Mans 24 Hours 2007
Sunday - Race Hour 8 - Finish. June 17th
from his eleven o'clock pitstop, Tommy was back out in 41st
position overall, 94 laps clocked up. Some way up the road
ahead of him lay the #32 Barazi Zytek – itself not
untroubled by incident and mechanical issues, but at this
stage still circulating strongly. Amazingly, Tommy was gaining
hand-over-fist, reducing the deficit by a massive 40 seconds
on one lap early into the eighth hour. This was the battle
for sixth in class.
Major dramas at seventeen past the hour,
when the class-leading ASM Quifel Lola, with Warren Hughes
at the wheel, coasted to a halt, three wheels on his wagon.
“I lost drive completely,” he said later. “I’d
just come through the Dunlop Curves when the right rear
wheel detached through Tertre Rouge. I had to take off the
engine cover and lock the diff on one wheel. That allowed
me to drive the car back to the garage in first gear. Now
we need to find the cause.” It took him the best part
of a quarter of an hour, but the Lola was still immobile
when the #33 Zytek swept through to take the class lead.
That coincided with the MG’s hundredth lap.
The battle for second in LMP2 had been quite
tight, so it was only a minute or so after the #33 had taken
the lead that the Binnie Lola #31 followed through into
second., seventeenth overall. The ASM’s descent from
a glorious lead proved to be somewhat meteoric, but at least
Warren had got the car moving again, although the pace was
almost sedentary. He crawled the car laboriously round the
circuit to reach the garage at ten minutes before midnight,
having lost five laps. The car would lose many more before
the night was over.
was fast approaching when Thomas Erdos made his next brief
visit to the pitlane, taking on fuel but not a lot else
as he started his third consecutive stint, and the MG’s
9 - from Midnight
seemed hard to credit that only nine hours of the race had
been completed when the race entered its second day. It
had been an eventful period for the RML pit crew, but once
again, they’d achieved the near impossible and kept
the MG going, and not without some slim hope of a decent
finish. The going wasn’t totally without its occasional
hiccup, but in general, it was smooth running. Early into
the new day and Tommy was having a problem with the shift
into third gear, but it was quickly traced to the “jacker”
system, and provided Tommy (and whoever followed him) blipped
the throttle on the down-change, everything continued to
slip through the box neatly.
Car 44’s race (the Kruse Courage)
was also having its moments, one of them coming at eight
minutes past twelve when it spun through the second Mulsanne
chicane, but the C65 was already well behind the MG, and
falling further adrift. It would soon become the last car
At just after the quarter hour Tommy moved
through into 40th overall with a pass on the #19 Chamberlain
Synergy Lola, stuck in the garage with clutch issues.
and the ASM Lola returned to the fray after spending the
best part of forty-five minutes in the garage. When Warren
rejoins, he is less than a minute ahead of the MG, but the
#40 car appears to be back in pretty fine fettle, and his
lap times are good, so the gap remains almost constant until
the next round of pitstops.
Conditions out on the circuit were actually
very good, and the rain had been long forgotten in most
quarters. This was demonstrated by a number of new fastest
laps in several classes, including a 3:40.946 from Michael
Vergers in the #32 Zytek.
and the ASM Lola was back into the garage again, the team
seemingly unable to solve the problem of self-loosening
wheelnuts. Thankfully the wheel hadn’t fallen off
this time, but it was still disconcerting to feel it wobbling
about. Four minutes later and Thomas Erdos was back into
the pits as well, although his stop was planned, inclusive
of driver change to Mike Newton.
sooner had Newton left the pitlane than the on-board telemetry
suggested a pressure problem with the front right wheel.
Was there a puncture? There was no point in taking the risk,
and Mike was called back in again at the end of his first
lap. A new wheel and tyre was fitted, and the delay was
very brief, but subsequent tests failed to find a fault.
Better to be safe than sorry.
Return to the top
Ten hours into
the race and things were getting exciting again in LMP2
– for the lead anyway. For some time the Binnie Lola
had been out at the front, largely due to an untroubled,
if equally unhurried progress. It’s often the case
that the car that encounters the fewest problems is the
one that gets the Le Mans result, and outright pace isn’t
always the only answer. So here was the Binnie Lola, almost
ten seconds off the best Zytek pace, but leading the class.
