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Autosport International 2007
RML Roundup from AIS. Issued January 16th 2007

RML Roundup from Autosport International

In a round-up of RML at the 2007 Autosport International show at the NEC in Birmingham, we look back at some of the key events . . . and some that weren’t so important.

On the opening day of the show, RML took centre stage when Mike Newton, Thomas Erdos and Andy Wallace were interviewed on the main Autosport stand following the announcement that Andy would be rejoining the squad for Le Mans 2007. This follows the trio’s remarkable win in the 24 Hours last year, and the realisation that it might be a good idea to maintain a winning combination.

Mike was the first to face the inquisition, and was asked what it had been like to win the LMP2 category at Le Mans in 2005 and then again in 2006. “To win Le Mans two years on the trot was very special for us,” he replied, “and then to finish in the top eight overall made it even more special.” And what had it been like to race alongside the likes of Tommy and Andy? “It’s terrific to work with Tommy - a real pleasure,” he insisted. Well, Mike’s been doing it now for five years, so he ought to know! “Then, when Andy joined us for Le Mans, the whole team gelled together really well.” Tommy shared that view. “Mike’s very easy to work with,” he said. “It’s never simple to share a car with another driver, especially when you come from a single-seater background, like I have, but co-driving with these two was never a problem.”

The interviewer’s next tack suggested, perhaps, that he was a little unsure of what Tommy had been doing for the last twelve years. The implication was that Tommy might still be hankering after a single-seater career, or even that he was ready to hang up his overalls. “No, there are lots of opportunities in sportscar racing,” smiled the Brazilian, “I see myself doing this for a few more years yet!” Was LMP2 the future of sportscar racing? “It certainly looks that way,” he agreed. “LMP2 is very strong here in Europe, and perhaps even stronger in the US.” He went on to suggest that having manufacturer involvement is very important for the promotion and prestige of a series.

Andy Wallace was then introduced to the assembled crowd as ‘The Peter Pan of Sportscar Racing’. It was hard to tell from Andy’s expression quite how he felt about this description, and there was a definite hesitation, but he recovered quickly. “It’s a thrill to be doing this job, and I admit that I’ve been doing it for nearly thirty years now. Every time I get into a car, I’m still looking for the chance to win. That never changes. With a good team, like this one (RML), that chance is always there. These cars, the kind we drive at Le Mans, are some of the best cars in the world, so of course it’s a thrill.”

As it inevitably does, the conversation then moved back to 1988, when Andy was still a relative rookie in sportscar terms and made his Le Mans debut with TWR Jaguar. Co-driving with Jan Lammers and Johnnie Dumfries, their Silk Cut XJR-9 went on to win, despite a shattered gearbox. Andy recalled being invited to take his first test in the car, and how it reached the dizzy speeds of 200 miles an hour, weaving all across the track. That was “normal”, he suggested! He’d also never raced an enclosed car before, and that was something of a novelty. It was all a bit hairy, but fantastic all the same. Then he got to Le Mans. “On my first trip down the Mulsanne, I was doing just over 200, and thinking what an amazing experience it was, when one of the Porsches and another Jag went by as if I was tied to a post!” That was when he discovered the delights of doing 240 miles an hour!

Mike admitted that he’d been “chuffed to bits to drive with Andy” last year, and “you can learn so much from drivers like Andy and Tommy.” What were the looking forward to this year, however. “We’re running the same programme as last year,” said Tommy. “That’s the full Le Mans Series, and then Le Mans, of course. It’s a six-race series this year, including a race in Brazil.” As for Andy: “I’m driving for Dyson in the American Le Mans Series. The team has just acquired a pair of Porsche RS Spyders, and we’ll be doing a test in a fortnight’s time. There have been various aerodynamic and engine developments (on the Porsche) for this year, so the cars should be even more phenomenal.”

With the interview complete, Mike and Andy disappeared upstairs onto the roof of the Autosport stand to partake of a light lunch, while Tommy was persuaded into detour via the floor of the hall, where two Formula 1 racing simulations had been set up, each running the latest PlayStation software. “Who’s prepared to take on Tommy Erdos, then?” Mike Hoyer, a photographer with Dailysportscar, had his hand in the air even before the question was completed. The two protagonists took up their positions side by side, and prepared for a three-lap sprint round Silverstone.

Both began from somewhere near the back of the grid. Hoyer made a good start, and moved steadily through the tail end to reach fourteenth. Erdos, after a hesitant run off the line, unsure of the controls perhaps, soon gathered speed, and started scything through the pack. He soon caught Hoyer, and then nipped through at Beckets on the second lap. He was making good progress now, while Hoyer appeared to be stuck midfield. Towards the end of lap two, Erdos moved inside the top ten, and then proceeded to rise as high as eighth.

