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"Fast Bikes", January 1, 2013

TEN MINUTES WITH… RUSSELL BENNEY

After 15 years in the world endurance paddock as boss of the successful Phase One team, Russell Benney is now the race manager for the Honda TT Legends endurance team.

SIMON ‘ROOTSY’ ROOTS

Benney also acts as the team’s sleeping policeman to get the riders to stop in time...

HONDA TT LEGENDS

I’d always had my nose pressed against the fence at Paul Ricard and Le Mans.

I’d been racing for ten years, but also watching endurance, a sport that to me required a lot of engineering as well as the obvious racing side. The endurance element drew me in, as did the fact it was a team sport. I don’t know why that appealed because I’m not a thoughtful person, but I liked a team environment.

I loved the dust and sweat and sex and sweltering niceness of Paul Ricard.

It was so infectious. You’d see little bull fights go on in the crowd, this was really happening. You’d shoot coconuts off at a shy with a proper 2.2, not an air rifle. It was the wild west.

1985 to 1990 were learning years for Phase One.

We started to understand what it took to make a motorbike go for a long time. That’s a different discipline to making a motorbike go fast. We learned about attracting a team and keeping everyone together.

By the early 1990s we were getting some half decent results.

We got our first win in 1993 and won the championship that year, too. It was on a ZXR750 sponsored by Riders of Bridgewater. Back then it was a series for riders and Doug Toland took the title.

Phase One was always an amateur team.

Everyone involved in the team volunteered their time, paid to go to races, and that all helped with the bonding. That’s part of why it worked and why it was such a pleasure.

We finished at the end of 2009 at Qatar.

We put together a nice team with Glen Richards, James Ellison and Pedro Vallcanaras. It was great to watch James and Glen build and get confidence in each other, they communicated well, got a great set-up, pole, and did well in the race. It was a perfect time to stop really. I was digging into the pension fund too much at the end of the day.

Experience is key in building a bike.

For a start, every bike we’ve had we put it on its side in the workshop and see what touches down. Then you can decide where to put protection. Each component has two functions; its normal function and its function during a crash. So you have a choice. You can make it bend and hopefully it’ll bend back again. Or you make it so it won’t endanger a more significant part, or you protect it from braking. The bits that are really vulnerable you just put inside the frame.

You put an engine together conservatively.

Very conservatively. There’s no element of unnecessary risk that goes into the build at all. So Jules (TT Legends engine builder) is building a motor that’s 10bhp below that of a TT engine, 20bhp beneath a BSB engine. We have gone too far in the past, but the investment that goes into 24 hour racing is so big that you can’t have any risk at all.

We did a piston change in 52 minutes.

It was at Le Mans. We dropped from third to ninth. The engine came out, we stripped it, and while we did this, in parallel, we had another engine stripped because we didn’t have another piston to put in. Then we retimed it, rebuilt it, put it back out into the race. That was pretty good.

Paul Young jumped off on the warm-up lap at Suzuka one year.

He broke the front lugs from the fairing support, so you couldn’t put the fairing back on. Yamaha were hosting us and they were saying ‘Ah, so sorry you cannot race, it is such a pity’. This bloke got elbowed out of the way as someone took a grinder to the rear of the pitwall to get a piece of angle out. He took about four inches of angle out, whacked a couple of M8 holes through the headstock, refabricated the fairing mounts, got everything straight, got the fairing on, and while this was going on, the Bollinger team feigned a crash in the pitlane to delay the start by three minutes, to allow us to get out there to avoid any penalties!

Routine stuff, it’s about six seconds on the front, eight seconds on the rear.

These days you do things in series, not parallel, like you used to. In the old days you could do fuel, tyres and rider change all at once. It was like a cartoon there was so much going on. That would take eight seconds. Now it’s that for your wheels and five seconds for your fuel, then John will lumber up to the bike and get his leg over. It should be 15 seconds.

At the end of 2010 Neil Tuxworth rang.

He said he had a budget to go endurance racing, and wanted me to join the team, so I joined as race manager. I look after the resources that have been given to me, I run the tactics, help to put the package together. I’m given a set of resources and have to do the best with them, I’m frustrated that I can’t choose those resources specifically compared to at Phase One. I have to accept it’s a corporate world and decisions and objectives of the team are made not necessarily the way I would make them.

We’re now doing Classic endurance with Phase One.

That’s mine. This year we got fastest lap at round one, fastest lap and race win at Mettet. We run a 1978 Kawasaki. We’ve got the bikes as the factory used in 1978, frame number 17. You go to some world endurance meeting at Qatar and there’s only 21 on the grid. At Spa for the Classic race there were 80 team competing for 70 places on the grid. It’s absolutely brilliant.

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