Return to Home Page Click here to discover more about the MG EX264 The latest news from AD Motorsport and RML Race Reports and Galleries Team History and Personnel Driver Profiles Media Information and Log-in Useful Links Team sponsors and how to become one Merchandise and Downloads

Le Mans 24 Hours 2008
Thursday Qualifying - June 12th 2008

Thursday Qualifying

First Session

Contrary to predictions, the weather was back to bright and sunny for Thursday evening, although brief but heavy showers had fallen mid-morning and threatened to spoil the day. The qualifying session picked up much where Wednesday had concluded, with an on-going battle in LMP1 for overall pole that seemingly excluded Audi. The three Peugeots continued to eclipse the best that Audi's three sets of drivers could manage, and by an impressive margin. By the time the day was over, the #8 Peugeot would have put pole beyond doubt with an unbelievable best of 3:18.513 . . . although rumour has it that Sarrazin suggested a 3:16 was possible. This comes after the ACO announced, some little while ago now, that changes in the regulations had been intended to restrict top speeds, and pole should be held to around three-thirty.

While the gap to the #9 Peugeot was a mere tenth, and the third 908 just 1.9 seconds behind that, the best that Audi could do in response was a 3:23.847, some 5.3 seconds adrift of pole. There were some smug Pugs in the pitlane after that, although quite how they'll manage in the race has to be seen, of course.

While all this was catching the headlines in LMP1, there was a similar situation unravelling in LMP2, although to a much less marked extent. Tommy first out on track for RML, as usual, and steadily upped the pace for the MG Lola EX265. His best lap turned out to be a much more representative 3:40.027, and a significant improvement on the 3:44.188 he'd achieved on Wednesday. More significantly, it was third quickest of the evening (in LMP2) and set on very second-hand tyres and a full fuel load.

There were plans to send Tommy out on qualifying tyres later in the session, but for the first hour the intention was to complete the race preparations and continue work on perfecting the set-up. This was hampered by a series of incidents on track - the first red flag coming with less than half an hour completed when one of the Oreca LMP1 cars lost control on the exit of the second Mulsanne Chicane, just before the kink. The car hit the Armco heavily enough to cause damage to the steelwork, and there was a delay of more than ten minutes while the barriers were repaired.

At quarter-to eight, the Lola coupé went off at the first chicane, but was swiftly extracted from the gravel. The JMP, Ben Aucott at the wheel, was less fortunate. The Briton swept round the Dunlop Curve, much as Noda had on Wednesday evening in the Kruse Lola, but the GT2 Ferrari remained glued to the track. Unfortunately, heading backwards end-on into the tyre wall at something close to 100 miles an hour was not going to do the 430 much god. Once again, the session was stopped.

Tommy took this as an opportunity to talk through possible adjustments with Phil Barker, and the Brazilian remained strapped into the cockpit while the team worked around him. He declared that the balance of the car was generally very good indeed, and while there was a slight tendency to understeer, Tommy felt the car was comfortable to drive, and well suited to the race ahead.

At just gone eight, after a few minor tweaks, Tommy headed out once more and completed a couple of re-installation laps before returning to the pits again to confirm that the adjustments had had the desired effect. The car was refuelled, and for the first time, fitted with soft race tyres. As far as Tommy was concerned, the car was perfect now as it was, and his recommendation would be to leave it exactly as it was. Yes, they could keep on tweaking it here and there, but he felt sure that they'd achieved an optimum set-up that would be ideal for the race. So, with tanks full, Tommy headed away up the pitlane once again. He didn't get far, fast.

As Tommy released his finger off the pitlane rev-limited, he reported poor speed pulling up the hill towards the Dunlop Chicane. He pressed on. Heading over the hill, and then down towards the Mulsanne, he confirmed a misfire, and it was getting worse. He tried various cockpit adjustments, but nothing made any difference. At a snail's pace (relatively speaking) he made his way steadily around the track on what he thought was just two cylinders. A 8:20, he arrived back into the pitlane.

