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Le Mans 24 Hours 2008
Sunday - Race Hour 10 - Finish. June 17th 2007

Hour 10 - from Midnight to 1:00am

Photo: Marcus Potts/CMCThere is still hectic activity in every direction, but the MG is finally starting to look like a car again. The serious concern now is a mathematical one - even if the car can be repaired and sent out on track again, can it ever be classified as a finisher? How many laps will the potential winner complete, and can the MG complete enough of its own to reach the necessary minimum.

The leader has done 152 laps in the first nine hours of the race. If that kind of pace can be maintained, then a total of some 404 laps might be achievable in 24 hours. To be classified, a car will need to complete at least 70% of that distance. So far, the MG has completed 97 laps, which leaves a minimum of 186 needed in the next 13 hours to achieve the cut-off. They're rough calculations, done largely in the head, but they do suggest that it can be done, it is possible, but only if everything from now on goes exactly to plan. There's no margin for error.

Photo: Marcus Potts/CMC12:15 SAFETY CAR
The #6 Oreca LMP1, Marcel Fassler is at the wheel, goes off in the Porsche Curves, ramming the solid concrete wall back-end first. It's a heavy shunt, and the car is badly damaged. Fassler is also in need of medical attention, and a red flag is shown while an ambulance heads off into the darkness to collect him. The sister car pits for remedial work on the clutch.

The nose section of the RML MG is brought into the garage and offered up to the chassis. It's the smooth-nosed 2006 design, without the air intake in the centre. It's the same nose that the team ran for the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2007, when the benefits of the so-called 07 nose had yet to to be proven.

Rick calls for water to refill the coolant system. A vast plastic bottle is prepared with the correct mix of anti-corrosion concentrate and the contents turn a delightful shade of blue.

The water radiators are refilled using a special swirl-type pot fitted precariously to the "passenger" rollhoop. A water heater is then fitted into the system so that the temperature can be increased before the engine is re-started for the first time.

Out on the circuit, the #7 Peugeot leads overall from the #2 Audi second, the #9 Peugeot third, and then the #3 Audi and finally the #1.

In LMP2 the #34 Van Merksteijn Porsche leads by one lap from the #31 Team Essex example, with the #33 Speedy Lola third, two laps down.

The engine is cranked over for the first time and the oil pressure is checked. It passes, and there don't appear to be any leaks anywhere else in the system.

The engine is fired up, and there's a cheer from the grandstands opposite, where the team's progress has drawn a sizeable crowd.

With the engine running, it is put through the gears and revved quite hard while the mechanics check everywhere for anything amiss.

Phil calls for the rear floor to be brought forward. The engine is stopped and the team fits the undertray.

While one group is working to fit the underfloor, another group is fitting the sidepods.


Outside the garage, the sound of cars getting back up to race pace reverberates between the concrete walls, galleries and grandstands of the pit straight. Inside, the MG is coming down off its high stands and is back on the airjacks again.

The rear wing is refitted, and Phil checks with Mason that the tyres are "nice and warm" in the infra-red heating cabinet.

Having been standing around and twiddling his thumbs for well over an hour, Andy is at last able to prepare for his return to the car. He pulls on his balaclava, straps on his helmet, and climbs into the cockpit.

The huge rear engine cover is lifted up over the engine and slotted into place. The car is almost finished.

Photo: Marcus Potts/CMC12:53
It's quick work in these final stages of the rebuild, and no sooner is the engine cover latched into place than the wheels are carried through, warm from the oven, and fitted to the car - fronts first, then the backs, and with the nuts tightened and checked, the car is pushed outside the garage. A ripple of applause can be heard from the grandstands.

12:55 (Rejoins. Driver: Wallace)
Andy drives off. The car has been out of the race for almost exactly two hours and is, in effect, the last of the running entries . . . again.

Hour 11 (1:00am - 2:00 am)

1:02 (Pitstop. Driver: Wallace)
Andy is straight back into the pitlane, having completed just a single lap. He's not happy with the way the car is handling. While the engineers examine the car for an obvious fault, Phil uses more scientific means in an attempt to pinpoint the cause. He and the technicians are examining the telemetry from that last lap. It offers no immediate solution.

The Embassy Zytek is circulating in the dark without lights, and receives a warning via the timing screens. It's assumed the driver is aware of his car's shortcoming! The #45 car is 33rd overall, 6th in class.