It was a close-run thing though. Allan Timpany was losing
ground to Vitaly Petrov by the rate of 7 or 8 seconds per
lap, and the del Bello Courage looked about ready to pounce.
mechanic to keep the ASM Lola moving, Warren Hughes was
out to prove that he was still a racing driver too. A new
best of 3:44.804 was a pretty fair pace from the #40, but
he hadn’t finished yet. Next lap through he sliced
three seconds off that to post a new best for a Lola of
3:41.891, but it couldn’t last. The half-hour was
beckoning when he returned the Lola to the pitlane with
a recurrence of the earlier wheel problem.
That was the
only excuse Mike Newton required, and at 01:31 he took the
MG EX264 through into 38th place overall, and with it the
#25 car moved forward onto the psychologically significant
“second screen”. In the ASM pit, Hughes was
giving way to Amaral.
del Bello “pounce” came at quarter-to-two, when
Petrov moved ahead of Buncombe on the pitstop, and with
it took both the class lead and 17th overall. Mike pitted
later on the same lap for fuel and tyres, and then just
before the hour Buncombe regained the lead as the Russian,
Vitaly Petrov, pitted.
o’clock in the morning, and the RML MG’s race
appeared to have swapped race characteristics with the ASM’s.
After a troubled first quarter, the #25 was making serene
and relatively untroubled progress. It made a pleasant change
for the pit crew, who were able to catch up on some much
needed rest after the exertions of the afternoon and evening.
In the Portuguese pit, the emotions were very different
when Miguel Amaral took to the very same gravel trap at
the entrance to the Porsche Curves that had caught Andy
Wallace all those hours before. He would get the car back
to the garage, but his return would herald the ultimate
retirement of the ASM Quifel entry. The one-time leader
would exit the race this hour.
leader that had dropped down the order was the #33 Zytek.
Confirmation had come through that the earlier delay was
the result of a brake fluid leak.
was enjoying himself, and had been consistently setting
times in the sub three-forties. That contributed to his
rise through the ranks to 37th overall, moving ahead of
the 006 Aston Martin at 02:30. Shortly afterwards, he passed
the #82 Panoz, and then followed that with a move on the
#85 Spyker. He’d arrived at 35th place overall.
Tommy, Mike was in for the duration, and was about to begin
a third stint at the wheel of the MG Lola. His pitstop came
at quarter-to-three, and marked the beginning of another
we’d been concentrating on Mike’s progress,
we'd missed the fact that the #24 Del Bello Courage had
encountered gearbox problems and tumbled down the order.
That left Chris Buncombe leading the class comfortably in
the Binnie Lola, from the #35 Saulnier Courage second and
the #33 Zytek third. Buncombe was actually setting the car’s
fastest laps of the race, and had just posted a newly improved
3:50.032. That was about four seconds slower than the RML
best, but enough to confirm that the “steady-Eddie”
approach was working well for the blue Lola.
seven past the hour Mike Newton’s scalping progress
continued, with Christian Fittipaldi in the Team Modena
Aston Martin being the next to join the collection. The
move took the MG forward into 33rd overall. He would continue
in the car for another twenty minutes, swapping with Thomas
Erdos at just after half-three.
was another clean and untroubled exchange, and the rest
of the team was keen to offer their congratulations to Mike
for an excellent triple-stint. “It’s already
easier at this stage than it was in the Saleen (in 2003),
and I’m hardly even feeling hot!” he said. “It’s
tricky spotting the lines at night, but I really enjoyed
that. The tyres were excellent too, and the grip levels
felt good all the way through, except at the very end, but
I suspect that was me!” Progress had indeed been good.
“The big thing we must ensure now is that we don’t
have any more problems, and Mike must get a rest before
his next stint,” said Adam Wiseberg.
all this the #24 del Bello Courage had remained in the team
garage, losing ground steadily to Mike and the RML MG. With
Erdos in the car, it was not long before the #25 wailed
by along the pit straight and took the place.
