Mans 24 Hours 2007
Saturday - Warm-up/Legends/Parade/Race Start. June 16th
seems the pattern for the Le Mans week is firmly established
already, and once again, conditions were wet for Saturday
morning’s warm-up. To begin with, very few cars did
more than an out-lap and then come straight back in again,
but after ten minutes the times started to rack up on the
LMP2, de Castro was first to set a time in the ASM Lola;
a 4:44. With the skies brightening, and the track less saturated,
the times then began to improve, with Moseley in the Radical
achieving 4:27, followed by a swift 4:35 from Kurosawa in
the #33 Zytek.
until this point RML’s MG, with Thomas Erdos in the
driving seat, had completed just a single exploratory lap,
during which Tommy had encountered a problem with a loose
rear-view mirror. He returned to the garage to have that
adjusted, and after a few minutes, returned to the track
to complete a trio of laps that included a modest 4:36,
before returning to the pitlane for a change of tyres.
seventeen minutes remaining, the second (or perhaps first?)
Barazi Zytek made an appearance, with Michael Vergers posting
4:18 to mark a new best for P2. Tommy Erdos, then back out
for a few more laps in the MG, came through with a 4:22
to move into second place, twelfth fastest overall. He followed
this with a 4:21.103 to end the warm-up second fastest in
LMP2, fifteenth overall.
was all very straightforward," said Phil Barker. "We
were scrubbing in some tyres, and checking that yesterday's
engine change had gone OK. A few installation laps, and
everything looks fine."
cars moved off the grid at just after ten-to-three, and
began their slow, weaving run around the 13.6 kilometer
circuit, headed by the Audi pace car, all lights flashing.
It must seem like an eternity to the drivers as they try
their best to generate a little heat in their tyres, but
eventually, after almost nine minutes, the first cars arrived
at the Ford Chicane. With the public address pumping out
stirring music, the cars snaked through the last series
of bends. At the last moment the pace car pulled aside,
and for a moment longer the front-row Pescarolo and Audi
slowed, hesitated, then with a rising crescendo of noise,
the entire pack roared across the line and up the pit straight.
little further back, all went cleanly for Tommy in the RML
MG. Hanging onto the tail of the Binnie Lola, he eased clear
of the GT1 leaders behind him, and set off in hot pursuit.
up through the Dunlop Curves, Bourdais in the lead #8 Peugeot
made a slight error, crossing the corner of the gravel,
and allowing Capello in the #2 Audi through into the lead.
The #7 Peugeot held third, with Audis fourth and fifth.
Elsewhere, other cars were also changing places, including
the #25 MG, with Tommy getting ahead of the Binnie Lola
for fifth in LMP2.
was how they ended the first lap, with Tommy starting to
ease away from the Binnie Lola just fractionally. Pulling
off behind them and into the pitlane was the #19 Chamberlain
Synergy Lola, suffering from bodywork fouling on a punctured
rear tyres. It would be in the pits only briefly. The #33
Zytek was leading P2, with the ASM Quifel Lola sandwiched
between it and the sister Barazi Zytek #32. A hair’s
breadth behind them was Stuart Moseley in the Bruichladdich
Radical SR9 and then a narrow gap to Tommy. Right at the
back of the field, the “new” Lamborghini had
overtaken one of the prototypes, albeit the T2M Dome, which
had started one place ahead of it on the grid.
the next few laps matters remained largely unaltered at
the front of both prototype classes. While the leading Audi
appeared to be pulling away easily from the chasing foursome
– two Peugeots, two Audis. In LMP2, the gaggle of
four at the front were circulating almost as if connected
by a cable, but a narrow margin had appeared between the
Radical, fourth, and Tommy in the MG, fifth.
these five, a large gap was opening up to Bill Binnie in
the #31 Lola, which had fallen into the clutches of the
leaders in GT1. Like a pack of dogs, they were snapping
all over the Lola’s heels. The first to make the kill
was the leading Aston Martin, but over the course of the
next half-dozen laps, another five GT1 cars got ahead of
the Binnie car.