The wheels are off the RML MG and back in the warming cabinets. There's a certain amount of head-scratching going on, and no obvious answer to what is causing the car to behave in this way. Nevertheless, various adjustments are made, particularly to the front suspension, and there's some hope that Andy can head out again shortly.

1:16 (Rejoins. Driver: Wallace)
Wheels back on, and two minutes later, Andy leaves the pitlane again. He attempts a lap of the circuit, but hasn't completed half before he's on the radio to say that the car still doesn't feel right. He says he's bringing the car back to the garage again.

This time there is even more extensive searching of the telemetry, and examination of the car. "We're running out of time, and ideas," admits Phil Barker. "This is just one run away from being pulled."

1:45 (Rejoins. Driver: Wallace)
The guys with the spanners have done their best, and Andy once again braves the cockpit. He's strapped into his belts for another visit to the track in the knowledge that, if the adjustments haven't worked, this could be his last run.

Andy has not got far along the Mulsanne when the radio crackles into life again. "Its just as bad as before," he says. "Just as bad." Phil Barker's shoulders slump visibly, just a fraction. "OK Andy. Come back, nice and easy."

1:49 (Rejoins. Driver: Wallace)

Almost exactly three hours after Mike had brought the bruised and battered MG back to the pits following his acrobatics, the realisation has dawned that RML's 2008 Le Mans campaign is drawing to a close. "The car is just handling so badly," said Andy, gesturing with his hand how the front of the car was behaving at speed. "If I ease back on the speed, it becomes less obvious, but even at those speeds, if I use the brakes, the handling deteriorates again. It's not nice." It would appear that there is some further underlying damage to the chassis which is not evident without detailed analysis back at the workshops.

Photo: Marcus Potts/CMC1:58
The decision is reached between Phil Barker, Ray Mallock, Mike Newton and Adam Wiseberg that the team has done as much as they can, but the game's over. "The truth is, we simply can't achieve a classified finish from this position. Even if we could get the car to handle properly again, there are insufficient hours left in this race for us to complete the minimum number of laps required to meet the 70% rule." There's the knowledge that the team has done its best, as ever. "This has not been for want of trying, that's for sure," says Andy.

There are expressions of dejection across the faces of all concerned, but there's a certain resignation too. This has been a long, lingering retirement, and some members of the team have held that possibility in the backs of their minds for perhaps an hour or more. It is no longer a shock to accept that all the hard work of the past weeks has been for this, but it is still hugely disappointing. "We managed to get the car back together again, but we've been struggling with the set-up. Now we've simply run out of time, and we're not going to be able to achieve the 70% of the race winner's distance necessary to achieve the classified finish. Accepting that has been a very difficult decision, but there's no point in carrying on."

Ray Mallock, founder of RML, was in the garage to witness the final hours. "We joined the flying club this weekend," he said, with reference to the spate of accidents in recent weeks that have involved prototypes becoming airborne. "Although the team did a remarkable job in getting the car back together again, we have been unable to recover the chassis settings that would enable our drivers to race competitively. Sadly, there is nothing to be gained by pressing on."

And so, with the race on the point of entering its eleventh hour, and the sound of some 45 of the original 55 starters still filling the air with noise, the shutters came down on the #25 RML MG Lola. Tommy Erdos was already resting, possibly asleep, and unaware of what was taking place. Andy Wallace, who had been last to drive the car, was preparing to head back to "an early night", if two in the morning could ever be called that. And Mike Newton was left to marvel at the on-board video footage that revealed just how lucky he had been.

A press release that offers a round-up of the RML race, and observations following the car's retirement, can be viewed here.

LMP2 - Overall Result

Team Driver Car
Van Merksteijn Merksteijn/Verstappen/Bleekemolen Porsche RS
Team Essex Nielsen/Elgaard/Maassen Porsche RS
Saulnier Racing Ragues/Lahaye/Cheng Pescarolo Judd
Quifel ASM Amaral/Pla/Smith Lola B05/40
Barazi Epsilon Barazi/Vergers/Moseley Zytek 07S
Bruichladdich Rostan/Devlin/Jeanette Radical SR9
Embassy Racing Hughes/Kane/Foster WF01 Zytek
Speedy Sebah Belicchi/Pompidou/Zacchia Lola Coupé
Kruse Schiller de Pourtales/Noda /Simonsen Lola B05/40
RML AD Group Erdos/Newton/Wallace MG Lola EX264
Trading Perf. Ojeh/Gosselin/Sharpe Zytek 07S

A high resolution gallery an be found here.