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Le Mans Series 2006
Round 4. Donington Park 1000 Kilometers. August 26th-27th 2006

Race..Issued August 28th 2006

From Pole to Podium – the Hard Way

RML’s Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos recorded their maiden class win of the 2006 Le Mans Series yesterday with victory in LMP2 at Donington Park in the penultimate round of the season. The books may go on to record what might appear as an easy and dominant performance, the RML MG Lola EX264 having taken the chequered flag some twelve laps clear of its nearest rival, but in truth this was a hard-fought and challenging six-hour race that was only decided in the closing minutes.

That RML had a fight on their hands became evident during Saturday qualifying. With an unbroken record of straight poles this year, Thomas Erdos laid claim to his fifth consecutive front-row start with his second flyer, and appeared comfortably clear of the rest of the LMP2 field. So much so that the team returned the MG to the garage to conserve the tyres for the race, only to see Stuart Moseley in the new Bruichladdich Radical ease ahead by two-tenths of a second in the closing minutes. There was time enough for one more flying lap, and Erdos made it count, finding the best part of another half second to clinch pole and retain his unbeaten record. It was, however, nip and tuck at the top, and the prospects for the race looked anything but certain.

From the rolling start, Erdos made the most of pole to establish an early class lead as the challenge from Moseley’s Radical faded with a coolant leak. Half an hour into the race, however, and the Brazilian was coming under pressure from a charging Sam Hancock in the Binnie Motorsports Lola B05/42. The Briton made an impossible lunge as the two descended on the Fogarty’s Esses, but Erdos was fortunate to see the late challenge in his mirrors and hang wide. This saved both cars from certain damage, but set the MG skittering across the gravel. Hancock was through, but within three laps it was evident that the RML MG had collected a slow puncture. Pitting for a change of tyres cost Erdos almost a full lap, but over the course of the next two hours he drove at a remarkable pace to regain all the lost ground, including the LMP2 lead.

Erdos ended his mammoth stint and handed over to Mike Newton just seconds before a blow-out, ironically for the Binnie Lola, brought out the safety car. It was cruel timing for Newton, but it gifted the Rollcentre Radical, pitting a lap later, a generous ninety-second lead. For almost two hours the gap waxed and waned as the two middle-stinting drivers traded times – so much so that when Erdos regained control of the MG for the final 160 minutes, the margin stood unchanged at ninety seconds. Steadily, lap-by-lap, the gap narrowed. With forty-five minutes still to run it had fallen to seventy, but with both cars yet to complete their final pitstops the race was by no means over. Mathematically, Erdos could catch the Radical, now being driven by Rob Barff, but it was marginal.

With twenty minutes to go, disaster for Erdos as a vibration at the rear caused a wheelnut to work loose. He was forced to make another pitstop, just as Barff brought the Radical into the pitlane for its final scheduled stop. The RML pit crew leaped to their task, and had the MG back out again in moments, but not so the Radical. After five and a half hours, and with a lead extended by the MG’s wheelnut problem, the Rollcentre car refused to restart. Try as they might, the engineers couldn’t coax life back into the engine, and while they toiled Erdos swept by on the pit straight and into the lead.

With the next LMP2 runner a dozen laps in arrears, the pressure was off, and Erdos cruised to the chequered flag to secure a richly deserved win. “It was a great race; a fantastic race,” enthused Adam Wiseberg, Motorsport Director for the team’s principal sponsors, AD Holdings. “It was very close all the way. We seem to have had so much bad luck in the past, but today was when it all happened to everybody else.” Ray Mallock, team principal, shared that viewpoint. “I’m very proud of the team once again,” he said. “They worked superbly to secure this win. We didn’t have a large amount of good luck today, but others had worse than we did. We offer our sympathies to Rollcentre, but it’s nice to secure our first Le Mans Series victory of the year.”

Phil Barker, team manager, had watched the drama unfold from the pit wall. “What an amazing finish, and what an eventful last twenty minutes. For once, everything fell our way,” he said. “We were very unlucky to lose out under the safety car, and that made the rest of the race much more difficult for us. The puncture also meant that Tommy had to do two very long stints, but he rose to the challenge and drove a fantastic race.” Ten points for the class win takes RML to the top of the championship table, with Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos now also sharing the individual race for the drivers’ title. “We’re delighted to have won,” declared Newton. “It was a cruel twist of fate each way, but we’ll enjoy this one, and it means we’re well placed as we head towards the last round at Jarama.”

That final race takes place on September 24th, and just three points separate RML, on 26, from the Barazi Epsilon squad in second place, with drivers Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos having the same advantage over Michael Vergers and Juan Barazi. Six further drivers from two other teams are also in with a shout, so there’s everything still to race for in Spain.

An in-depth report of the race will be posted shortly. You can also view the high-resolution Gallery for images from the weekend at Donington Park