the end of the fourth lap the #21 Radical had started to
fall back from the leading trio, and as Moseley lost touch
with the Gulf-coloured Zytek, so Erdos must have started
to loom ever larger in his rear-view mirrors. Lap after
lap, the gap ahead of Moseley lengthened, while the margin
over Erdos evaporated steadily. Just ahead, the #32 Zytek
nipped in ahead of Warren Hughes, the former RML driver
taking first stint in the ASM Quifel Lola and slipping to
third in class.
next lap saw the first significant error by any of the leading
drivers in P2 as Michael Vergers in the #32 Zytek went for
a spin, losing second, and only able to regain the track
after Tommy had slipped by. The race was only six laps old,
but already there had been a lot of chopping and changing
amongst the various class leaders.
Vergers didn’t seem to disrupt Tommy’s concentration
too much and he proceeded to close down on Moseley with
relentless determination. The two cars ended the eighth
lap nose-to-tail through the Ford Chicane, and it only took
another lap for Erdos to ease into third place. With this
move the first of the three lights on the side of the MG
lit up, signifying the move into the top three, and bringing
a brighter aspect to the car’s progress.
ten laps into the race and the first of several cars started
heading for the pitlane. The overall leader, Dindo Capello
in the #2 Audi, was among the first. It was most probably
a deliberate early-pitstop and ploy to get this car out
of sequence with the other two R10s in the team. The lighter
initial fuel load would account for its unexpected pace
advantage at the start.
the very next lap Tommy brought the MG down the pitlane
for the very same reason. With garages adjacent to the ASM
Quifel Lola, it was important that the two cars did not
arrive in the pitlane at the same time, at least no more
than could be avoided. This was one means of achieving that
break in sequence. At the time he’d pitted, Tommy
was some eighteen seconds behind the ASM Lola, and four
seconds ahead of Moseley in the Radical. Just before the
end of the hour, Hughes moved through into the class lead,
getting the best of Fernandez in the #33 Zytek, but the
opening sixty minutes hadn’t yet introduced its full
quota of incident.
rain began to call, especially round the Arnage end of the
track, and two cars were about to suffer the consequences.
Coming through the Porsche Curves the Creation Judd CA07,
with Jamie Campbell-Walter at the wheel, and Stuart Moseley
in the Bruichladdich Radical, hit standing water that caught
both totally unawares. Moseley lost control of the Radical,
and spun backwards into the unforgiving concrete. Jamie
suffered likewise, although in his case the contact with
the wall appeared less critical.
So the second hour began with a safety car period. LMP2
stood as Hughes leading in the ASM Lola from Fernandez second
and Thomas Erdos third in the RML MG. They were 14th, 15th
and 16th overall respectively. With the exception of the
Radical’s demise, it looked like a good beginning
for LMP2. Indeed, demise proved to be the apposite word.
Although Moseley was able to bring the car gently back to
the pitlane, with evident damage to the front and the back
of the car, and no rear wing, an inspection by the scrutineers
resulted in a forced retirement. Although the team was willing
to work on the car, and get it going again, the officials
felt that the integrity of the main tub had been damaged,
with elements of the front suspension actually puncturing
the carbon fibre. Under those circumstances, safety becomes
the prime concern, and the garage doors descended on the
#21’s garage. Although the Radical’s impact
with the wall proved terminal, the Creation would eventually
resume the race, although some twenty laps down on the rest
of the field.
some areas of the track were being subjected to heavy rain,
other sections remained dry. So long as the safety car continued
to circulate, this was not a huge problem for drivers as
experienced as Thomas Erdos, so he stayed out on the slick
tyres he’d started with. Others elected to go for
the pitstop anyway, while the track was moving so slowly.
One of these was Adrian Fernandez in the #33 Barazi Zytek.
The pitstop itself went well enough, but he was waved off
the box just a little too eagerly, and drove right into
the path of Liz Halliday, just hading for her pitstop a
little further along. Fortunately, neither car was travelling
particularly fastm and there was no obvious damage.
was running fourth in a train behind the second Safety Car,
and as he came through on the pit straight, moved through
ahead of Fernandez to take 2nd in LMP2. Those lights on
the sides of the car are very useful!