Return to the top
in the morning, and Tommy had moved into 31st overall, fifth
in LMP2. Lapping consistently around the three fifty-six
mark, he was making steady inroads into the LMP2 pack. Having
once been nineteen laps down on the lead, the MG was now
just (just?) sixteen laps adrift. The #33 Zytek’s
problems were continuing, and to earlier woes had been added
a rear right wheel bearing failure. At 4:06 the French-blue
LMP2 was taken back into the garage to have this attended
Another car suffering
was the #13 Courage, and this would shortly be heading for
retirement. At the other end of the scale, Allan McNish
set a new lap record of 3:27.204 at 04:22, confirming that
the R10 still has the legs on the new Peugeot – although
there are enough hours left for the 908 to strike back.
half-past four Tommy was back through the pitlane for his
next scheduled pitstop – typically slick. His next
lap took him ahead of the still-stationery #33 Zytek, and
thereby gifted the MG 29th overall. It felt nice to be inside
the top thirty again. Another psychological milestone passed
At ten to five it got even better, with a clean on-track
pass of the #78 Ferrari (Ben Aucott driving, but perhaps
better known this year as “Adrian Newey’s Car”.
This made Tommy’s next theoretical target the #12
Courage, but since this was a recovering LMP1 car, travelling
just a tad quicker than Tommy, there seemed little chance
of clawing back a four-lap deficit. Tommy pressed on regardless.
the first hints of dawn dusting a pale glow across the eastern
skies the race entered its fourteenth hour.
MG’s unruffled progress continued through the awkward
period of the dawn - traditionally viewed as the most difficult
stint for the Le Mans driver. The sight of the rising sun
can have a multitude of effects, not least as it lifts above
the horizon and blazes through the trees, blinding and confusing
with long shadows. There’s also the tendency to think
that you’re further through the race than you truly
are – it’s easy to forget that there’s
still another full Le Mans Series race (and some!) to go.
False confidence can lead to a loss of concentration and
unforced errors, and for these and other similar reason
many teams will place their most experienced drivers into
the car for the dawn run.
Thomas Erdos had drawn that straw, but would
end up sharing the responsibility with Mike Newton when
the two swapped seats at 05:28. An impeccable pitstop as
usual, and a smooth transition saw Mike swiftly into the
there may not have been much to comment on with regard to
the MG’s serene progress, others were making things
a little harder for themselves. The #33 Zytek, with Adrian
Fernandez driving, went off again at the Dunlop Chicane,
but it was more an inconvenience than a major delay, and
with the car some way behind the MG, of little consequence
to RML’s race plan – for the time being anyway.
Six in the morning,
and the order in LMP2 had not changed for some while. The
Binnie Lola retained the lead, 13th overall, from the Saulnier
car in 17th. Third in class was the #32 Zytek, and then
fourth for the RML MG Lola 28th overall. Fifth, and not
a vast distance in arrears came the #33 Zytek, still far
from out of this race.
A routine pitstop
for the #31 class leader was followed seconds later by an
error by Michael Vergers in the #32 Zytek, spinning out
at the second Mulsanne chicane and then rejoining but losing
five minutes in the process.
6:18 marked a
heavy shunt for the #16 Pescarolo, but despite what looked
like a severe impact, Collard rejoined almost instantly,
and then headed back to the pitlane for repairs. It took
the team a surprisingly short length of time to have the
car going again, but several places were still lost. Mike
was into the pits at roughly the same time, taking on fuel
but nothing else, and then pressing on quickly for another
The #33 Zytek
was back in the garage by half-past having various body
panels replaced – not sure where the damage was incurred,
but it looked repairable. A few minutes later Mike was also
back down the pitlane, and this wasn’t planned either,
but the telemetry had revealed what looked like a low pressure
warning on one of the tyres, and that could be suggestive
of a slow puncture. To be on the safe side, Mike came back
in on the next lap (about 6:38am) and the team replaced
the questionable tyre, although no fault was found. Fortunately,
it was a quick and trouble-free stop.
