Mans 24 Hours 2007
Wednesday - First Qualifying Day. June 14th 2007
pitlane opened with a bellow, as the #17 Pescarolo, the
#13 Courage and one of the GT1 Corvettes roared away from
the end of the pitlane, having stood there waiting for the
green light for several minutes.
Erdos was first out in the RML MG, and as usual, completed
a single “installation” lap before coming straight
back in again to have the systems checked. Others pressed
on to complete a series of early flying laps, including
Stuart Moseley in the Bruichladdich Radical, who came through
as the first car to set a real time. His lap of 3:49.520
took the orange LMP2 prototype straight to the top of the
screens . . . for about three seconds. He was followed through
by a string of LMP1 cars. Tom Kristensen, only confirmed
as racing for Audi yesterday, proved his fitness by posting
a first lap of 3:35.476. That took Audi #2 to the top of
the chart, but soon enough the Peugeots were into their
swing, with Sarrazin (#8) and Minassican (#7) both demoting
Kristensen, and setting times at least a second quicker.
20 minutes the board was starting to establish the expected
colour scheme. Red markers for the LMP1 cars filled the
top ten or eleven places, with Warren Hughes in the ASM
Quifel Lola topping LMP2 (bright pink!) with a best of 3:48.492.
Fastest GT1 (blue) was Ayari in the #55 Oreca Saleen, 20th
overall. Heading the GT2 times (lime green) was Patrick
Long in the #76 Imsa Performance Porsche.
this period there had been no further sign of the MG, and
it transpired that Tommy had encountered some minor issues
during his out-lap. Initial rumours that this was related
to the paddle-shift gearchange proved to be unfounded. Instead,
a front-end imbalance was the culprit, and he returned to
the pitlane to have that attended to. It proved to be one
of those niggly little problems that was difficult to trace.
The delay put the team a little behind schedule, but with
the weather holding well, and the session only forty minutes
old, it was only a minor inconvenience. “We’ll
just press on, and do what we usually do,” said Phil
Barker. RML is well known for its calm and rational approach
to Le Mans qualifying. The target is always the twenty-four
hour race that starts on Saturday afternoon. If a fast qualifying
lap comes there way, all well and good, but there’s
rarely a deliberate effort to claim pole.
the time Tommy headed back out again for a second installation
lap, the best in LMP2 had fallen to 3:48.173 by the Binnie
Motorsport Lola #31, with Allen Timpany setting the time.
Warren’s time in the ASM Lola remained second quickest,
with Karim Ojeh rising to third in the Barazi Zytek on 3:48.925.
For Tommy, however, the frustration continued. With the
fault still troubling him he returned to the garage. Andy
Wallace, interviewed on Radio Le Mans, suggested that it
was a tactic for “giving everyone else a head start”.
five minutes over the hour completed, Marco Apicella in
the #53 Lamborghini went off at the Playstation Chicane
on the Mulsanne. It was a major accident, combining heavy
impact and fire. The car was flung back onto the track after
dislodging part of the tyrewall, where it burst into flames.
The marshals quickly had the fire under control, but the
#53 Murcielago was left stranded directly across the racing
line, with debris littering the circuit and Apicella still
trapped inside. The red flags were instantly shown, but
not before several marshals had risked their lives to help
the stricken Lambourghini. It took more than half an hour
to extract Apicella safely from the car. There is no news
as yet regarding his condition. The car, however, is evidently
damaged beyond immediate repair.
the light fading, and heavy rain visible in the distance,
there was some urgency in the pitlane to resume the session,
but work had not yet been completed at the Playstation Chicane.
Getting Apicella safely out of the Lambourghini had been
the priority, followed by removing the remains of the car,
but that still left the damaged tyre wall to be repaired.
Even so, a queue began to form in the pitlane, and Phil
Barker was eager to get Tommy out and near the front “before
there are thirty cars in front of him!”
as the pitlane opened, the heavens did too. Heavy rain started
to deluge sections of the circuit, particularly around Indianapolis
and the end of the Mulsanne. RML was one of several teams
to send mechanics running down the pitlane to recover their
early-queuing cars. “It’s an absolute monsoon!”
confirmed Phil Barker. The MG was dragged back into the
garage and fitted with wet-weather tyres.
the track finally reopened, concurrent with the announcement
that the session would be extended by fifteen minutes. Thomas
Erdos headed out at just after nine, with perhaps time enough
for just two laps. He completed his first, commenting that
the conditions on the far side of the track, from the Mulsanne
through to the start of the Porsche Curves, was far too
wet to attempt any serious running. As if in confirmation,
the Kruse Courage straight-lined the Ford Chicane, damaging
the rear splitter and elements of the suspension, and easing
to a halt at the end of the pitlane.
quarter-past nine Daniel Poissenot climbed to the top of
the gantry to wave the chequered flag, signalling the end
of the session. The period concluded with the #1 Audi R10
recording the fastest time overall with a best of 3:38.301.