The green flag came at twenty-past four, and shortly afterwards
Fernandez had a brief off, believed to have been due to
a gearchange issue, although it didn’t stop the car’s
charge for long., It did allow Tommy to ease just a little
further ahead, however. Elsewhere, a stop-go (reason unknown)
for the #35 Saulnier Courage also rippled an effect through
half-past four Tommy had moved along to 14th overall, with
Warren Hughes still leading the class in the #40 ASM Quifel
Lola, ninth overall. Moments later there were gasps from
those watching the television monitors as Mike Rockenfeller
set a new fastest lap for the #3 Audi, and then suffered
the indignity of a massive ‘off’ at the exit
of the new Tertre Rouge corner. The rear end of the car
was wiped heavily down the Armco, rearranging the suspension
in a bizarre fashion. To all those watching it was obvious
that the car was never going to make it round 12 kilometres
or so of the circuit, but even so, the young German began
the process of trying to do just that. For about half an
hour he worked away at the back of the car, clearing broken
panelwork and trying to reconnect damaged pipework. Finally,
he attempted to restart the car. The engine fired up, but
judging by the volumes of smoke, the R10’s diesel
engine wasn’t happy. Rockenfeller finally gave up,
and the first of the Audis retired.
for the beak in reporting, but we have been unable to get
on-line for some time, and cannot update the website when
This time Tommy took full advantage of the Safety Car, and
came straight down the pitlane at the end of his next lap.
It was 16:35. Tommy clambered out of the car after a very
successful double-stint, and handed over the MG to Andy
Wallace. The car was fitted with fresh tyres, and off he
went, smoothly and without any problems.
of the MG’s earlier rivals was having problems. The
#32 Zytek (Barazi/Vergers/Ojeh) had been in the garage for
some time with gearbox woes. It would stay there for a little
while longer, but it would rejoin. Warren Hughes and the
ASM Lola were not troubled at all. Leading LMP2, the Portuguese
car stood seventh overall, six positions above the second-placed
start of the third hour had only just ticked over when Andy
radioed in to say that the car had “stopped”.
This wasn’t strictly true, since he was still freewheeling
at a fair pace when he said this, but his momentum steadily
died away, and the car coasted to a halt at the foot of
Marshals helped push the car to a point of safety, where
Wallace clambered out and started removing items of bodywork
in order to find out what was wrong. With advice over the
radio, he managed to find and transfer to the auxiliary
crank trigger system.
diagnosed, this allowed him to restart the engine and bring
the car back to the pitlane at 17:17, where it was checked
over and passed as fit for further action. The delay had
cost several minutes, and even though the #33 Zytek had
gone for a quick spin, ground had been lost.
visit coincided with another worsening in the weather, and
the pitlane itself was very heavy with water, despite the
fact that other stretches of the track remained dry. Rear
rain lights brightly lit, Andy rejoined at twenty-past,
but from second in class only half an hour or so previously,
the MG now stood 34th overall and 6th in LMP2.
half-hour came and went, with Mike Rockenfeller still working
gamely at the back of the #3 Audi, determined to the last.
The ASM Lola came in for a scheduled pitstop, and Andy confirmed
that the track was very treacherous, especially along the
pit straight. From the first chicane onwards it was better,
and he felt the track remained “OK for slicks”.
A pirouette for the #15 Charouz Lola suggested he was correct,
and this is still behind the safety car. Another finding
the conditions more than a little testing was Amaral in
the #40 ASM Lola, who elected to go straight on at one of
the Mulsanne chicanes and negotiate the tyre walls.
the rain growing heavier by the minute, Andy finally agreed
to come into the pits and swap the car’s slick tyres
for intermediates, but remains convinced that the track
is not yet sufficiently awash to justify full wets. Moments
later, at 17:44, racing finally resumed.
