Mans 24 Hours 2008
Friday - June 13th 2008
the rigours of two evenings of qualifying, Friday is sometimes
mistakenly seen as a "day off", but nothing could
be further from the truth. The penultimate day before the
start of the race itself usually turns out to be one of
the busiest, and also the most hectic. For the drivers,
there are meetings and briefings, guests to be introduced
to, PR opportunities and, of course, the Grande Parade
des Pilotes in the evening. In some respects, it's
not exactly demanding stuff, but for the rest of the team
it's a busy day in the garage, with the MG EX265 undergoing
a full rebuild - new engine and gearbox, plus a full reassembly
of all four corners of the car.
there had been no dramas on Thursday. The car had finished
the final session early and with what the drivers described
as a perfect set-up for the race ahead - well balanced,
comfortable and easy to drive. The challenge for Rick and
his engineers was to take the car apart, and then reassemble
it, without compromising that set-up. That requires amazing
precision and attention to detail, with much use of micrometers
and gauges, but with the whole day to achieve their goal
they can work at a steady, unhurried pace.
first appointment for the three drivers was with Phil Barker,
who called them together for a meeting to discuss matters
arising from qualifying and to finalise the team's race
strategy. That lasted until lunchtime, and an introduction
to the team's guests and sponsors.
Grande Parade des Pilotes
through the streets of Le Mans city, the annual parade of
drivers has become one of the big traditions of the Le Mans
week. It has been organised every year for the past fourteen
by Classic Automotive, and this year the central theme to
the opening ceremony has been a celebration of the 50th
anniversary of the founding of Lola Cars.
featured on our news item from the earlier this month (see
images of the RML MG Lola and the three drivers; Mike Newton,
Andy Wallace and Thomas Erdos, have been used on all the
posters promoting the event - and there have been many thousands
of them! They have been displayed all around the town and
at the circuit, and distributed as A5 flyers in shops, information
centres, hotels and restaurants throughout the area - see
plan had also been that the parade would begin with a tribute
to Lola, and to a certain extent it did, but the schedule
that included a prominent role for the RML drivers, and
those of other leading Lola teams in this year's race, including
the #10 Charouz Racing Aston Martin Lola Coupé, was
clearly forgotten as soon as the razzmatazz got under way.
through as the parade set off was indeed a Lola - a splendid
T70 Mark III, and this was followed by another significant
example - a type 1, driven by David Leslie's son Graham.
original plan had been that Graham would drive his late
father's own Type 1 Lola, and the red car was indeed present,
with David's white racing helmet, complete with red tartan
stripe movingly placed on the bonnet. Unfortunately, when
the car was taken over to Lola's Huntingdon works to be
prepared for the event, it was discovered that the cylinder
head had become porous and it was thought best not to risk
the engine on a drive through Le Mans. Instead, Graham was
invited to drive a very similar pale blue car from Lola's
own collection. At the last moment, Ray Mallock's son Michael
was invited to sit in the car with Graham. David Leslie
was a key figure in RML's racing history, and had been a
close personal friend of the Mallock family for many years.
It seemed very fitting that the sons of two such prominent
people in the history of British motorsport should the side
by side on this very emotional occasion.
Birrane, chairman of Lola since 1997, was guest of honour.
In recognition of the contribution to the history and success
of the Le Mans 24 Hours by Lola, founded in 1958 by Eric
Broadley, the 50th anniversary of the company has been a
key feature of this year's event. As chairman, Martin has
this week been presented with the Spirit of Le Mans
trophy - a specially commissioned Rolex watch. Before taking
his seat on the main stage Martin Birrane was introduced
to the crowd by Bruno Vanderstick, compère for the
the two Lolas was an impressive selection of Group C racecars,
including a Silk Cut Jaguar, a Porsche 962 and a Sauber
Mercedes. These cars were selected to highlight the selection
of the Group C era for this years Le Mans Legends support
of these magnificent cars will take place in the hour-long
race on Saturday morning. Within the confined canyons of
Le Mans' streets, the sound of the cars was nothing less
than awesome, although there was some concern that they
might overheat at such slow speeds.
first phase in the evening's parade was completed before
the next began, and the historic race cars were allowed
to complete the circuit unhindered by marching bands or
dancers. Getting the main procession under way was an extravagant
and heavily chromed Excalibur roadster - not the kind of
vehicle one usually associates with Le Mans, or motorsport
of any kind, being more the chosen transport (in films at
least!) of pop stars, pimps and drug dealers.
was supported by massed ranks of Harley Davidson motorbikes
and then a selection of "supercars" from the Bell
& Ross collection, starting with a Ferrari FXX Evolution.
That was followed by examples of the Porsche Carrera GT,
Ford GT, Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin Vantage, Spyker
C8, Ferrari Enzo, Pagani Zonda, Bugatti Veyron, Koenigsegg
CCX, and a bizarre Tramontana roadster (above right).
other signatories and guests, including several former astronauts,
were introduced to the crowd before the parade proper finally
got under way. That was led off by the Le Mans trophy itself
- a tall gold and chromed temple-like structure, topped
by the "24" symbol. Closer examination reveals
that, within its darts' trophy exterior, there stands an
eminently more appropriate gilded figure of the spirit of
ecstasy standing on a plinth. A silver plaque carries the
names of all the previous winners.
this design of trophy was first created in the early 1990s,
the ACO decreed that any team that won the race three years
in a row could keep the trophy for ever. So it was that,
following a third successive victory in 2002, the original
trophy officially became the property of Audi AG, and is
now kept in the museum at the company's headquarters in
Ingolstadt. In effect, the one now presented is a replica.
the original schedule, the Lola teams would then have followed
at the head of the Grande Parade des Pilots, but
that plan had clearly been dropped in favour of a more random
order, starting with the drivers of one of the GT1 Corvettes.
followed one after the other; Aston Martin, Audi, Charouz
(a Lola at last!), the three Peugeot squads, Pescarolo,
Creation, Chamberlain Synergy (another Lola), Epsilon, Team
Essex, Barazi, Rollcentre, Muscle Milk (Lola) and Oreca.
between these teams was a colourful, noisy and at times
very energetic mix of marching bands, stiltwalkers, samba
dancers and street entertainers.
at roughly half-past seven, came the RML trio of Mike Newton,
Andy Wallace and Thomas Erdos, perched on the rear scuttle
of a vintage Renault.
the best part of an hour the threesome were carried through
the streets of Le Mans, handing out HeroCards, signing autographs,
waving and generally enjoying their status as motorsport
heroes . . . at least for this week.
day ended for Mike, Tommy and Andy with a dinner in a nearby
restaurant, followed by an early night.
images can be found by visiting the Le Mans 2008