Next time around
Mike overtook the garage-bound #17 Pescarolo for 27th; the
LMP1 car slipping back through the order while the accident
damage was made good. A quarter of an hour later Mike made
up another place, passing the #97 GT2 Ferrari – a
former class leader – for 26th overall. The car had
taken a spin on oil just a short time before, and in doing
so had damaged one of the radiators. The Ferrari would get
going again, but eight to ten places behind its highest
position as class leader.
came through with a new fastest lap of 3:40.395 for LMP2
at 06:53, and this was an indication of how quick the circuit
was becoming. The LMP1 leaders had also been setting rapid
times, typically in the high three twenty-sevens, but still
quicker than most had achieved in qualifying.
day seemed almost old, yet it was still only seven o’clock
in the morning. In the backs of garages, around hospitality
suites, and across the tables in the Media Centre, bodies
were slumped, heads back or across arms, as the exhausted
attempted to catch a few minutes’ sleep.
the Barazi garage there was no time for sleep, as the #32
was still being attended to, but the chairs around the tyre-warmers
at the rear of the RML garage were being well employed.
For nearly ten hours the MG had hardly missed a beat, and
any incidents had been very minor. It made a pleasant change
for the mechanics.
At around ten-past the #32 Barazi Zytek
rejoined the race. Mike, meanwhile, was feeling the pressures
of nature, and radioed in to request that his stint be ended
a little earlier than planned, perhaps by just a couple
of laps (roughly ten minutes) so that he could deal with
it. “It’s hard to cope with these kerbs when
you’re bursting!” he said.
It was just on seven twenty when the next
significant moment came in LMP2, and it involved Kurosawa
in the #33 Barazi Zytek. He had gone straight on into then
tyre wall at the right-angle Arnage Corner, and buried the
front end in amongst the spent rubber. It took some time
to extract the car, but when the front end was revealed,
the extent of the damage could be assessed. It probably
looked worse than it was, but with section of the bodywork
now missing completely, a few minutes’ delay in the
garage looked inevitable.
Two minutes later and the #25 MG Lola was
burbling down the pitlane; Mike asking for “clear
access to the bathroom!” As he rushed through to the
back of the garage, Thomas Erdos was being strapped into
the cockpit. He roared away after not much more than a minute.
It had been an exemplary pitstop.
As Tommy headed off towards the Dunlop Curves
and Tertre Rouge, the warning was relayed to him that the
track was oily all the way through to the Mulsanne Corner,
and to take it carefully until he’d assessed just
how bad it was.
Closer to home, the #35 Saulnier Courage
was being moved back into the garage again, and shortly
afterwards Tommy effectively overtook the car as he drove
down the pit straight between the grandstands. The MG’s
trio of drivers had now placed a tentative foot on the bottom
step of the podium. Phil passes on the good news to Tommy.
Unfortunately, there’s no advance in overall position
because Antonio Garcia in the Modena Aston Martin moved
ahead during the pitstop, but Tommy’s laptimes suggest
he’ll soon have the DB9 in his sights.
Just beyond the half hour the public address
commentator suddenly went wild, and everyone started craning
their necks to catch sight of a monitor that might explain
his excitement. What they saw was an action replay of Dindo
Capello the #2 Audi sliding sideways at full tilt through
the right-hand approach to Indianapolis, being overtaken
by his left rear wheel, and then ploughing heavily into
the tyre wall. This was more than just the race leader,
it was Tom Kristensen’s car, the R10 he shared with
Allan McNish, it was the favourite to win, and here it was
sagging like a damp tent and looking decidedly the worse
for wear. Dindo was ushered away from the car very quickly
by the marshals, which posed the question as to whether,
by doing so, he had abandoned the car, and thereby forfeited
any possibility of driving it back to the pitlane. It turned
out to be academic. Once the car was extracted from the
tyres it was soon evident that the R10 wouldn’t be
going anywhere – a fact that prompted Dindo to give
the errant car a thump, just in case it wasn’t already
left the #1 Audi leading the race, with both Peugeots still
running, as well as the Rollcentre and #16 Pescarolos.
o’clock and all’s well . . . well, nearly all.
