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Le Mans 24 Hours 2007
Friday - A "Day of Rest" June 15th 2007

Pitlane Walkabout Garage
Driver Parade Hotchkiss

In the Garage

Long perceived to be “a day of rest” in the build-up to the Le Mans 24 Hours, Friday usually ends up being one of the busiest of the week – certainly for the race engineers and mechanics. The guys in the RML garage were back at the circuit from the early morning, having worked fairly late the night before, in order to begin the process of stripping down, and then rebuilding, the MG EX264.

This is a major exercise, since every sub-assembly is removed – gearbox and rear suspension, engine, front suspension and brakes included. Similar pre-prepared assemblies then have to be bolted back onto the car, making sure that the set-up that the team and drivers have worked so hard to perfect, is replicated exactly with the new components. It’s a painstaking process, and every stage has to be carried out with meticulous care and cleanliness. It takes all day, and from time to time throughout that period, troops of guests are toured through the garage to be shown the car and have its complexities explained. It is a day that must try the patience of each and every one of them, yet they bear it with jovial good spirits.

Marshal's Award

The first call of the day came at 10:00, when a Press Conference was staged in the RML Paddock Hospitality unit to mark the inaugural presentation after last year’s Le Mans of the RML Marshal’s Trophy. This is to be awarded annually to the marshal who, in the opinion of the French Association des Commissaires de Route, has made the greatest demonstration of commitment, skill and bravery in the cause of marshalling a the Circuit de la Sarthe, home of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

The winning marshal in 2006 was Jacques Alanic, Commissaire de Stands for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2006. His efforts, not only during the 24 Hours, but also throughout the 2006 season, were taken into account. Jacques was present at the Press Conference, as were Daniel Poissenot, Race Director and Deputy President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest; Fabrice Bourrigaud, ACO Marketing Director; Patrick Chaillou, ACO Communications Director; and Daniel Perdrix, also of the ACO.

Representing the Association des Commissaires de Route, the French marshal’s organisation, were Michel Chevereau, President; Raymond Redon, Teasurer; Joél Esnault, Chief of the Arnage Office, and André Froger. Jacques Alanic himself was accompanied by several of his colleagues, including Monsieur Gachet, Alain Tannier, Christian Dams and Christian Petit, all Commissaires de Course at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

On behalf of RML, Phil Barker was delighted to acknowledge the invaluable role performed by the marshals at Le Mans. Also attending were Ray Mallock, Chief Executive and Founder of RML, and Adam Wiseberg, Motorsport Director of AD Holdings.

Ray Mallock spoke afterwards. “The marshals are here to help protect the lives of the drivers, and from my own personal experience, they do a wonderful job. I recall being in a race at Thruxton some years ago, and being involved in a serious incident. The car broke in two, and I was knocked unconscious. Moments later, the car caught fire. Initially the marshals were driven back by the heat, but only for a moment, and they quickly had the fire under control, and then helped me from the car. That sort of experience makes you realise how important their role is, and how right it is that we should demonstrate our appreciation of everything they do here with this Award. Their bravery and dedicated is extraordinary, and we saw evidence of that on Wednesday evening, when Marco Apicella had that horrendous accident in the Lamborghini. It makes you grateful for everything they do.”

Thomas Erdos has never experienced an accident like Ray’s, but he still values the marshals enormously. “You’re always very aware of the fact that there are marshals all around the track, and it makes you feel good to see them,” he said. “It’s unbelievable that they devote hours and days of their lives, often under difficult conditions, to ensure that racing drivers are safer on the track, and they do it for nothing. In many ways, they become marshals for the same reasons we become drivers; for the love of the sport, and it’s a great comfort to know that they are there.”

Mike Newton perhaps knows more about marshalling than almost any other driver at Le Mans this year, since he started his involvement in motorsport as a marshal in the Seventies. “I started behind the barriers in 1977,” he admitted. “That was some time before I became a racing driver, but I still kept on marshalling, even after 1985 when I first raced, and I continued to do so until about 1990.” It proved to be a very fruitful period in his life, and in 1991 he was present at the British “Marshal of the Year” awards dinner. Uniquely, he ended up marrying the recipient of that award; his wife Anne. “For that reason, I really do appreciate everything that the marshals do for us!” he grinned.

