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Le Mans Series 2007
Round 3. Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers. June 29th - July 1st 2007
Race in Retrospect. Issued July 4th 2007

Looking Back on RML's Historic Win

After nearly exactly six hours of trouble-free running, the RML MG EX264 rose up through the final Nurburgring Chicane and, as Thomas Erdos rounded the top corner to swing out onto the main straight, he shouted into the radio: “I’ve got a problem. The engine’s blown!”

It was a joke, thankfully, and maybe it wasn’t the most tactful, but it reflected the thoughts that had been going through the minds of everyone in the RML garage for the previous half hour or more. Those watching the telemetry, and familiar with Tommy’s voice and sense of humour, could see that the AER was running at full chat and pulling as strongly as ever as he powered down the straight to take the chequered flag. Unfortunately, more than one person listening in on the network took him seriously, and visions of past disasters loomed large in their imagination.

Over the past two seasons few teams can have dominated a category as comprehensively as RML has in LMP2. With consecutive class wins in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2005 and 2006, and unbeaten to pole throughout the last season, it seems hard to credit that victory in the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers last weekend was actually only the team’s third championship win. Yes, they’ve lead almost every time, and often by a country mile. We’ve also seen Thomas Erdos setting fastest race laps and new records along the way, but time and again, the car has encountered the kind of bizarre and unforeseeable mishap that has robbed the team of that top-step podium.

Looking back to last season, there was that late-race puncture at Spa, an exploding brake disk at the Nurburgring, and that appalling punt off the line, even before the race had started, in Istanbul. To cap it all, the engine expired six minutes from the flag at Jarama, when they were not only leading, but also looking certain to take the title. For the second year in a row, they ended the season as runners-up. Luck has rarely been so cruel.

In that light, perhaps Tommy’s exclamation can be forgiven, or at least, understood. (Mind you, he still had to go down on bended knee afterwards to apologise to Mike’s wife!) Such has been this devastating train of events, that something like an engine failure was almost expected, and the sense of relief when the MG crossed the line without being struck by lightning, hit by wild boar, or something else equally unforeseen, was almost palpable. It was Tommy’s way of letting off steam, and after the performance he and co-driver Mike Newton had just given, yes, it could be excused.

From the RML perspective, that win at the Nurburgring is almost on a par with taking the class at Le Mans. Not only did they cross the line first, but also they did so in a race that saw perhaps the best LMP2 survival record of any event since the category was introduced. Every single LMP2 car was still running at the end of six hours, and while one may have missed the cut on distance covered, at least five ran faultlessly. Mike Newton summed it up. “At the start of this year, we wondered if we’d ever be able to win this season on pace, what with the new chassis and the strong driver line-ups being employed by the opposition. For a pro-am pairing like ours, we did feel that, if there was a race where everyone ran clean and strong, we’d have to settle for second, or a lot worse. This has been that race, and yet we’ve won, on pace alone. Up against the Zytek, the ASM Lola, and others, we’ve taken it from them, and it feels very, very good.”

A somewhat contrite Thomas Erdos grinned sheepishly. “I’m sorry if I upset anyone,” he said apologetically, but he went on to share Mike’s sentiments about the race. “This is why we do what we do,” he said. “To have come to a circuit like the Nurburgring, and to have beaten the opposition on outright pace, is a great feeling. More than that, we were up against really tough opposition here too – good teams with excellent chassis and great drivers. It’s brilliant!”

While Tommy did set fastest lap for LMP2 in the race, at 1:49.031 (marginally quicker than he managed last year), that kind of pace doesn’t account for the full lap advantage that the MG enjoyed as the Brazilian took the chequered flag. Much of the credit for that must go to the team’s pitwork, which was awesome to watch. During the course of the race the MG spent less time in the pits than all but one other car, LMP1 and works teams included, and was consistently between five and eight seconds-per-stop quicker than its nearest rivals. That equates to the best part of half a minute over the course of the six-hour race – and finding that amount of time on track, through traffic and without having to overtake another car, is almost invaluable.

“This has been a great performance by the whole team,” said a delighted Adam Wiseberg, not long after he’d been dragged on to the podium to collect the team trophy. “Everyone, the pit crew, team management, strategist and, most especially, the drivers, have all done so well today. And who can remember the last time that fifteen prototypes finished ahead of the first GT car?” Who indeed.

Credit too to Mike Newton. Technically, of course, he remains one of the sport’s “gentleman” drivers, but quietly, and without a lot of fuss, he has dug deep over the years and honed a natural talent that now places him amongst the top ten quickest in LMP2 – no mean achievement for a man who spends his weekdays as CEO of a major corporate. He cites one of his own products as being largely responsible for that improved personal performance. The MG carries AD’s TransVu CCTV system (now marketed by RML through their X-Pro brand) and this allows in-depth analysis of every lap the car travels. Lines into corners, braking points, gearchanges and every apex clipped can be checked and double-checked. “It’s technology that’s certainly working for us,” suggested Adam Wiseberg, after Mike found an extra two seconds overnight between Friday and Saturday practice.

Last weekend the RML MG was out at the front of the class for the entire race, save three laps when the first round of pitstops came into play, and never missed a beat. Elsewhere, LMP2 demonstrated pace and reliability like never before, and went some way to restoring the credibility of a category that suffered a serious blow at Le Mans just a fortnight ago, when only two cars finished the 24 Hours. As far as RML was concerned, winning at the Nurburgring was also some recompense for the disappointment of missing the Le Mans hat-trick. That time the engine did indeed “blow”, but not in Germany. “We’ve been knocking at this door for what seems like years,” concluded Thomas Erdos. “Finally, it’s as if we’re through the other side, and it feels fantastic.”

LMP2 Results from Nurburgring 1000 kms

Pos No. Overall Team Driver Car
6 RML AD Group Erdos/Newton MG Lola EX264
189 laps
7 Barazi Epsilon Vergers/Ojeh/Barazi Zytek 07S
187 laps
10 Quifel ASM Amaral/de Castro/Burgueno Lola B05/40 AER
187 laps
11 Horag Racing Lienhard/Theys/Van der Poele Lola B05/40 Judd
186 laps
13 Embassy Racing Hughes/Cunningham Radical SR9 AER
185 laps
14 Binnie Motorsports Binnie/Timpany/Buncombe Lola B05/40 Zytek
183 laps
15 Saulnier Racing Nicolet/Filhol/Jouanny Courage LC75 AER
182 laps
30 Pierre Bruneau Rostan/Bruneau/Pullan Pillbeam MP93 Judd
170 laps
35 Bruichladdich Moseley/Greaves Radical SR9 AER
165 laps
42 T2M Motorsport Longechal/Yamagishi Dome S101.5 Mader
159 laps
NC Kruse Motorsport Burgess/de Pourtales/Siedler Pescarolo C60 Judd
151 laps

For the full race report, plase visit the Nurburgring pages.

High resolution images from Nurburgring may be viewed and downloaded from the Nurburgring gallery.