The #41 Binnie Lola made a routine pitstop just after the
hour, but radio communication between the RML garage and
its driver had broken down. It didn’t appear to distract
the Brazilian, since Tommy was still making up ground, passing
the #99 Ferrari for 23rd overall just short of the pitboard
order to “pit next lap” that he received at
quarter past. Next time around he came down the pitlane,
and the loose plug on his radio was swiftly fixed while
the car was fuelled for another stint.
Now that it was
working again, it was not long before Tommy was back on
the radio to say that he was suffering from some severe
vibration, especially through the steering. For about half
an hour he lived with it, but it did start to get steadily
worse. It wasn’t enough to prevent him passing two
more cars for position, including the #93 Porsche, with
Lars Erik Nielssen driving. A little later, a 08:50, the
Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari pulled up on the last section of
the Mulsanne Straight with a broken driveshaft. It would
retire from the GT2 class lead.
Mullen was aboard the red Ferrari when it died. He might
have wished he was nearer Thomas Erdos, who was at the opposite
end of the circuit about to pit to have the vibration dealt
with. New front disks and ads did the trick – a task
completed in a matter of about six or seven minutes. That’s
not a rate you’ll get in the high street.
clearly solved the problem, and Tommy promptly set a new
fastest lap for the MG. It seemed a good way to round off
the seventeenth hour.
Return to the top
Having just set
a new fastest lap, Tommy then built upon that by passing
the #99 Ferrari for 22nd place. It was a move he’d
practiced almost exactly an hour previously, but having
stopped for pads and disks the Risi Competitzione 430 GT
had got back in front. Twenty minutes later the MG exceeded
the total number of laps completed by the “retired”
Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari – the retirement is not official
until the rolled doors come down at the front of the garage,
so even though the car had not moved in ages, it was still
considered to be a runner until demonstrably proven otherwise.
That gave the MG 21st overall, and brought it to within
one lap of the #59 Modena Aston Martin – a car it
had also passed at least twice before.
A few minutes
down the line and there was trouble in the air for the #32
Barazi Zytek – the one in the Gulf colours. It was
down the pitlane and dragged backwards into the box, with
the mechanics frantically starting to work on the rear end.
There wasn’t a lot between the Zytek and the MG on
the track, and it only took fifteen minutes (three laps
of the track) for Tommy to pass the stricken car. Astonishingly,
having started from the lowest possible position –
last place overall at eight o’clock the previous evening
- Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos had the worked their way
back through the field until they were not only knocking
on the door of the top twenty, but also occupying second
place in LMP2.
lap came at 9:40, with the MG crossing the line after 3:45.773.
It was his last lap before heading for the pitlane to hand
over to Mike. The swap took place at 09:49. It seemed an
appropriate moment to issue another Press Release in the
Media Centre, and various members of the team were approached
to express their thoughts on how the race was developing.
“The car has not been back in the box since it was
fixed following Andy’s shunt,” said Adam Wiseberg.
“We’ve only had one unscheduled stop since then,
to replace the pads and disks. Other than that, the car
has run faultlessly.”
Ray Mallock said
it was “great to see the car going like clockwork
at this time on a Sunday morning. Mike and Thomas have done
a fabulous job to complete the race to this distance with
only two drivers.”
has been running so well,” said Mike Newton. “Our
main challenge has been to see how best to manage the driving
stints. Tommy and I shared the last twelve hours, and will
have to continued to do so through to the finish, if that
proves to be necessary.”
At which point
it would be appropriate to provide an update on Andy Wallace
following his accident. Andy suffered concussion as a result
of the car’s heavy impact with the tyre wall at the
entrance to the Porsche Curves yesterday. Instructed by
the circuit’s medical centre to rest overnight, he
has since been offered the option to drive again, if he
feels up to it. This morning he is still a little bit groggy,
so we will have to wait to see how he feels later in the
ten minutes or so preparing a press release it was coming
up to ten to ten when the text was finished and ready to
be authorised for distribution. Meeting in the team’s
hospitality suite above the garage, it was more by chance
that anyone was looking at the television when a shot of
the MG was shown, heading down the Mulsanne, pursued by
a cloud of white smoke. It wasn’t immediately obvious
what was causing the smoke – it could have been a
punctured tyre fouling on the bodywork, but somehow one
just knew that it wasn’t as simple as that. Mike’s
voice came over the team radio, confirming that he had a
serious mechanical problem. “I’ll try and get
it back if I can,” he said, but even if he did manage
the ten kilometres or so back to the pits, would there be
anything the team could do?
