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In The Beginning

"The Team really began life at the 1977 Bol d'Or, which in those days was held at Le Mans. The core of what was to become the endurance outfit was there and the aim at this juncture was no more than a good time at French expense, in which the Team were dissolutely successful. Further gelling took place at the '78 Bol, the first at Paul Ricard. The freeloading that went on will go down as the most shameless looting of French possessions since the Panzers rolled into Paris.


Naturally it wasn't long before

spectating wasn't enough; the Team

had to get onto the track and

somebody [Howard Lees] had the

bright idea of doing proper

[endurance] racing, with entries

and numbers and passes and stuff."


"In '81 Howard and Dave [Chisman]

won the annual West Raynham 500km

bash. But their first major league outing was the Donington 1000km round of the World Endurance Championship. 11th wasn't half bad for a couple of rookies on a proddie bike.


But '82 was the big-time for real – wide-eyed stabs at previous places of pilgrimage – Le Mans, Nürburgring, Barcelona, Bol d'Or. Suddenly the high life stopped and the seriousness set in."


                            Mac McDiarmid, Bike Magazine, March 1991




Other Racing

In the late 1970s/early 1980s Howard Lees competed in production classes at Brands Hatch, Snetterton and elsewhere with a Suzuki T500 and 250 X7, and Yamaha RD250 and 350s. In 1981 he won both the BMCRC ('Bemsee') and Centurion Helmets 500cc Production Championships on his self-tuned RD350LC.


Howard also competed in two Isle of Man TT Formula Two races, finishing 16th on his Team Bike 350LC in 1981, and 10th in 1982 riding a Sports Motorcycles Ducati Pantah TT2, the latter helping Ducati win the manufacturers team prize. (In '83 he rode a Honda CBX550 in practice, but the TTF2 race was postponed a day due to torrential rain, by which time Howard was on his way to the Nürburgring for the 8-hour race).


Dave Chisman, an old schoolmate of Howard's, started racing in '80 and regularly achieved good results, including some firsts, in the bigger 'Bemsee' proddie classes aboard his Honda CB900F. With Howard assembling the chassis and Dave building the engines, this bike evolved into the Team's first F1-spec endurance racer during 1981. To our knowledge DC also became the first man ever to crash a mighty Kawasaki Z1300 in competition.


Later on, an HLR-entered Honda VF750 ridden by Vesa Kultalahti in '85, and a Yamaha FZ750 piloted by Kultalahti in '86 and Geoff Fowler in '87, competed in the Daytona 200 miler. Kultalahti finished in 7th in '86 (behind Lawson, Schwantz, Merkel, Rainey, Springsteen and McMurter, in that order), while Fowler finished 10th on the same bike the following year.


HLR also entered a few FIM Formula One races and Macau GPs in the mid to late '80s, although riders, results and other details are still being researched.





As it all happened so long ago now, perhaps the most effective way of conveying just some of what went on is to quote from Mac McDiarmid's interview with Howard published in Bike Magazine (March '91). This feature proclaimed that by then the Team had "run its last race". In fact it went on to complete 78 out of a maximum of 78 hours racing later that year. Anyway...


Greatest Moment

"Lewie [Paul Lewis] in the first hour at Le Mans in '88. He was giving away 25 horsepower to the works Hondas, Suzukis and Kawas but just didn't care. He rode all over them – outrageous."


Above: Sabatier (works Honda), Moineau (works Suzuki), Samin (works Kawasaki), Lewis (Team MCN Yamaha). It was like this for the whole of the first hour.


Most Frustrating Race

Suzuka 1990: "The best bike I could possibly build, both riders going quicker than even Lewie the previous year, absolutely no problems – perfection!"

"We finished 20th, a fact not unconnected with the presence of no less than 19 works bikes, including nine RVFs." [This was the 'unobtainable' factory RVF, not the later RC45 RVF that anyone could buy in the shops...]


The Most Destructive Fortnight in Peacetime History

For the first time anybody could remember, 1986 saw the Team arrive at the Bol with not one, but two bikes in race-ready condition. Needless to say, one got wrecked in practice, then Mez Mellor lunched another during the race. That put paid to most of the Team's spares. Later in the race Geoff Fowler dumped the rebuilt bike at Courbes des Signes – the fastest bend on the circuit. (To rub salt in, the oil he crashed on had been dropped by Vesa [Kultalahti] during a brief defection to the Suzuki Sweden team). Fowler managed to crash the bike for the second time on the way back to the pits.

"We shovelled the wreckage into the truck and sent it off to Jerez, for the next race a week later. I flew back to England, then got on a plane to Spain with almost a complete Harris chassis as hand luggage. Somehow we got the bike running, and practice went like a dream. We were watching the final minutes of qualifying from the top of the pits when Oxley stacked, right underneath us on the quickest corner, and it burst into flames."

The rebuild took all night, making by hand what they didn't have. A rousing cheer greeted their arrival on the grid. But it wasn't to be; Oxley totalled the Yamaha half way through the race.


Hardest Finish

"Spa 24hr, 1984, lying second, 1.5mins ahead of the works Ducati, with eight hours to go.  Then a misfire developed. Then gears started going AWOL. By 10.00am we were down to just fourth and fifth gears. We held on to beat the Duke by just 30 seconds."




Pit Crew and regular helpers

An endurance race team needs people – about twenty for a 24hr race, or a third that number for a shorter, more distant race in Japan or Johor Bahru. A decade and a half later it's hard to remember who was present, where and when, but here's a list of regular, unpaid volunteer helpers. We’ll be happy to make additions, if reminded.


Howard Lees, Dave Chisman, Anthony Ainslie, Jeff Turner, Zed Zawada, Linda Griffiths, Tom Stewart, Dermot Wrycraft, Anne Zawada, Simon Cobham, Brian Capper, Miles McCallum, Ian Lucas, Benjy Straw, Dave Evans, Dave Mills, Mac McDiarmid, Amedeo Castellani, Martin Burke, Ian Martin, Hilkka Salonen, Tracy Turner, Katrina Corbett, Angela Wrycraft, Soo Guy, Helen Masters, Lindsey Goldsmith, Alex Watt, Caroline Savage, Nickey Davies, Tim the Team Bike Tourer, Jenny Landmann, Steve Whittall, Brian Howell, Martin Tallent, the amazing Team Oaf from Macclesfield and a rotund French endurance fanatic whose name we forget.


Steve Male (Dunlop) and Gerard (Michelin) were two of the Team's tyre technicians who became good mates too, but they didn't fall into the category of unpaid volunteers. 


Pit crew awards were won by the Team at Le Mans in '87 and Suzuka in '89




HLR 24-hour race statistics;







Le Mans*




2nd (1st in class) ’84






Bol d’Or




5th ’83





2nd ’84, ’89 (pole position) & ‘91





2 nd


*Two bike team ‘85 & ‘86






Much to the Team's chagrin it never won an FIM Cup or World Championship race outright.


However, HLR won two out of the four national-level endurance races it entered, and finished 32 international-level long-distance events in the top ten, with ten of those on the podium. The Team also scored class wins at Le Mans, won pit-crew awards at Le Mans and Suzuka, won the 'Prix de l'Energie' at Le Mans, and finished every one of the last ten races it took part in. And, not least, everyone involved travelled the world and had huge fun for ten years or more.


Very fortunately, and somewhat amazingly, no-one involved with the Team was ever hurt – well, not seriously – while engaged in any HLR-related activities.

Howard Lees Racing  

10  years going for it