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Le Mans 24 Hours 2008
Test Weekend - May 31st - June 1st 2008

Race Week - June 9th - June 15th 2008

Looking ahead . . .

. . . can begin with a look back to June 2007, when RML was gearing up to defend an unbeaten run of two consecutive class wins in LMP2. By retaining the victorious 2006 driver line-up of Mike Newton, Thomas Erdos and Andy Wallace the team had taken the first step in improving the odds, but with a car that was well proven, reliable and already a class-leader in the 2007 Le Mans Series season, the prospects did look promising. The test weekend went well, and while not fastest in class, there was no discouragement in Tommy's best of a 3:41.025 - a time set on standard race tyres that ended up being quicker than anyone achieved in qualifying later that month, when times were significantly slower and the MG ended the second session sixth in class.

The race started with great promise, and Tommy had worked through to second in class before the end of his opening stint. Andy took over, but as the race entered its third hour, he encountered the car's first problem - a faulty crank trigger. He was able to repair that beside the track, but lost a fair amount of time . . . and it was starting to rain too. That suited a driver of Andy's experience, and having lost four places during the repair stop, he rapidly began to recover ground. He was looking good to retain fourth in class when he completed his first stint and returned to the pitlane for fuel. Ten minutes after doing so, disaster struck. Entering the Porsche Curves, the rear of the car snapped away without warning, and the MG was pitched heavily into the tyre wall.

There was serious damage to the car, and Andy also suffered from the heavy impact. Miraculously, he managed to get the car back to the garage, where the experienced RML pit crew set to work and effected a complete repair in just under an hour. The car may have been out and racing, but Andy was not fit to drive again, so the remaining nineteen hours would fall to Mike and Tommy. For another fourteen of those they shared driving duties, but it was Mike who was at the wheel at ten the next morning when the engine finally gave up. Clouds of white smoke betrayed a terminal demise, and RML's hopes of a hat-trick had gone with the engine.

At the time there was an assumption that Andy's struggle to get the car back to the garage following his off had been completed with very little coolant in the system. As result the engine had overheated, and this later manifested itself as a piston failure, but there was still no explanation for what had actually caused the initial accident. During the course of the race several other cars suffered exactly the same fate, with drivers reporting that the rear simply broke away from them without warning. They all ended up in the gravel, or worse still, the tyre wall at the entry to the Porsche Curves. It was later confirmed that there was an irregularity in the road surface where new and old tarmac had been joined, and cars with heavy fuel loads - as Andy's MG had been - were in danger of bottoming-out. In Andy's case, the wooden plank beneath the MG had caught the road, releasing grip from the rear wheels, and the MG had been tipped into the spin.

Twelve months later and the ridge is still there, so a wary eye will be kept open for any further incidents.

Prospects for 2008 - The Competition

There isn't anyone within RML under the illusion that the game hasn't moved on considerably in the last twelve months. Three rounds into the 2008 Le Mans Series and it is already apparent that the new cars, the new teams and the new driver line-ups have totally altered the complexion of LMP2. Two years ago Thomas Erdos claimed pole for the RML MG in every race the car entered. Last year that dominance had been trimmed to just two pole position starts from five attempts, although he and Mike still took the individual and team titles. This year, even Tommy's best efforts have only netted a high of fifth (at Spa), and the competition shows no signs of diminishing.

The entry list for LMP2 at Le Mans includes all bar one of the front runners from the Le Mans Series:

(Click for an enlargement)
No Team &
Drivers Car Engine & Tyres
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 25 RML AD Group
Great Britain
Mike Newton
Thomas Erdos
Andy Wallace
MG Lola EX265 1995cc
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 26 Team Bruichladdich Radical
Great Britain
Marc Rostan
Yutaka Yamagishi
Ben Devlin
Paul Thomas
Radical AER SR9 1995cc
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 30 Racing Box SRL
Andrea Ceccato
Filippo Francioni
Fernando Geri
Lucchini Judd 3395cc
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 31 Team Essex
John Nielsen
Casper Elgaard
Sascha Maassen
Porsche RS Spyder 3396cc
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 32 Barazi Epsilon
Juan Barazi
Michael Vergers
Stuart Moseley
Zytek 07S 3396cc
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 33 Speedy Racing Team Sebah
Xavier Pompidou
Andrea Belicchi
Steve Zacchia
Lola Judd Coupé 3394cc
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 34 Van Merksteijn Motorsport
Peter van Merksteijn
Jos Verstappen
Jeroen Bleekemolen
Porsche RS Spyder 3396cc
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 35 Saulnier Racing
Pierre Ragues
Matthieu Lahaye
Cong Fu (Frankie) Cheng
Pescarolo Judd 3395cc
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 40 Quifel ASM
Miguel Amaral
Olivier Pla
Guy Smith
Lola AER
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 41 Trading Performance
Karim Ojeh
Claude Yves Gosselin
Adam Sharpe
Zytek 07S 3396cc
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 44 Kruse Schiller Motorsport
Jean de Pourtales
Heidiki Noda
Jean Francois Yvon
Lola Mazda 1997cc
Click to view an enlargement. All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC 45 Embassy Racing
Great Britain
Warren Hughes
Jonny Kane
Joey Foster
Embassy Zytek WF01 3396cc

The only "regular" missing from that list is the Horag Porsche RS Spyder, but all the other front-runners are present, including the championship-leading Van Merksteijn Porsche and the similar Team Essex entry. Both enjoy active support from the Porsche factory, and are effectively works teams in all but name - a fact highlighted by the addition of Sascha Maassen to the Team Essex line-up. As a works Porsche driver, Maassen is in the middle of his third straight season with Penske Racing in the American Le Mans Series, finishing second to team-mates Bernhard and Dumas last year. He bolsters an already very strong partnership in Nielsen and Elgaard. Van Merksteijn Motorsport have stuck with their Dutch origins and brought in former DTM driver Jeroen Bleekemolen, who currently represents Holland in the A1 Grand Prix series.