painful journey took only five minutes in the end, and the
MG grumbled to a smoky halt outside the garage at near-enough
ten o’clock and was hauled backwards into the garage.
if this record is rambling a little, but having not yet
taken a rest it's becoming a little hard to concentrate!
clambered out of the cockpit as soon as the wheels stopped
moving – perhaps even a moment or two before. The
crew leaped swiftly into action, but those actions were
markedly different from those witnessed fourteen or so hours
previously. This time it appeared less frenzied. There wasn’t
any damaged bodywork to rip away, no clear assignments to
be carried out, no obvious repairs to be addressed. This
was a more controlled process, with the first task being
to identify the problem.
It seemed many had already arrived at an
assumption, and it was not good, but they weren’t
prepared to give up yet. Even as the lines of concern were
etched across their faces, the engine cover was pulled away.
Some stepped back to make room, while others – those
directly responsible for the car’s engine –
moved forwards, tools in hand, to start removing components
from the rocker cover and above so that the AER could be
accessed and examined. That amount of smoke, where it had
come from, and the feedback from Mike, suggested only one
thing, but other possibilities had to be checked too.
space allowed, cleaning paper was being used to mop up spent
oil from the gearbox and rear suspension assemblies. If
the car could be repaired, then it would have to go out
again clean. Anyone not required elsewhere was filling it
time with useful jobs. Around the engine, the call went
out for oil. “Put some in and see what happens.”
Unfortunately, there didn’t appear to be a leak, which
would have been easily fixed. Instead, Jakey and others
took it in turns to peer down into the very heart of the
Using a special scope, the cylinders were
inspected in succession. One deserved closer examination,
and then a second opinion. The prognosis was not good, and
the look of glum resignation on Jakey’s face said
it all. There were questioning glances from others, until
he slowly shook his head. The guys looked from one to another,
and then, almost in unison, they started to drift away from
the car. Some stepped back and just stared. Others moved
off towards the back of the garage, to the truck, or into
the tyre awning. For what must have been only a few seconds,
some simply stood still and gazed, glassy eyed into space.
Nothing had actually been said, but everyone knew that the
MG would not be going out again.
was not easy being a witness, and one’s heart went
out to these men who had already given so much to keep the
car in the race. Adam, perspiration still dripping of his
nose and chin, had given his all, physically and mentally,
and suddenly looked totally deflated. Paul too, the grime
of hard work and commitment ingrained across his face, the
paler imprint of his goggles left cleaner round his eyes,
allowed his shoulders to slump for the first time in two
days. Rick, cleaning his glasses for a moment, his hair
ruffled, his smile gone, shook his head from side to side.
Jakey – solid, dependable Jakey - marched, straight-backed
as always, through to the truck. Volker, the new member
of the front-line team but no less dedicated, stood with
his arms folded tightly across his chest, and glared at
the back of the car, perhaps willing things to be different.
And then there was Phil Barker, moving from one man to the
next, offering his thanks and appreciation for everything
they’d done, but a team manager to the last. There
was time for a wry grin, but it wasn’t enough to mask
the enormous disappointment that he, and every other member
of his crew, now felt. “Why couldn’t it have
happened when we were fiftieth, not now that we’re
back up to second,” he said. That, indeed, might have
been so much fairer.
moments the car stood alone. There was a suggestion that
the shutter should come down, but not yet. For a while longer
the garage would remain open to the pitlane, so that the
crowds in the grandstands opposite could still see the red,
white and blue MG, sitting proudly inside, the front panels
splattered with flecks of rubber, dead insects, and the
grime of nineteen hours' hard racing. Ultimately the roller
door would clatter down to the floor, shutting off the light,
and confirming to the world that RML’s hopes for a
third consecutive class win at Le Mans were finally over.