Mike’s marshalling apprenticeship came at conventional race meetings at circuits around the UK, and that can place different demands upon the marshals behind the barriers. “In a ten-lap sprint race, you have to get the cars cleared away immediately after an accident, within a lap, and before the rest all come round again. There’s no safety car, so you can end up putting yourself in danger, and when you’ve done that a few times, you really do begin to appreciate the contribution that the marshals make to the overall safety of motorsport.” In recognition of that fact, RML, and Mike in particular, acknowledges the work that the marshals do in two ways. “We keep in close touch with the British marshals, and carry the badge of the British Motorsport Marshals Club (BMMC) on the rear wing of the car. We also sponsor the marshals in the UK with heavily subsidised race suits. They have to be fireproof, of course, and with AD’s help, it means they can afford the best quality overalls.” Next time you’re at a British circuit, look out for the orange suits with the AD branding on the back!

One item of good news came through earlier in the day. After due consideration of the weather conditions, the ACO decided to waive their percentage lap-time requirement for all drivers in the race. That means everyone will be able to compete this weekend, although it’s doubtful that Mike’s eligibility was ever in question.

In addition, it has also been confirmed that the Lamborghini team has been given special dispensation to enter a second car. Normally a car cannot be re-shelled, unless the circumstances are exceptional. On Wednesday the car was damaged beyond repair, and while the team had a spare car in Paris, such substitutions are not normally allowed. However, it is occasionally possible to use a spare chassis, on the basis of safety, provided the parts from the old car are fitted to the replacement chassis. However, so severe was the impact that most parts left over from the crash were also unsalvageable. Under the exceptional circumstances created by Wednesday’s crash, the ACO relented, and stating Force Majeure, have allowed the team to collect their spare car, and it will now start the race.

Pitlane Walkabout

With the marshal’s gathering over, Mike’s next task on the Friday morning was to join Thomas Erdos and Andy Wallace in front of the team garage. The three drivers, sheltered from the persistent drizzle by a succession of brolly-dollies, spent an hour signing autograph cards and chatting with the thousands of spectators thronging the pitlane. In the process, they signed almost 500 HeroCards – and that in addition to a batch of several hundred more that they had autographed the day before — those in anticipation of the arrival of guests and visitors to the team’s garage and hospitality.

Throughout all this time, work on preparing the MG continued, and by lunchtime it was starting to look more like a racecar again. As detailed by a special feature here, one of those working hard was Mark Deacon (left). A new arrival to the team, Mark’s day-job is as an officer with London’s Metropolitan Police, but he has been generously loaned to RML for the duration of the Le Mans week. As an experienced restorer of classic cars and an enthusiastic motorsport fan, Mark fitted in remarkably quickly, and within a day or two was already being given tasks that he could never have dreamed he’d be given responsibility for only a week earlier.

On Friday he was delighted to be asked to work on the rear sub-assembly. “They’re letting me strip down the entire rear suspension and gearbox sub-assembly,” he said. “I never for a second thought they’d let me get my hands on the car, but here I am, working on the rear suspension.” He admitted he felt like “a kid let loose in a toyshop!”

Sportscar Racing Forum & MGCC Visit

The annual visit and pit tour for the guys from, our official web forum, took place at half-past two this year. They were joined by members of the MG Car Club, starting with an introduction to the drivers in the team hospitality. Refreshments were followed by a question-and-answer session hosted by Adam Wiseberg.

First up was Tommy, who was asked about the process of setting up a car for a race track like Le Mans, and covered topics such as downforce, drag and suspension. Mike and Andy discussed qualifying, with Andy going into some detail about the process of setting a quick time when you’ve only got a single flying lap to do it! His efforts on Wednesday were much appreciated. He was then asked about his preference for open or closed cockpits, and related the tale of his first run at Le Mans in 1999 with the Audi R8 Coupé. Heading down towards Indianapolis, one of the cockpit doors suddenly opened, and was ripped away by the pressure of air. Glancing upwards, he had just enough time to see it disappearing off into the trees. He radioed in to the pits and told them what had happened. “Which tree?” came the response. “How do I know!!? replied Wallace, by this time negotiating the corner and heading on towards Arnage. “Just get another door ready and I’ll pit this time.” There was a pause, then the call came back over the radio: “We need to know which tree . . . . we don’t have any more doors.” Needless to say, Andy prefers an open-topped prototype.

