From the September/October 2011 issue of ATV Rider Magazine
Plenty of cities around the world are known for one particular event that puts them on the radar of the public eye. For Pamplona, Spain, it’s the running of the bulls. In the United States, Louisville, Kentucky, has the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. And for the small town of La Tuque in the providence of Ontario, Canada, it’s the 12 Hours of La Tuque. I’ve read about this race and have always wanted to watch, but one thing or another would come up and prevent me from attending. Fortunately enough, this year I was asked by Elka Suspension’s Martin Lameraux to come as a guest and see what this event was all about. Martin described it as one of the toughest competitions that puts both man and machine to the ultimate test, and it gave the local Canadian racers a chance to shine in doing something that they loved.
The opportunity for me to go to Canada and see what this race was all about was one that I couldn’t pass, so I grabbed my passport and camera gear and headed north. Upon my arrival in La Tuque, I could instantly see how much ATVs were a way of life for the locals as dozens of side-by-side and utility ATVs zipped through town and even had their own designated pathway to avoid regular traffic. This town loves everything about the sport, and this event was would bring out some of the best ATV racers in Canada as well as a few from the U.S. and countries across the Atlantic.
After arriving at the track I walked through the pits to see who would be racing and how the setups for this race differ from those in the States. The first team I came across was the Motoworks/Can-Am team of Jérémie Warnia, Josh Frederick and Dillon Zimmerman, who were all strong endurance racers from the WORCS series. Another familiar face from the WORCS series was that of factory Yamaha racer Dustin Nelson. Martin had asked Dustin to ride with Yamaha/G-Force/Elka–sponsored riders Jean-Philippe Leblanc and Marc-Antoine Auger for this grueling contest. Even with some of the fastest endurance racers in the States competing, the locals would not be intimidated and were ready to do battle on what I found would be one of the most punishing courses I’ve ever seen. I was also told that many racers work all year to afford the cost of building and racing a machine in this one event, so the local racers did want to prove that they could compete with some high-dollar teams. With three four-hour sessions, one being run in the dark, every team had their work cut out for them.
As I awaited the start of the race I could tell I was probably more anxious than most of the people around me. This was because I had never witnessed a LeMans-style start where riders would have to make a dash across the track to their machines, start the engines and then get rolling. As simple as it sounds, it is a completely different game for those who weren’t lucky to have their machines fire up at the first push of the starter button and had to try and merge in with riders flying by tapped out in third gear because they started out faster. While there was some bumping and rubbing going on, all of the riders appeared to get on the track safely and start the first of many racing hours.
As the minutes and seconds ticked off the clock, so did the number of riders on the track. Many teams were plagued by mechanical issues, either putting them laps behind the leaders or out of the race completely, and even one of the teams favored to win fell victim to mechanical gremlins. Minutes before the race clock ran down, the Yamaha/G-Force/Elka team lost a motor, which they could not replace until the start of the next session. When the night session started, the team did a complete engine swap into their YFZ450R in under 30 minutes.
Session two was run at night, so bright lights were on order since the track would only get rougher and more treacherous over the next four hours. The fans were die-hard as they found pockets all around the course to sit and cheer on every rider who threw a leg over a machine. As the session finally ended at 1 a.m., everyone was quick to fall asleep and rest up for the final session of the weekend’s racing.
By the start of the final session, pit road was less crowded than at the start of the race as many machines suffered from catastrophic failure and sent the riders packing early. The ones that were still out on the track continued to put in lap after lap even as the skies started to open up and dump rain on the town. The racers stayed on the track determined to finish, and the fans were just as tough as they protected themselves from the downpours to keep watching the action. It was great to see this kind of support for an ATV race.
At the end of the day the Motoworks/Can-Am team walked away with the win by 10 laps in front of the hard-charging Yamaha/G-Force/Elka team which overcame their mechanical issues to claim the second position. Rounding out the podium was the team of Quad X Oboute Racing merely three laps behind second.
This was by far one of the most grueling races that I’ve ever had the opportunity to experience, and I admire every one of these racers who competed. They showed that this race is one about strength and determination to be the best. I also can’t say enough about the small town of La Tuque which has hosted this race for 10 years with increasing success. I know that I’m looking forward to going back next year and experiencing this event from a new perspective, which is hopefully from the racer’s view.
For more information, contact www.12heureslatuque.com
(or if you don’t speak French, google it and look for the translated page). ATVR