TAREE'S Alex Cudlin made his race debut for the legendary World Endurance Championship outfit Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT) at the Le Mans 24 Hour alongside regular team riders Vincent Philippe and Julien Da Costa.
Cudlin signed at the start of the year as reserve rider for current world champions SERT. However he again looked likely to spend the 24 hour on the sidelines until fulltime rider Anthony Dehalle suffered a broken tibia and fibula in a practice crash.
Cudlin acquitted himself well to the task, helping SERT to pole position as they tried to retain their championship title for a 13th time.
It all started well for SERT with team rider Vincent Phillipe shooting into the lead off the start. But their joy was short-lived with Phillipe crashing early in his stint and badly damaging the Suzuki GSX-R1000. Frantic repairs in the pits followed in which the team only lost an amazing two laps, however the crash had caused a stone to become jammed between the swingarm and the engine, and two laps later had worked its way through the cases and caused a severe oil leak.
Again the world championship-leading GSX-R was back in the pits, and again the team repaired the damage.
What later became known was the oil leak caused the engine to overheat, which in turn warped the cylinder head. Incredibly, the team decided to completely dismantle the engine - while it was still boiling hot - and rebuild it from top to bottom including new cylinder head losing 79 laps in the repairs. with just 22 hours to go, SERT was back in the race.
The championship looked gone at this stage. But no one told SERT this, and for the rest of the race not only did no more problems fall their way, but they picked off the teams in front one by one to eventually finish 12th in class and collect eight points, enough to seal their 13th championship.
"What an amazing race,'' Cudlin said.
"Physically it was okay - as much as a 24 hour race can be - but the stresses of the crashes and the resulting problems made the event very tough.I was first out on the bike after the cylinder head swap, so that was a bit nerve wracking, but the team was so inspirational in that they simply refused to give up, so we just got on with the job.
"I was extremely honoured to be asked to ride the final stint to take the chequered flag - crossing the line, knowing the team were again world champions and knowing I played an integral role in that outcome rates as one of the top highlights of my career - it's a moment to tell the grandkids about."
Cudlin also has his eye on staying with the team in 2014.
"I'm so pleased to be able to ride for SERT - they are so professional, so dedicated to winning and I would love to continue with them into the future,'' he explained.
"I will have my 2014 race plans finalised in the coming weeks, and I hope to stay a part of the SERT family."