Mans 24 Hours 2008
Test Weekend - May 31st - June 1st 2008
Week - June 9th - June 15th 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
months later and the ridge is still there, so a wary eye
will be kept open for any further incidents.
for 2008 - The Competition
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
entry list for LMP2 at Le Mans includes all bar one of the
front runners from the Le Mans Series:
(Click for an enlargement)
Racing Team Sebah
Cong Fu (Frankie) Cheng
Claude Yves Gosselin
Jean Francois Yvon
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.