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Le Mans Series & Le Mans 24 Hours 2007
Official Test, Paul Ricard, March 24th and 25th 2007
Issued March 27th 2007

RML on track for new Le Mans season

Photo: David Lord/DSCThe opening salvo of the 2007 Le Mans campaign has been fired across the concrete run-offs of the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France. Two days of testing were assured, on both Sunday and Monday, with a total of thirty-eight cars taking the opportunity to prepare for the new season.

RML was present, with both Thomas Erdos and Mike Newton enjoying extensive time on track to shake out the cobwebs of a winter in the workshops, and also to get some insight into the fresh competition injected into the Le Mans Series for 2007.

Photo: Le Mans Series Official WebsiteAll eyes were on the brand-new LMP1 diesel powered Peugeot 908, making its public debut ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours in June. Widely anticipated as the only car likely to challenge the all-conquering Audi R10 for outright victory, the Peugeot (right) has adopted the fully-enclosed cockpit required of the next generation of coupé styled prototypes. Svelte in appearance, the 908 also proved a slippery customer around the 5.7 kilometer circuit, setting a best time overall of 1:43.705.

The Peugeot will not be in direct competition with RML’s MG Lola EX264, but the battle within LMP2 looks set to be stronger than ever.

For the past two seasons the MG has set the pace in the P2 category, with Thomas Erdos unbeaten for pole throughout 2006, but new blood has thrown down the gauntlet in the form of the Team Bruichladdich Radical. The regular line-up from last year, Stuart Moseley and Tim Greaves, was joined at Paul Ricard by Robin Liddell, and their best from the two days of 1m 46.160s suggests they will be strong competitors. So too will the Barazi Epsilon team. They took the Le Mans Series LMP2 title last year, but have swapped chassis for the new season and will now be campaigning a Zytek 07S. Owner Juan Barazi was joined by his co-driver from 2006 Michael Vergers and former Belmondo driver Karim Ojjeh, with Vergers peaking at 1:46.358s. Third quickest in P2 was the ASM Team Lola B05/40 AER. Ever a close competitor to RML in the past, the Quifel ASM Lola (Angel Burgueno and Miguel de Castro) set a best of 1:46.497s

Photo: David Lord/DSC

That placed the RML MG EX264 fourth in LMP2, but Thomas Erdos was far from disheartened. His best of 1:47.670 may have the appearance of being off the pace set by the others, but all the times were actually very close. Thomas achieved his best on the first of the two days, and this reflected the fact that RML had not set-up their car expressly for the Paul Ricard circuit. “We’d gone for a very low downforce setting in a deliberate attempt to test this configuration for Le Mans, and also with an eye on Monza next month,” explained Erdos. “Paul Ricard has one long straight, but you need more downforce to get a good time around the whole track, and we purposefully didn’t go for that.” The Brazilian also made a few other observations. “Not only did others appear to have prepared their set-up to make the most of Paul Ricard, but a number were also doing some significant tyre testing and fitting a lot of fresh rubber. We were not, and most of my times were set on older tyres, so the difference in performance seen here may not be a true reflection of the situation. We won’t know for certain until we get to Monza.”

Photo: Le Mans Series Official WebsiteLola has made a new aerodynamic package available to teams running the B05 chassis, and this has been adopted by ASM for their AER Lola. For the time being, however, RML has decided to hold off on fitting the revised body panels in preference to the existing and well-understood configuration. “The Portuguese Lola had the new package,” confirmed Erdos. “We don’t know how it will affect them, and we don’t know their reaction to using it, but while they may have been quicker than us at the test, they were also running more downforce. That suits Paul Ricard, so it’s hard to make direct comparisons.”

While Erdos was first out in the MG, completing the initial runs and establishing a good baseline set-up, Mike Newton ended up sharing the track time almost equally with his co-driver. “Mike set a string of very good laps and ran very consistently throughout, so it’s a useful and very positive test for both of us,” offered Erdos, who was pleased to see his amateur partner running quicker than many of the professionals on track.

Erdos remains confident about the season ahead, and of RML. There is no doubting the professionalism and experience of the personnel under Phil Barker, and RML has consistently demonstrated that the squad can get the best out of any machinery in its care. “The truth is, our competitors have raised their game. No doubt we’re in for a very demanding season, but this is a challenge we’re prepared to face,” said Erdos. “The Zytek seems set to be a bullet as soon as Barazi can get a handle on the car, and it even looks “right” when you see it on track. There’s no doubt that the Radical will also be tough, certainly on speed, and it will be hard work matching those two. The Radical is far better sorted now than it was last year, and they’ve made good progress on the engineering. Yes, it’s definitely going to be a challenging year.”

High resolution images from the Paul Ricard test are available from this gallery.