Second was the #8 Peugeot, just over a second adrift. Third
was the #3 Audi. In LMP2, top time came just before the
red flag from Adrian Fernandez in the #33 Zytek, with Timpany’s
time in the Binnie Lola still good enough for second, with
Warren Hughes third. Tommy recorded only one timed lap,
and at 5:12.190.
in the garage, there was a chance to catch up with the drivers,
and also speak to Phil Barker. Had there been a paddle shift
problem? "No. We purposely sent Tommy out on the (manual)
gearlever, simply to check that it was all working correctly,"
said Phil Barker. "However, he complained of a front-end
imbalance. It may have been damper related, but it is now
fixed. That has put us a little behind schedule, but there's
a long way to go still, and we can hope to catch up."
Tommy admitted that the sensation had been "very strange.
The moment I went out I knew it was wrong. It's fine now,
but with the rain, there's no way I could do a good time.
Even though it's stopped raining now, the damp will stay
on the track for some time, and we won't be able to do much
until it clears. If it gets any wetter, and then we have
rain again tomorrow, we'll be starting from the back of
latest news on Apicella is that he was conscious leaving
the scene, and was able to wave from the back of the medical
vehicles he was driven away..
was completely dark by the time the second of the Wednesday
sessions got under way, with the start delayed by ten minutes
to begin at 10:10. During the break, the MG EX264 was fitted
with its central lighting pod, in anticipation of the darker
RML plan was simply – at this stage – to get
all three drivers qualified with their “night”
laps. All drivers must complete a minimum of three laps
in the dark, and this can be achieved by completing an out-lap,
a full flying lap, and then coming back to the pitlane a
the end of the third in-lap. Tommy was able to complete
his laps without incident. “It’s very, very
damp,” he said, “especially braking for the
first chicane, and all the way through to the Porsche Curves.”
He also warned his co-drivers of a change to the circuit
since the test day. One of our website photos shows Mike
Newton straddling a white line on the run down from the
Dunlop Bridge. That is now not possible, or at least, ill-advised!
“They’ve made a change there and introduced
kerbs through the fast Esses,” said Erdos. “It
stops anyone cutting the corner.”
Barker did query whether or not Tommy believed full wet-weather
tyres might be necessary, but the Brazilian thought not.
“The track is drying a little bit now, and the intermediates
are fine – you just have to be careful,” he
replied. Tommy’s fastest time, under less than ideal
conditions, was 4:27.848, but with everyone else having
had the benefit of running in the dry, that still left the
car 53rd overall.
completed his requisite three laps, with just the one flying
lap in the middle, and then came into the pits to hand over
the MG to Mike Newton. The car was only stationery for a
few moments, while the drivers swapped places, and then
Mike was blatting down the pitlane once again. It was just
that Mike would be allowed to complete his three laps untroubled
were dashed before he’d even done the first, when
one of the LMP1 cars (believed to be the Audi-powered Swiss
Spirit Lola) went off just before the new Tertre Rouge corner,
and brought out the red flags again. It was by no means
as serious an incident as that which befell Apicella, but
it still brought the session to a temporary halt. Mike sat
patiently in the car while the track was cleared, and then
went out and completed his three laps without further problem.
left only Andy needing to satisfy the three-lap requirement,
and at just before eleven o’clock, he headed out into
the darkness. His first lap went well, and he was part way
through his middle flying” lap when he suddenly radioed
in to complain of a return of the imbalance that had previously
troubled Tommy. “The car was absolutely fine for a
whole lap, but then I tried to turn, and there was a big
jump in the steering,” he said. He brought the car
safely back to the garage, where the team began their attempt
to root out the cause.
on the pitlane, the Radio Le Mans runners were heading Andy’s
way. What was the problem? Andy confirmed the steering issue,
suggesting that “as long as these problems arise today,
and not in the race, it’s no real issue.” Having
then had it suggested that the problem was the result of
something he’d done, he insisted “No! It happened
first while Tommy was in the car,” although he was
quick to counter any interpretation that it was Tommy’s
fault either. Andy was, however, confident that it would
soon be fixed. “These boys are seasoned professionals,
and they’ll soon have it sorted out.”