A driver of Andy’s experience is not put off by a
bit of damp track, and he was rapidly into a series of very
quick laps, moving up to 30th overall and bearing down on
the #35 Saulnier Courage, Nicolet at the wheel. Warren Hughes
in the #40 ASM Lola retained the LMP2 lead, with the smooth
and unruffled Binnie Lola second, and the #33 Zytek third.
five before six, and with the conditions much improved,
Andy came back down the pitlane for a more scheduled stop
and a set of slicks. The interruption dropped the MG back
to38th, but everything was still close enough at the back
that it would only be a matter of time before the RML machine
started moving back up again. Andy’s times, being
regularly in the 3:56 to 3:58 bracket, were typically four
or six seconds a lap quicker than anyone else in the class.
It’s an impressive run.
ten past six, Andy moved ahead of the #35 LMP2 Courage,
and thereby into fifth position in the class. Over the next
half hour he began to make significant inroads into the
advantage enjoyed by Vitaly Petrov in the Noel del Bello
Courage AER, thanks largely to being 20 seconds a lap quicker.
This was amply demonstrated at just after half-past when
the track had almost completely dried. His time on that
half-hour of 3:48.618 was getting very close to the 3:46.634
that Tommy had done towards the end of his opening stint,
when the sun had been shining brightly.
18:46 Andy Wallace came burbling back down the pitlane for
his next scheduled pitstop. He also requested that someone
went round and cleaned his mirrors. Even a fast LMP2 driver
needs to know who’s coming up behind! He would stay
in the car for another stint, but lost one place to the
Ortelli Saleen during the stop. Just along in the pitlane
(but safely after Andy had left) there was a brief flash
fire aboard the Charouz Lola, rapidly extinguished by the
than ten minutes later, it all started to go very wrong
for Andy and the RML MG. Sweeping through the fast right-hander
that leads into the Porsche Curves, the car suddenly snapped
away from its driver, and pitched itself heavily into the
tyre wall. The results were obvious to everyone watching
the television screens. “It may be a puncture,”
he said over the radio, after a few moments ominous silence.
“There was nothing I could do. It hit really, really
hard, and I think it’s bad. They’re going to
pull me out.” From the view on the monitors, it was
clear that both ends of the car were severely damaged. The
recovery crew were quick to react, and had the MG dragged
out of the gravel in a matter of moments. Once safely into
the escape road, Andy was able to get out and examine the
car. It looked rough, but Andy thought there was a good
chance he could get it going again. He succeeded.
journey back to the garage was anything but easy. Although
on the final leg of a full lap, Andy soon discovered that
steering the MG was not going to be easy. “I’m
sorry Phil, but it won’t steer. I’m trying my
best!” His best proved to be good enough, and more
than that, he drove back in such a way that the engine,
which was in danger of overheating as a result of damage
to the cooling system, survived the ordeal without any obvious
signs of harm. “You’re doing a great job Andy.
Just keep it coming!” Twelve minutes after he’d
hit the wall, he re-entered the pitlane.
up outside the garage, the MG was a very sorry sight. The
engine cover in particular looked very much the worse for
the experience - split and sagging, it was hanging loose
across the back wheels. The rear wing had disappeared completely,
and nearly every panel, including the nose, had sustained
damage. The crew were remarkably quick to get into action,
although getting the trolley to engage with the pick-up
points at the back of the car proved challenging. With that
done, the MG was hauled backwards into the garage with Andy
had not even had time to climb out before the team was ripping
the remains of the engine cover away from the back of the
car. There was no ceremony here – the panel was beyond
repair, so there was little point in treating it gently.
“That’s a throwaway!” came the call, followed
swiftly by “Fuel leak, fuel leak!” Anyone surplus
to requirements was ushered out of the garage, while others
with fire extinguishers rushed forwards. Thankfully, they
weren’t needed, and the seepage was swiftly plugged.
garage took on the appearance of an ants’ nest that
has just been kicked. That was the first impression. Anyone
taking the time to pause and look would soon see that these
were not the random actions of animals in panic –
far from it. Hurried they may have been, but the engineers
and mechanics all knew their tasks, and they were moving
swiftly to fulfil them. Everything was also strangely quiet.
