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Le Mans Series 2006
Round 2. Spa 1000 Kilometers. May 12-14th 2006
Race. Issued May 15th 2006

RML Foiled by Puncture

The RML pairing of Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos were denied their first class win of the 2006 Le Mans Series season by a chance puncture in yesterday’s Spa 1000 Kilometers. In a race characterised by bizarre accidents and extended pace car delays, the MG Lola EX264 took the chequered flag second in LMP2, fifth overall, just half a lap behind the class-winning Chamberlain Synergy Lola of Amaral, Angel de Castro and Burgueno.

A brilliant start from Erdos had suggested that the RML MG could have been on course for an even more impressive result, with the EX264 lying second overall as the cars streamed up the hill beyond Eau Rouge to begin the opening lap. Behind the leaders, however, a major accident was unfolding that would see four cars damaged beyond repair, and as many as eight others sustaining scars that would remain with them for the rest of the six-hour race. A safety car was deployed immediately, but after two laps the race had to be suspended while the track was cleared. The surviving cars were forced to sit out the 40-minute delay on the pit straight, the teams prevented from attending to them, or their drivers, under parc fermé conditions.

No sooner had the cars moved off again than another accident ensured a further six laps behind the safety car before racing proper could resume. For half an hour Erdos pressed on hard, and was lying second in class, sixth overall, when the right rear tyre ruptured soon after clearing Eau Rouge. “At first I sensed just a slight twitch from the rear, but then it gave way completely, very suddenly. That’s not a nice feeling when you’re doing 260 kph,” said an understated Brazilian. With virtually a full lap to complete it was a painfully slow journey back to the pitlane, but Erdos managed the five kilometers without sustaining further damage. “That cost us the best part of four minutes, and we were knocked out of sequence by maybe half a stint,” explained Phil Barker, Team Manager at RML.

Fitted with fresh tyres Erdos was soon setting his fastest laps of the race, and within half an hour was back up to tenth overall, third in LMP2. A faultless driver-swap had Mike Newton into the car for the middle two stints, and he maintained the MG’s recovery, rising to fifth overall and second in class as the race entered its third hour. His mid-stint pitstop, combined with another awkwardly timed safety car period, cost RML one place as the delayed Zytek LMP1 came through en route to third overall. Erdos then completed the final hour and a half, steadily drawing nearer to the class-leading Chamberlain Lola, before eventually crossing the line after 131 laps a mere minute behind. “One more mistake and Tommy would have had him!” insisted Phil Barker after the Lola had spun for the second time in the closing minutes.

“I’m really pleased with the performance from the whole team today,” said Adam Wiseberg, Motorsport Manager for AD Holdings. “The difference between first and second came down to a single puncture, but we demonstrated that we have the pace and the reliability to win,” Ray Mallock, team owner at RML, agreed. “That puncture at the beginning of a lap cost us the race,” he said, “but finishing second gains us useful points towards the championship.”

The series now looks ahead to the Nurburgring in Germany in mid-July, but RML will be in action again before that, with the Le Mans 24 Hours just four weeks away. “It is good to know we can head to Le Mans better prepared and in a stronger position than we were this time last year,” said Adam Wiseberg, conscious of the fact that RML took a class win in the 24 Hours in 2005.