With twenty minutes to go the #32 Barazi
Zytek went off by the Ford Chicane, and then three minutes
later, there’s a gasp from the crowd as the timing
screen suddenly shows a new fastest lap overall. Despite
the conditions not being as good as earlier, Stephane Sarrazin
posts a new provisional pole of 3:27.029 in the #8 Peugeot
was as good as red rag to the Audi drivers, and McNish was
in the #2 R10 at the time. He responded almost immediately,
with a 3:27.117. A little over five minutes of the first
day’s qualifying remained, and it was suddenly getting
very interesting . . . not least in the RML garage, where
the team was re-fitting the bodywork in anticipation of
sending Andy Wallace back onto the track. After a brief
stutter and a re-start (left), he was heading off
into the darkness. Inside the garage, eyes were turning
to the screens once again – on the one hand, to watch
for Andy as he came through, but also to witness the drama
unfolding in LMP1. McNish ad upped the ante again, with
a new provisional pole of 3:26.915; the first sub-twenty-seven.
on the gantry, the chequered flag was being unfurled in
readiness of the midnight hour. Andy was on his first flying
lap, and moments after the black and white flag fluttered
above the track, he swept through in a time of 3:49.217.
There was a muffled cheer from the RML crew, and “Good
effort. Really well done!” from Thomas Erdos. The
cheer that then erupted from the crowds in the grandstands
might have been in Andy’s honour, but was more probably
in response to Stephan Sarrazin’s remarkable last-lap
stunner; 3:26.344 had eclipsed the Audi best by half a second.
It was dark, the track was damp, and that was incredible.
In its own way, so was the lap from Andy
Wallace. It later transpired that he’d been on course
for a 3:47, and a potential third or fourth in class, before
coming up behind a slow-moving car being white flagged through
the Porsche Curves. That cost him the two seconds. “The
steering’s fine now, but it was all a little bit on
the slippy side,” said Wallace. “I was rather
nervous going through the first few corners, where it was
still wet, but it feels so good now!”
The sense of relief was almost tangible
in the RML camp. “It’s been a frustrating evening,
with all these teething problems, and I’m just glad
it’s all behind us now,” said Mike Newton. “The
conditions out there weren’t exactly terrible, but
they weren’t very nice either.” He also explained
why he and Tommy had been able to complete their three laps
without encountering the steering problem. “It appears
that the issue only manifested itself when the system was
under load. While Tommy and I were out, there was still
very little grip. Once the track had started to dry out,
and Andy was put on slicks, those loads built up again,
and then the steering problem was revealed again.”
Tommy was also pleased to have resolved
the problem. “I’m happy that we’ve found
the cause,” he said. “The worst thing is having
a problem and you can’t find what’s making it
happen. It was unfortunate that Andy had the problem, but
fortunate in other ways, because it allowed us to isolate
the problem, and fix it. All we need now is a small dry
window tomorrow and we can, perhaps, improve a little.”
did a superb job,” smiled the Brazilian, with evident
sincerity. “He’d had no time to come to terms
with the car before he was asked to go for a quick lap on
slicks, on a damp track. To do a flying lap like that was
truly excellent. Andy really showed his class. That was
Adam Wiseberg had a broad smile of relief
across his face. “I’m truly delighted with Andy’s
efforts. That was a tremendous lap, particularly considering
he had no time in the car at all until then. It’s
good to know that, whatever happens tomorrow, we’re
ahead of the GT1s. Hopefully, that’s all of the little
niggles out of the way.”
Phil Barker’s face also held a smile,
perhaps for the first time all day. “The major problem
all evening has been with the steering. Tommy complained
of a vagueness, and we checked the dampers, and when the
problem didn’t recur, we hoped it was fixed. Then
Andy went out on the drying track and the issue returned.
We discovered some movement in the steering rack, which
we were able to find, and fix, second time around. That
allowed Andy to go out and set a forty-nine, which was an
excellent result over one timed lap.” Phil was clearly
cheered by the thought that the car was now nearer to its
correct position on the grid. “On the bright side,
we have all three drivers qualified, and Andy’s lap
is within the 110%, so all in all, a satisfactory outcome.
It was good to find the problem today, and not carry it
forward into the race, so a bitter-sweet taste.”
weather forecast for Thursday is no better, and probably
worse, than it had been for Wednesday. Several cars remain
with unrepresentative times, but overall, the segregation
through the grid is as expected. If it turns out dry, we
may see some improvements. Will those come from Audi? Last
year’s pole time has already been shattered, but the
belief is that there’s more yet to come.
LMP2 Times (Wednesday)
high resolution gallery
is now posted.
photos this page courtesy of David Stephens (Studio
21) and Robin Thompson (Art-Racing)