Tommy then talked about the fact that he’d be taking the race start. “They’ve changed the time this year. Is it an hour earlier, or an hour later?” Well, “if it’s five, we’ll all be in the pub having a drink,” suggested Adam Wiseberg, knowing that the correct time for the start is three this year.

Mike was then asked about the new Lola “oh-seven” nose and aerodynamic package, and why wasn’t the MG using it here at Le Mans. “We need a low to medium downforce setting for this track,” he explained, “and we’ve proven that the older nose is more efficient at lower-downforce settings.” There has also been some debate about the strength of the newer nose, which is a lighter lay-up and appears to flex more under load. “When contact comes to you, there’s not a lot you can do about it, so we’ll stick with the original nose section, which seems more robust. The newer nose may give two or three tenths over the course of the lap, but we believe that strength is more important over twenty-four hours. With two set-ups prepared on that nose, it should be our strongest option for us this year.”

Photo by Jerry from Sportscar Racing ForumAndy spoke briefly about the problem of punctures and deflating tyres – an ever-present concern here at Le Mans. “Any mechanical failure is pretty bad,” he said, “but a tyre failing can be particularly serious. We have sophisticated telemetry on the car, and a red light shows on the dash whenever a tyre pressure falls. Most punctures are slow – blowouts are fortunately quite rare – and the sensors built into the wheel rims warn us of a slow puncture. It’s the worst feeling possible when a tyre goes bang, especially if it’s one at the back. That brings at least one of the front wheels off the ground, and with the front doing most of the work, that leaves you with no steering and no brakes.” His advice then was to steer into the barrier, preferable so that you hit the tyres a glancing blow, so that you could slow down without doing too much damage to the car. “Then it’s usually a case of back to the pits for new tyres, and a fresh pair of pants!”

This prompted Mike to relate one of his experiences as a marshal at Oulton Park, when he was a driver on one of the fire tenders. The brakes were so poor that the only way to stop the things was to scrape down the barrier!

Tommy then talked about the benefits of triple stinting, when the tyres were durable enough to last three hours. “Once you’re in the car, you get into a groove, and you’ve got some kind of a rhythm going. If you can stop for fuel but don’t have to change tyres, then you can keep that rhythm going, and that can save maybe twenty seconds or more on each stop.” The driver who stays in also tends to be back up to speed more quickly that a fresh driver would be, since he’s familiar with the conditions, knows the limits of his tyres, and has the utmost confidence in his car.

This formal session was then followed by questions from the floor. Last year the RML MG finished eighth overall. Could it do better this year? Mike thought it was unlikely. “It’s very different this year,” he said. “There is far more factory involvement in LMP1, and the five diesels will all probably still be going at the end.” Perhaps a top-ten finish for the LMP2 winner might still be possible, but not easy. How about the MG’s own chances? “Last year we had the big unknown regarding the AER engine, which had never done the full 24 hours before. Now we know it can, and apart from Jarama, it’s been good every time. We’ve updated the brakes too, so we like to think we’ll do more laps than last year, and maybe we could even improve on eighth, but it will be very hard.”

Adam suggested that the three targets for 2007 were, firstly, to finish, then to run trouble-free as much as possible, and thirdly, to cross the line ahead of the leading GT1 cars. Andy was then quizzed about the car he drives here, the MG Lola EX264, and the one he races for Dyson in the States. What s the difference? “One’s British, and one’s German!” came Adam Wiseberg’s quipped reply! “We won’t really know until the Porsche comes to race over here,” said Wallace. “The Lola is a far more conventional car. It’s relatively easy to set up, and it’s nice to drive,” he added, before going on to explain that there may be twenty times as many elements of the RS Spyder to adjust, and while the Porsche might ultimately be the faster car, it was so much more difficult to set up, especially for a circuit like Le Mans, and under the kind of wet conditions we’ve been experiencing this week. It was also worth remembering that the Spyder racing in the ALMS is only as quick as some of the LMP1 cars, like the Audi R10, because the American rules allow for much bigger intake restrictors on the LMP2 engines, and in Europe, the Porsche would not have that advantage. “With these long straights, we’re probably better off with the MG Lola,” he concluded.

With the time having passed three o’clock, the drivers then headed off to prepare for their journey into the city centre, where the evening’s Parade des Pilotes would take place. The forum members, together with other MG enthusiasts, were then invited to head round to the pitlane where Michael Mallock would meet them for a guided tour of the RML garage.