By any standards, these two Porsche teams represent a very professional and capable challenge, so expect one or other of them to be vying for pole. The arrival of a new aero-package specifically developed for Le Mans, designed to reduce drag yet further, can only enhance their potential, and almost certainly ease them towards a potential LMP1 mid-field position.

Likely to be pushing them hard for the front row is the Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola Judd Coupé. The svelte and very pretty enclosed prototype has had a great start to the year, certainly in terms of pace potential, and took the class lead at Spa on merit before an untimely stutter, believed to be due to fuel shortage, just two laps from the flag. Extremely capable Xavier Pompidou and Andrea Belicchi are joined by Swiss driver Steve Zacchia - a veteran of three seasons with Larbre Competition (Ferrari 550) in the FIA GT Championship.

The two Zytek teams look like very strong contenders for "best of the rest" honours. The Barazi outfit has been one of the front runners in LMP2 for the past three years, and even more so since they replaced their Courage with a Zytek. Michael Vergers is always in contention, and the addition of Stuart Moseley, who managed to make the Bruichladdich Radical a serious challenger in 2007, strengthens the squad. This reflects a similar situation with the Trading Performance Zytek, where Briton Adam Sharpe steps in to join Karim Ojeh and Claude Yves Gosselin. The #41 Zytek failed to shine at the start of the 2008 season, but came through strongly in Round 3 at Spa to finish fifth in class and now looks likely to be quicker still.

Others not to be dismissed include the #45 Embassy Zytek WF01. The car is unquestionably a beautifully constructed vehicle, with remarkable attention to detail and build quality, but it is still suffering new-car teething problems. If the team has addressed all those issues, then the line-up of Warren Hughes, Jonny Kane and Joey Foster must qualify as one of the strongest in the class. Never to be overlooked is the Quifel ASM Lola, and the arrival of former Le Mans winner Guy Smith confirms that the Portuguese team is not about to throw in the towel just yet. Guy won the Le Mans 24 Hours with Team Bentley in 2003, but having missed the last three races will have to return to Le Mans as a technical "rookie" in 2008. That means he must complete the obligatory ten lap qualifier before he can be permitted to race again. It's unlikely this is going to upset the Yorkshireman, who currently races a Porsche RS Spyder with Dyson Racing in the American Le Mans Series. He's pictured here with our own Andy Wallace.

Of the remaining LMP2 squads, the #35 Saulnier Courage has occasionally shown a fair turn of speed but has rarely appeared consistently quick, while the Bruichladdich Radical has yet to repeat the kind of pole-challenging potential it displayed in 2007 - although the addition of Ben Devlin to the driver squad may provide a few fireworks for the whisky-sponsored Radical. The Racing Box Lucchini was absent from the last round of the Le Mans Series and failed to finish rounds one and two. Similarly, the Kruse entry has only finished once this year, although sixth at Spa was a good run.

RML Going A-Wal

So it is not unrealistic to expect that the RML MG will be aiming for fifth or perhaps sixth in LMP2 when it comes to qualifying, but the mood within the squad remains optimistic. Retaining the services of Andy Wallace for a third year suggests that the team's faith in the former Le Mans winner (for Jaguar in 88) is matched by his own confidence in RML. "It's just so nice to be back with RML again," he insists. "The level of their work is just so high, and it's a privilege to work with guys of this calibre. Obviously, there's also something to be said for the fact that this is Le Mans. There is no other race quite like it, and the facilities here are also excellent. It's just great to be back!"

The knowledge that he's sharing a car that is no longer one of the fastest doesn't perturb Wallace one iota. "In some ways, I'm quite glad that we're not likely to be near the front," he says. "It takes some of the pressure off us, but knowing that there's no point in really pushing in qualifying means that we can concentrate on the race. Trying too hard for qualifying for a twenty-four hours race takes away valuable time that might be better used in preparation for the race itself. Similarly, when it comes to the race itself, if you're not one of the fastest cars, there's no expectation that you have to be out there at the sharp end, fighting for the lead. Instead you can concentrate on racing your own race, and let the others make mistakes.

The Track

There have been no significant changes to the circuit in the last twelve months - more's the pity, some might say, with reference to the entrance to the Porsche Curves! However, there have been radical developments off-piste, with the Village now largely completed after a two-year redevelopment programme. These aerial views don't reflect the full extent of that work, but give an interesting overhead view of the circuit. Click the images to view enlargements, created using the excellent Google Earth mapping program.

The image above depicts the entire circuit, with the Bugati Circuit almost hidden away in the bottom left. North is to the left, with the overall orientation being East to West, top to bottom. Your challenge is to find Silverstone circuit! The second image, on the left, is a close-up of the pit, paddock and Village area. Clicking the image will reveal a very close-up image that can be navigated using the slider bars to the right and base. It clearly shows the new profile of the Dunlop Chicane and through Dunlop Curve to La Chapelle and the Esses de la Foret.