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Le Mans Endurance Series 2005
Round 5. Istanbul 1000 Kilometers. November 12th - 13th 2005

Race. Issued November 13th 2005

Richly Deserved Victory in Season Finalé for RML

The final round of the Le Mans Endurance Series 205 brought a long-overdue win for Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos in the RML MG Lola EX264.

The race began under grey skies, but with just a light drizzle. Former Le Mans winner Guy Smith in the pole-setting Chamberlain Lola gambled on intermediate tyres for the start, and quickly established a narrow lead in LMP2. Within minutes, however, the rain began again in earnest. Thomas Erdos, taking first stint in the RML MG Lola on full wets, swiftly clawed back Smith’s advantage and took the lead at the end of lap three, when the yellow Lola was baulked into the final corner by Marc Gounon in the #13 Courage. Followed through by Didier André in the #37 Belmondo Courage, Erdos had to contend with a relentless challenge from the Frenchman, who eventually forced a move on Erdos that briefly netted the lead, only to throw it away again when he tripped over one of the BMS Ferraris soon afterwards.

This allowed a thrilling duel to develop between Erdos and the recovering Guy Smith. The two cars were well matched – the Synergy car having an advantage in straight-line speed, the MG looking better through the twisty sections. First Erdos had the edge, and then Smith came back at him, regaining the lead on lap 16. As the rain increased, however, the pendulum swung back in the Brazilian’s favour, and the gap narrowed once more. It was no surprise to see Smith pitting first, eager to swap his intermediates for full wets. This restored Erdos to the lead, and he built up a substantial advantage, only to see it disappear when he too pitted for fuel.

Erdos still had the advantage as the race entered its only period behind the safety car, but just two cars stood between him and Smith. When racing resumed, so did the duel. Smith was quickly into the attack, and for lap after lap they circulated almost nose-to-tail. It was evident that the Chamberlain-Synergy Lola had the better outright pace, and on lap 37 Smith was able to make the most of this advantage down the long back straight, diving deep into Turn 12 and reclaiming the lead. What he gained in speed, he gave back through the tighter sections, and for the next twenty laps there wasn’t much to choose between them, although a significant gap developed to Gosselin, a distant third in the #36 Courage.

On lap 58 Erdos made his second scheduled pitstop, handing over the RML MG to team-mate Mike Newton, but Smith stayed in the #39 for a third consecutive hour. While Newton consolidated his hold on second, Smith’s lead grew steadily greater, until he was able to hand over a two-lap advantage to Gareth Evans. Meanwhile, a succession of frightening spins had forced Newton back down the pitlane for fresh rubber on lap 105, and the extra pitstop cost valuable time.

Newton completed two difficult stints in the MG under terrible conditions, and was probably relieved to hand the car back to Erdos for the final run to the flag. There was a lot to make up, but the challenge was made easier when Peter Owen, third driver in the Chamberlain Lola, spun off into the gravel at Turn 1 on only his second lap. With Erdos now fastest in LMP2 by a substantial margin it was only a matter of time before he regained the lead. It happened on lap 144. A handful of minutes later, and the #27 Lola also swept ahead of the unfortunate Owen to grab second. One last pitstop remained, but timing would be critical. The #27 Lola pitted first, with Erdos next (and retaining the lead), followed by Owen, who handed back the #39 to Smith. There were 35 minutes still to go.

For Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos to win the title, the order would have to remain unchanged to the flag. At first this looked highly likely. Bjork was lapping well in the #27 Horag Lista car and matching Smith’s pace, but there was no accounting for the weather. Having remained steady at a moderate drizzle, the heavens opened once more with fifteen minutes to go. Bjork spun – not once, but several times, and in a matter of minutes Smith had caught and passed the red and white car. Just twelve minutes before the end of the six-hour race, RML thought they’d done enough. Two minutes later and the title had slipped from their grasp.

There was still a race to win, and Erdos drove a blinding final stretch to hold on to the class lead, only easing back over the last two laps. He crossed the line with forty seconds to spare to record the team’s first championship victory this season, but knowing that he and Mike had missed the title by just one point. “I’m happy to have won the race, of course,” Tommy said afterwards. “It’s something we’ve been chasing all year, so it’s a great way to end the championship.” Admittedly, the LMES title would have been nice, but it is not something anyone in RML would have swapped for their remarkable Le Mans win in June. All in all, it was a good way to round off the year, and bodes well for RML and 2006.

MORE>> Read an in-depth report of this race by clicking this link.