For now though, the world could wait and wonder.
if to rub salt into the wound, the #32 Barazi Epsilon Zytek,
with Karim Ojeh at the wheel, came whipping through the
final element of the Ford Chicane, caught the outer kerb,
and then spin wildly across the pit straight and crumped
into the concrete wall. That left only two cars still running
in the decimated LMP2 field, from a starting list of eleven.
A podium was assured to anyone still moving, it was that
simple. Ojeh, helped clear of the car, hunkered down behind
the wall, his helmeted head in his hands, and wept. It was
just after ten o’clock, and the race had entered its
Return to the top
20 to The Finish
The final hours
proved to be an enormous anticlimax – and not simply
because the RML MG Lola was no longer running. With only
two cars left in the race for LMP2 glory, there wasn’t
a lot to watch there. Even less so when both cars ended
up in their garages. The #33 car was hauled in first, to
have its radiators cleared of debris, and a starter motor
problem addressed. It ended up being a lengthy delay. The
Binnie Lola, never especially quick, slowed even more, and
began to circulate with extreme lethargy, before pitting.
With a lead of more than 20 laps there was no great need
for the car to come out again. It was well inside the likely
target for total number of laps covered (as a percentage
of the winner’s) so it seemed sensible to rest the
car, and the drivers, and not take unnecessary risks. The
fact that it was also showing a reluctance to restart, down
to an intermittent electrical fault, probably swayed the
the majority of the final hours, there wasn’t a single
LMP2 car on track. Had the MG still been running, a third
consecutive class win would have been there for the taking.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. In a strange reversal of
fates, all but two of the GT1 cars were still in the chase,
including both the Oreca-run but RML-designed Saleen S7-Rs.
a further damper on the proceedings, the long-predicted
rain finally arrived. At almost exactly one o’clock,
the heavens let forth their deluge – and it was very
generous indeed. For about an hour, the downpour was relentless.
A rueful Emanuele Pirro was shown pulling pleading faces
at the TV camera, before raising a rain-sodden note carrying
the words ‘Safety Car?’ Others, including Hugh
Chamberlain, were known to have submitted more direct requests
to race control – the Chamberlain Synergy Lola #19
having been one of the walking wounded for the last quarter
of the race, but still aiming for seventh in LMP1.
at just after two o’clock, the teams get their way,
and the safety car came out. It seemed a little pointless
on two counts; the rain had eased somewhat, and there was
only one “race” left – that for position
(but not podium) in GT2, where professional Rob Bell was
bearing down rapidly on Adrian Newey’s Ferrari. Perhaps
Bell would have caught the F1 car designer, but perhaps
not. In the end, it was somewhat academic, and desperately
unexciting. Finally, the ACO must have realised that processing
through clouds of spray was doing nothing for the reputation
of the world’s greatest motor race, and the safety
car was withdrawn. Racing, if you could call it that, resumed
for the final ten minutes, but the 75th running of the 24
Hours still went out with a whimper, not a bang.
LMP2 cars did come out again at the end, the Binnie Lola
with first-timer Chris Buncombe at the wheel, taking a win
that the persistent and hard-working team probably deserved.
It was also a fourth consecutive win for Lola, with Bill
Binnie himself also a part of the victorious Intersport
team in 1994. The second-placed Barazi Zytek limped around
the track to take second. There was no third place.
it was glory once again for Audi. Despite making every effort,
it seemed, to diminish their own chances, the solitary surviving
R10 gave the German marque a seventh successive victory:
Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner steering the
#1 Audi to the chequered flag (Fifth Le Mans wins apiece
for Pirro and Biela, incidentally). Peugeot’s fight
faded almost into farce, with the #7 retired some time previously,
and the #8 reduced to sitting out the final minutes in the
Porsche Curves, waiting for the chequered flag and a chance
to cross the line. A few years ago, this strategy was outlawed,
and a minimum seven-minute last lap rule introduced. With
the track awash, and seven-minute laps difficult for several
cars, the French manufacturer took a calculated gamble that
the ACO would overlook this discretion, if only once. They
did, and darling of the French crowd, Le Mans-born Sebastien
Bourdais brought the surviving 908 across the line for Peugeot
and his co-drivers; Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy. Third
step on the podium went to Henri Pescarolo’s trio
of Emmanuel Collard, Jean-Christophe Boullion and Romain
was the success story of the 2007 Le Mans 24 Hours. Victory
again after nearly five decades for Aston Martin, with all
five DB9s making it to the end in an impressive display
of reliability and flair. David Richards was delighted,
and had every right to be. Prodrive can now hope to replicate
success at this level in 2008, when they enter the heady
world of Formula 1. For now, however, it was a win for the
#009 Aston of Darren Turner, David Brabham and Rickard Rydell.
