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From the Archives - RML Team News
First test for RML MG. Issued February 25th 2005

RML Encouraged by EX264 Shakedown

With the Daytona 24 Hours behind them, Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos have been turning their attention towards the start of the LMES season and the exciting prospect of an all-new RML MG Lola, the EX264. Last week the car made its debut appearance, and Tommy had the honour of being the first person to drive one of these stunning new LMP2 machines.

The preliminary shakedown test took place on a cold, blustery and snowswept South Circuit at Silverstone in Northamptonshire. Usually the venue for the Silverstone Racing School, this short track is not a suitable circuit for flat-out testing, but since this was the first occasion for the all-new car to turn a wheel, high speeds and demanding G-forces were never anticipated. In any event, the weather was not about to let anyone push hard, least of all the Formula 1 drivers, several of whom were also using the Grand Prix circuit for their first tests of the impending season. The Renault squad managed half a dozen laps and then gave up. RML’s MG, first with Tommy on board, and later with Mike Newton, pressed on regardless of the atrocious conditions, although Mike did have to call it a day when the day’s final blizzard threatened a white-out along the main straight.

During some two hours of running the car performed faultlessly. The entire team, including engineers and observers from Lola and Judd, were able to draw hugely positive conclusions from the day. Even before he sat in the car, however, Thomas Erdos was already finding it hard to curb his enthusiasm. “It looks pretty awesome, doesn’t it,” he grinned, looking at the sleek red, white and blue Lola as it sat under the awning. The car had been unloaded just before midday, but it would be nearly two hours before he’d be allowed to take it out onto the track. “It’s a fantastic looking car, and I’m finding it a little hard to believe that we’re doing this. It’s a brand new design with a new MG engine, and I’m being allowed the privilege to be the first person to drive it. That’s a remarkable opportunity and a great honour. I don’t know who to thank first!”

The car is indeed all-new, although it does bear a passing resemblance to the EX257 that Tommy and Mike campaigned so successfully last year in the LMES and at Le Mans. This new Lola is the first car designed and built to the new ACO LMP2 regulations. The chassis is designated the B05/40 by the factory, and is the first of four that have already been ordered by international teams this year. However, with additional development by RML, and in conjunction with engine specialists Judd, the car Tommy and Mike will drive has been homologated as the MG EX264. This tie-in with the famous British marque is far more than a case of “badge engineering”, and the V8 powerplant is unique to the RML project, as Phil Barker was keen to underline. “This is an MG engine, developed in association with Judd,” he insisted. “It has been created exclusively for this car and won’t be available to anyone else.” Like the car itself, it carries MG branding, and the team is clearly proud of this association.

Just how seriously everyone is viewing this project could be judged by the high-level of back-up present at the Silverstone test. Not only had RML turned out, as you’d expect, in force, but generous representation was equally evident from Lola, Judd and Motec, all making for a busy congregation struggling to work against the bitter wind. “It’s enormously encouraging,” admitted the Brazilian driver. “I don’t think I’ve ever been able to start a season knowing that there are so many people behind me in support. It places a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, I know, but it’s also a great feeling.”

With all the checks completed the engine barked into life. The installation uses a completely new “periscope” exhaust system, with the manifolds branching out either side of the compact V8 before sweeping up and over the rear driveshafts to exit directly across the rear deck of the car. Although designed to exploit and enhance the aerodynamics of the car, it also generates a distinctive sound that catches you deep in the pit of your stomach. With the engine warming up the team tested and adjusted the gearchange before allowing Tommy to clamber into the tightly-fitting cockpit. The most prominent feature of the new car is the fact that it now boasts twin roll-hoops, one behind the driver and second to the rear of the position where, theoretically, a passenger might sit. After a few minutes of adjustment Tommy was ready to take the car out for its first ever run.

Hail had given way to a brief period of bright winter sunshine as the car, pristine in its freshly applied livery, headed out along the short pitlane. It was a careful first lap, merely to ensure that everything worked correctly, before Tommy brought it straight back in again for the engineers to check the electronics, tyre pressures, temperatures and so forth. With everything in order, he was back out again, pushing harder down the straight, and creating vast rooster-tails of spray. For lap after lap, with occasional visits to the awning for checks and adjustments, the car ran without a hitch. Few cars can have performed so well ‘straight out of the box’.

“Everything felt really nice,” said Erdos afterwards, clearly at a loss for words. “The conditions were very difficult, and no chance to get the brakes or tyres up to temperature, so it was slip-sliding around everywhere, but it was still very exciting.” The V8 is also a very different proposition to last year’s turbocharged four-cylinder AER unit. “The characteristics are totally different,” he admitted. “It’s far more progressive, and you can modulate the throttle much, much better. When you get onto the point that it really starts to give you some power, there’s a significant boost, but it’s completely manageable.” Last year, when he and Mike drove the EX257, the car’s turbo could kick in so suddenly that wet conditions and corner exits could be quite tricky. Tommy is already viewing the EX264 with great anticipation.

Mike Newton, who drove the 264 for the last half hour of the Silverstone test, was quick to agree. “It’s so much more driveable than last year’s car,” he said. “You can play with the throttle far more comfortably and it doesn’t bite back! The 257 was my first experience of a car of this type, and this new car has a similar overall feel, but for zero-grip conditions, it went through the corners so very smoothly today. It’s the sort of feel that inspires you to push a bit more. It gives you confidence, and that’s after just a short run. I’m really looking forward to getting the car onto a real track.” Mike had endured the worst conditions of the day, with the sun falling low onto the horizon to blind him one way, and then heading directly into a blizzard the other. “I didn’t get to work the brakes at all,” he said, regret clear in his voice.

With light fading and heavy snow on the way the team packed up in good spirits. “It’s just been a straightforward shakedown in appalling conditions,” said Phil Barker, “but we’ve achieved everything we set out to do. There’s a little bit of work to be done, as you’d expect, but the initial package looks very strong indeed. The car looks fantastic, it sounds great, and it’s all very exciting!”

The car starts it’s lengthy truck journey to Albecete on Wednesday, just two days after the debut, with the team confident that next week’s full test at the Spanish circuit will allow them to discover some of the limits of the car. The prospects already look very encouraging, with some pundits already suggesting that the MG EX264 and its Lola cousins will prove a good match for some of the current LMP1 prototypes. The first race is at Spa on April 17th, with an official Le Mans test at Paul Ricard a fortnight before.