Michael, accompanied by his fiancée Sam Clarke, then gave a very individual , and insightful, explanation of the workings and construction of the team’s Lola-based MG EX264. Although he has never raced the MG, Michael’s experience as a driver offered a different perspective on the more technical aspects of the car, and appeared to be much appreciated by the group. Thanks to him for offering his time, but also to everyone who came along to express their support for the team, and their interest in the car.

Michael's tour was much appreciated, and if it offered a brief respite from the rain, so much the better!

Driver Parade

Photo RJD PicsFor the next few hours work continued on preparing the MG for tomorrow’s race. Down in the heart of Le Mans a vast crowd had gathered to witness the traditional parade of drivers through the streets, accompanied by marching bands, supercars, jugglers, stilt-walkers and a succession of classic cars, all staged within a colourful, noisy and very French carnival atmosphere. Once again, as they had for the first time last year, Motors TV televised everything, and followed the procession throughout.

Anne Morel had cleverly persuaded the organisers to allow Mike, Tommy and Andy to be among the first group of drivers to join the parade, assuring them some chance of being finished in time for a special celebratory dinner, scheduled for the evening. There appears to be little rhyme or reason to the cars that the teams are allocated, and all manner of classic and vintage cars are employed, provided they have an open top and room for three. In 2006 the RML squad perched on the hood rail of a fabulous Bentley. A year later they found themselves with slightly less room on the rear scuttle of a rare 1930s Hotchkiss. Later, they were honest enough to admit they knew little or nothing about this interesting marque, so here’s a bit of history . . .


Club Hotchkiss (France)Benjamin Hotchkiss was actually American by birth, and an arms manufacturer by trade. In the late 19th Century, he came up with some pretty elaborate designs for a repeat-action rifle. Strangely, the US Government wasn’t interested in his new-fangled revolving “machine gun”, so he headed across the Atlantic and settled near Paris in 1867, where he established the Hotchkiss Company. Hotchkiss was soon manufacturing guns and armaments for the more forward-thinking French, but sadly died in 1885, just before the design for his new gun was perfected.

British Hotchkiss SocietyThe company continued, however, and the definitive ‘Hotchkiss’ 8mm machine gun duly went into production. In gas-powered, air-cooled form, it would ultimately become the standard-issue heavy machine gun for the French and British armies during the First World War.

As an established engineering company, Hotchkiss was in an excellent position to exploit the dawn of motoring that arrived with the turn of the twentieth century. Initially designing and manufacturing components for other companies, the company’s own motor vehicle first left the workshops in 1903. Naturally, Hotchkiss veered towards the production of military vehicles, and the company’s badge of a pair of crossed canons graced many armoured cars and small trucks.

Major Percy Hulme Morrell MBEBetween the two World Wars, Hotchkiss produced a succession of small, practical yet elegant motorcars, although many of these still continued to be purchased by the military. During this period Hotchkiss diversified into the manufacture of racing cars, and with some considerable success. The AM80 won a hat-trick of victories in the Monte Carlo Rally between 1932 and 1934, winning again in 1939. After the War, Hotchkiss won the Rally again in 1949 and 1950. No mean achievement. The “works” team even raced at Brooklands.

During the Second World War, Hotchkiss concentrated on what it knew best, and produced one of the world’s first four-wheel-drive military vehicles, as well as guns and light armoured tanks. Over 1000 of these tanks were already in service by the time the Germans invaded France in 1940, and were considered so effective by the advancing army that the Germans pressed them into service.

Hotchkiss and the JeepHenry Ainsworth, the Managing Director of Hotchkiss, escaped from Paris and moved to London, where his expertise was put to excellent use. He was influential in the design of the famous Willys Jeep, and after the war obtained the rights to manufacture the Jeep in the Hotchkiss factory in Paris. This continued right though until the mid-Sixties (right), and over 27,000 were built.

Post-war, the company’s fortunes went through a succession of take-overs and mergers, and the Hotchkiss name finally disappeared in 1972. Even so, for almost a century the name of Hotchkiss had been associated with ingenuity and engineering excellence, so perhaps not an inappropriate marque for the RML drivers to employ for their parade through Le Mans. (If this has whet your appetite, click the pictures for additional information on Hotchkiss and the story behind the name, or visit the Wikipedia page.)

The team’s Friday concluded with a dinner for the drivers with the Mallock Club, and as early a night as possible!