It took just seconds to isolate the culprit - a faulty spark plug. That was quickly replaced, although a thorough examination was made of all the car's systems just to make sure that nothing else had been contributing to the fault. The MG was given a clean bill of health, and Tommy was just about to leave when Stuart Hall made a rare driver error on the run through the Esses, between the Dunlop Bridge and Tetre Rouge, and crashed the Creation heavily into the barriers. It was 8:32, and the red flags were out again.

Everyone else returned to the pitlane and waited there in expectation of a resumption of the session in a matter of minutes. What hadn't been made clear was the extent to which Hall's impact had, once again, damaged the safety wall. Several cars had eased out of their garages, and created a queue at the pit exit, and Tommy was one of them. With the MG fitted with proper qualifying tyres for the first time, and a modest fuel load, he was going to be given the opportunity to better his time. He never got it.

At ten to nine the marshals at the pitlane exit started gesticulating at the drivers in their cars, waiting expectantly. It soon became clear that the session had been abandoned. Rick and the crew sprinted along the pitlane to recover the MG, pushing the car back down towards the #25's garage.

It was an opportunity for the team to relax, snatch a bite to eat, and discuss plans for the remaining two hours. "To set 3:40 on used mediums and with a full tank of fuel is simply awesome," said a visible enthused Phil Barker. "Given a set of qualifiers and a low fuel load, a 37 or better would certainly be achievable." He confirmed that the team had been making a number of detailed adjustments during the previous two hours. "We made some chassis adjustments and now feel that we have a very comfortable race car - a car that our guys can drive for twenty-four hours and know it won't bite them." With the session ended early, the plans to attempt a qualifying run had been dropped in favour of extended track-time for the other two drivers. "Had we got out on qualifiers, we're sure there was some significant time to come from the car, but we're going to resist that temptation now. We'll just live with what we've got."

Second Session

The start-time for the evening's second session was brought forward by fifteen minutes, and re-scheduled for 9:45. Mike Newton was strapped into the MG and sent out within moments of the pitlane opening, and embarked on a lengthy run that started with laps in the mid three-fifties, but became steadily faster as the hour progressed, dipping into the 3:49s at just after ten.

At 10:13 Mike was back in the pitlane. "It's getting dark now," he said, "and I don't think I'll be going any quicker today. I'm happy to get out on a high." That 'high' was the fastest lap he's ever done of the Le Mans circuit - faster even than during the very rapid test for last year's race. This year, of course, Mike's one and only lap was curtailed by rain. "Great effort Mike, well done!" said Phil Barker.

That left Andy Wallace to polish off the remainder of the session. He headed out at 10:19, and was into the 3:50s straight away, although Jos Verstappen had just set a new fastest lap for LMP2 of 3:32.301, despite the gathering gloom.

Within five minutes Andy had dipped into the forty-sevens, and then the sixes. His quickest, in full race trim, was a 3:46.754, but then he came across a cluster of slower cars, and eased back. Andy's task at this stage was to do a fuel-efficiency run, and with instruction t keep on going until the low-level warning lights came on, he pressed on relentlessly. A couple of hiccups from the car as he swept through the Porsche Curves confirmed that the flickering red light on the dashboard was telling the truth, and at 11:06 he returned to the pitlane. "The car feels really good," he said. "I'm being a little bit more careful about where I brake today (after his experiences on Wednesday) and I'm possibly a bit early at the moment, but I'm creeping up yard by yard."

Phil then sent Andy out for one last lap, to do some gear-change checks, and then the MG was parked away for the night, job done.

Andy's final run had revealed something new about the circuit, something that even Wallace hadn't encountered before in 19 previous races at Le Mans. "I found a new bump!" he said. "I had all four wheels off the ground, and I thought I was flying. I'd just come out of Tetre Rouge, and had to cross lanes from the left to the right to go round a GT2 Ferrari. It's not a line I'd normally have taken, but when I hit that bump, it threw the whole car off the ground. I won't be going there again!"

With all the pre-race checks now completed, and the car very much to the drivers' satisfaction, the team packed up for the night, and the garage doors were shut even before the chequered flag fell. Friday would be a busy day, so an early night was on the cards.

For high resolution images from Le Mans 2008, please visit the Gallery.