It was impossible to ignore the constant drone of cars passing
by on the track outside, but within the RML garage there
was no time, or need, for wasting effort on talk. Aside
from the occasional instruction from Phil Barker, or Michael
Jakeman, each man knew exactly what he should be doing,
and they were getting on with it.
the engine cover and nose section removed, the side-pods
were next to go. New panels started to arrive, all set to
replace the ones already discarded.
quarter past seven the rear underfloor had been removed,
and the car was up on high stands so that access underneath
was easier. Once revealed, the rear sub-assembly looked
to have escaped the impact unscathed, despite the very obvious
damage to the ear wing uprights.
the front, the nose could not be salvaged, but the first
available spare nose had been set up with a higher-downforce
configuration, so while most of the crew concentrated on
repairs, others started adjusting the spare nose to the
same settings as the damaged original.
and the replacement rear wing upright was already bolted
into position, and the car was starting to look like a car
again. Some of the team had been given the job of vacuuming
out any loose gravel from the recesses and corners of the
tub. Adam Hughes, who had been attending to the rear sub-assembly,
was despatched to finish sorting out the nose. It’s
a vast piece of carbon fibre, so more space was needed,
and the last of the spectators were cleared away from the
back of the garage.
seven and the RML MG had slumped to 43rd overall. There
wasn’t a lot further it could fall. Underneath the
tub, Paul Smallcorn and others had managed to get the front
floor removed, and the replacement was offered up straight
away, and bolted into place. Within four or five minutes,
possibly less, it was in place. The whole of the rear of
the car was also now fully rebuilt, with the exception of
the new undertray and rear wing, and they were now about
to be reintroduced as well.
an hour into the repair and the initial rushing around had
eased. By then the guys seemed to know they were on the
home straight, and reassembly is so much more important
than ripping apart. There’s no room for error when
it comes to building a racecar – a man’s life
depends upon it, and as Tommy Erdos has said so often in
the past, he feels he can always trust a car that’s
been prepared for him by the crew at RML. Even under the
extreme pressure of having to get a car back into a race
as quickly as possible, the team knows that cutting corners
is not an option. They were working on the MG with a methodical
thoroughness and care born of experience.
and while the coolant was being refilled, Phil called for
the rear floor section to be bought forward. Inside four
minutes, it was installed. Two minutes later, and the sidepods
were being bolted into position. The MG really was starting
to look like its pristine self once again! Confirmation
came in the form of Mike Newton, who walked through to the
front of the garage, suited, helmeted, and ready to climb
into the cockpit. He was signed in by one of the ACO scrutineers,
and then stood back, waiting for the crew to complete their
and fresh tyres were rolled or carried through from the
warmers outside. A final check for the rear diff, a check
on the water levels, and then the whole tub was lifted,
briefly, the stands removed, and then the car was lowered
to the floor. 19:56 and, with a brief stutter, the engine
snarled into life. It sounded good, although Volker Muschick,
helping to refit the rear wing, was caught slightly off
guard by the blast from the exhaust!
and the tyres were being fitted, followed by the engine
cover and then the last bolts securing the rear wing. Exactly
on eight o’clock the MG was hauled out onto the pit
apron, with Mike firmly strapped inside. Refuelled and waved
away, the car blasted down the pitlane towards the track.
It was two minutes past the hour, and 67 minutes after Andy
piled into the tyres, the #25 was back in the race. It was
some testament to the RML crew that it had taken them only
55 minutes to repair a car that others might have shrugged
their shoulders at and dismissed. Little wonder that these
men won the ESCRA award in 2006! “We work well together,”
admitted Paul Smallcorn. “We’re a team, and
when we get together for an event like this, everything
just gells. Next week I’ll be back doing fabrication
in the workshop, and some of these other guys will be in
the design room, or working on electronics, but collected
into a team, we just get on with what we need to do.”
The MG’s exhaust note was still reverberating down
the concrete walls of the pitlane when Rick Perry reminded
everyone to “get this garage cleared up, just in case
it happens again!” One can only hope it doesn’t.
