Who knows, but without doubt it will be Ricard’s maddest event since Bernie Ecclestone bought the venue in 1999 and turned it into a deluxe test track.