Suddenly, as Erdos attempted another pass, wheels touched, and the Brazilian’s car was sent pitching wildly across the gravel. In a classic case of hare and tortoise, Hoyer swept by, leaving Erdos to scramble back onto the virtual tarmac and make a valiant attempt at recovery. He nearly made it too, and as they came through Woodcote to complete the race, they were nose-to-tail across the line. There was a broad grin and a shrug from Erdos. “It’s very different in a real car, of course!” insisted the compère. There’s no denying that.

What of other names and faces associated with RML’s MG programme? We caught up with Adam Wiseberg, Motorsport Director of AD Holdings. Last year he raced with Mike and Tommy in the Britcar Silverstone 24 Hours. “Andy had been quite keen to do that race with us last year as well, although we weren’t aware of that at the time. We’ll certainly bear him in mind for this year!” Will the team be tackling the increasingly popular (and steadily more serious and competitive) Silverstone event in 2007? “It’s certainly not out of the question that we’ll be doing the Britcar 24 again,” he conceded, “but we’ll need to find the budget first, and check that it fits in with the rest of our calendar.”

Adam’s true passion lies with historic rallying, and last year he was running very strongly in the Tour Britannia event (above, right), winning some of the circuit sections, before a mechanical problem ended his charge. “I’ll do whatever rallying or racing I can fit in around the Le Mans Series and Le Mans programmes,” he said. “It’s tending to be less and less each year, as my responsibilities to the RML MG programme take up more of my time, but I’m certainly hoping to do the Tour Britannia again. Unfortunately, most of the races I’d like to do clash with the Le Mans programme, but I’d like to do more this year.”

Coming up very soon is the Daytona 24 Hours, and Mike and Tommy have regularly made the trip to America for this endurance race in recent years. This time, as last season, they will be sharing an entry with Eddie Cheever Racing. “I’m really looking forward to working with Eddie again,” said Erdos. “It’s going to be a very different scenario this year to last, because this time we’re helping the team develop the new Fabcar project (right). We’re in the middle of a development period at the moment, and while that’s very exciting, it also means that our overall prospects may not be so fantastic. I have no doubt the car will be reliable, but we now need to be looking for more speed in the race.” In official testing earlier this month Erdos managed to get to within three seconds of the fastest times, but would hope to halve that by the time they get into qualifying.

An image of the RML MG EX264 took up most of a vast photographic montage backing the MIA (Motorsport Industry Association) stand (right). To the fore, the JCB Dieselmax world landspeed record car, driven to a speed of 350 mph by Andy Green, dominated the area. The team behind this achievement is planning a further assault this year, and hoping to find another sixty miles-an-hour, thereby topping the long-standing record of some 403 mph set in 1964 by Donald Campbell. That remains the fastest verified speed recorded by a vehicle with direct-driven wheels, although Bluebird did reach 440 mph in a one-way run. In order for JCB's vehicle to achieve its goal, the overall weight of the car may have to be reduced. One way to do that might be to find a lighter driver than Wing Commander Andy Green, the RAF fighter pilot who not only holds the diesel record with JCB’s Dieselmax, but also the outright record of 763 mph with Thrust SSC. We hear that Andy Wallace was invited to test for the job, but gracefully declined.

Nearby we found Ray Mallock talking with his son Michael. After an impressive run in the Spa 24 Hours a couple of years back in one of RML’s Saleen S7-R, Michael concentrated on historic racing last year, but certainly has the talent to challenge in the contemporary arena. What are his hopes for 2007? “I’m actually looking at the chance of a series with Aston Martin this year,” he declared. Prodrive had several Astons on display in Hall 6 (below). “There are opportunities for me in both GT1 and GT3, and I hope to have that settled in the next two to three weeks. I’ve also been in talks with Spyker about the prospects of joining their GT2 programme. I had a very fruitful discussion with Victor Muller (Chief Executive of Spyker) in September, and if that leads to a programme with them this year as well, it will be very exciting.” September was an exceptionally good month for Spyker, since that was when the Dutch manufacturer acquired Midland F1, and the new Spyker Formula 1 team was established. The F1 cars will employ Ferrari engines.

Michael also admitted to having been in discussions with another team about racing an Aston Martin DB7 in Britcar. “That could include the Silverstone 24 Hours, which would make a possible three twenty-four hour races on my calendar this season.” At this point Ray chipped in: “I’d very much like to join up with Michael in the DB7!” Aside from that possibility, RML founder Ray Mallock will definitely be competing in at least three Classic Clubmans events in his Mark 11 Mallock this season, but it would be good to see the father-and-son pairing.

Next year’s show has been confirmed for 10th – 13th January 2008

High resolution images from the Autosport Show are available from this gallery.