The delay had cost the team the equivalent of 18 laps, and
Mike emerged “dead last”, as Ray Mallock observed.
That meant 48th place overall, and a long, long way back
on the LMP2 leaders; the #33 Barazi Zytek, followed closely
by Miguel Amaral in the #40 ASM Quifel Lola.
Mike’s pace was good, right from his first flying
lap. His confidence in the car had never wavered, in spite
of having watched how much work had been completed in such
a short time, and he was content to push on, come what may.
Twenty minutes or so into his stint and there was another
major accident on the Mulsanne. Once more it was the long-suffering
Creation Judd that had come to grief, head-butting the tyre
wall on the escape road for the first Mulsanne chicane.
The entire row of tyres fell down like a row of dominoes,
and the Creation was left looking a much sadder version
of its earlier (and stunningly liveried) self. Elsewhere,
the #82 Panoz was pulling over to the side and the #76 Porsche
was having an off moment.
and the MG had moved clear of the bottom of the timing screens,
climbing up to 47th overall, a somewhat unrepresentative
9th in LMP2. Twenty minutes later and it was time for Mike’s
first scheduled stop. Fuel only, and very swiftly accomplished.
stint moved on smoothly into the sixth hour, with the CEO
of AD Holdings holding his own against all the other P2
drivers on the track at the time. This was proven by the
scalps he steadily acquired – moving into 45th position
by 21:24, and then having a brief duel with one of the GT2
Spykers. The #86 put up a fair resistance, but it was pointless.
“He wanted a battle,” suggested Mike. “I
think I won!”
quarter-to-ten the P2 situation had settled down, for a
while anyway, and had the #33 Barazi Zytek (Adrian Fernandez
in the cockpit) leading from de Castro in the #40 ASM Lola.
Chris Buncombe (Binnie Lola) held third from a string of
Courage C65s: Liz Halliday in the Del Bello car; Nicolet
in the Saulnier example fifth, and Tony Burgess sixth in
the Kruse C65.
an hour after he was last there, Mike’s MG was burbling
down the pitlane at 21:49 in anticipation of a driver change
with Tommy Erdos. With the car refuelled and fitted with
fresh rubber, the Brazilian was off again by 21:54. Even
these more complex stops seem to come and go smoothly for
the RML squad. Not so Jan Magnussen’s progress up
towards the Dunlop Chicane in the #63 Corvette. Quite needlessly,
and in an appalling exhibition of how not to drive an LMP1
through traffic, Marco Werner in the #1 Audi swiped the
innocent Dane sideways into the gravel. Skilfully, Magnussen
kept control of the Corvette, skipped across the gravel
and regained the track at the brow of the hill, thankfully
without serious damage. The Audi was in the pits shortly
afterwards to have a new rear panel fitted. Just desserts,
exactly on the hour and the Creation’s race goes from
bad to worse. What started with such promise, and such publicity,
is developing into a catalogue of disasters as Shinji Nakano
is the next of the car’s three drivers to test the
resilience of the tyre wall. This time it’s in the
same spot as Andy’s earlier encounter, and looks almost
The stranded Creation proved more difficult for the marshals
to remove than had the MG, and the safety car was swiftly
deployed. Tommy took up his position in the train, holding
43rd overall, just narrowly ahead now of the #20 Pilbeam-Judd,
having passed Chris Macallister a few minutes previously.
The track was cleared and racing resumed at 22:23, but not
before the #33 Zytek had been into the garage to have a
brake fluid lead attended to. By contrast, Tommy was soon
back up to speed and moving smoothly, closing to within
half a minute of the #44 Kruse over the course of the next
twenty minutes. He wouldn’t quite have enough time
to catch the Courage and pass it, however. At 22:57 he was
starting his in-lap, and true to form, the fuel warning
light blinked on as he sped between the two Mulsanne chicanes.
Erdos marked the conclusion of the seventh hour by heading
into the pits for fuel.
high resolution gallery an be found here.