Corvette, for so long dominant in GT1, had to be content
with second place for their #63 squad of Ron Fellows, Johnny
O'Connell and Jan Magnussen. The gap was just one lap, and
the question remains - if Marco Werner hadn't made that
foolhardy lunge at Magnussen into Dunlop, would Aston have
been celebrating so loudly? Perhaps not. It was Astons third
and fourth, with the lead Saleen fifth.
such reward for present day F1 contenders Spyker, who saw
both their GT2 entries fall by the wayside, leaving victory
to the IMSA Performance Porsche of Patrick Long, Raymond
Narac and Richard Lietz – as much winners for being
out of trouble and still quick at the end, as for being
one of the best. At least their victory gave the Marseillaise
an airing. It was also a rare success for Porsche in a year
when Ferrari’s prancing horse has been supreme, the
Risi Competitzione squad of Niclas Jonsson, Tracy Krohn
and Colin Braun finishing second in the slime-green and
blue 430 GT. The much-vaunted Autorlando 997, with the impressive
Allan Simonsen leading Pierre Ehret and Lars Erik Nielsen
to third place, completed the GT2 podium.
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press release published just before the end of the Le Mans
24 Hours (here) summed
up the feeling in RML’s garage after the retirement
of the #25 MG Lola EX264. It would be difficult to add to
that now, and few within RML were especially willing to
talk in the hours following the car’s untimely end.
There are rarely words adequate to explain the feelings
within a team that has worked so hard for such small reward.
Time and again over recent years Mike Newton, Thomas Erdos
and RML have performed to the heights, only to have a richly
deserved win denied them by bad luck and misfortune.
thinks back to the Spa 100 kilometers in 2006, lost through
a simple but costly puncture – to the Nurburgring,
where an unprecedented brake disk failure denied victory
once again – to Istanbul at the start of last season,
when a foolish move by another competitor, in a different
class, cost the team their race. Most of all, one recalls
the final event of 2006 at Jarama, when certain victory
and the championship title was snatched from their grasp
just moments from the end of the race. Once again, it is
possible to look at a race, in this case the Le Mans 24
Hours 2007, and say, this was a race that RML should have
won. It is all very well being good at what you do, and
there’s no denying that RML is up there with the very
best, but the motor racing record books don’t always
record those that lead the way, only those that reach the
finish first. There are no medals for valour in motorsport,
no mentions in despatched (save here, perhaps), but if ever
a team deserved recognition, it’s this one.
year the hard-working RML mechanics were rewarded, not only
with a win at Le Mans, but also the ESCRA Award. This year
they worked even harder – perhaps almost as relentlessly
as they did in 2005 – but came away with nothing.
Well, perhaps that’s not strictly true. They have
their pride, which is rightly inexhaustible, and they have
the admiration of those who matter – their peers,
friends, families and colleagues.
immediate future lies with Round 4 of the 2007 Le Mans Series,
which takes place in just two weeks’ time at the Nurburgring
in Germany. The car must be fully rebuilt between now and
then, so there’s no rest for the exhausted engineers.
Looking further ahead? One inescapable fact remains. The
RML MG Lola EX264 may be three years old, but it is not
an out-dated car. Even this year Lola has delivered essentially
the same chassis to new customers, and the Huntingdon factory
continues to offer support to its existing teams. While
LMP1 may be moving towards the closed cockpit, and Lola
launches its new contender in September this year, LMP2
remains Mike Newton’s preferred battlefield. Only
time will tell if this was the MG’s last Le Mans.
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high resolution gallery an be found here.