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Le Mans Series 2008
Season Preview and Paul Ricard Test
Issued February 29th 2008

RML AD Group Le Mans Season Preview
Paul Ricard Test - Sunday 2nd - Monday 3rd March 2008

This weekend sees the 2008 Le Mans season kicking off in a big way in France, where the year’s first official ACO-sanctioned test will be taking place at the Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet, near Marseille.

Teams running more than thirty of the world’s top GT and sportscars have announced their intention to take part in what is always a keenly anticipated event. RML AD Group will be there with the MG Lola EX265 - Mike Newton, Thomas Erdos and Andy Wallace having taken part in a series of very successful preparatory shakedowns in the UK during the past four weeks. All three will be in action again during the course of the two-day Paul Ricard test, with RML confirmed as participating on both days, and also into the night.

RML traditionally views the test as an opportunity to hone their Le Mans skills, and to work on set-up and preparation for the twenty-four hour marathon in June. This year will be no exception, so the new EX265 will be fettled and tuned to suit the full Le Mans circuit of La Sarthe, and not necessarily the track at Le Castellet. Even so, the occasion will still be the first opportunity for all those teams competing at Le Mans this year to weigh one another up under genuine race conditions, and for those also tackling the Le Mans Series in 2008, it may offer a few pointers to the opening round at Barcelona in April.

It may not be a faithful comparison, since some teams will be going all-out to impress; using qualifying tyres, light fuel loads, and trimming their cars for Paul Ricard’s twistier curves, but that won’t stop the speculation. There’s no denying that the competition is stronger than ever before this year, with the success of the Le Mans Series having attracted a whole raft of new cars, drivers and teams to the championship. Much interest will be concentrated on the performance of the Porsche RS Spyder LMP2. Following two highly impressive seasons in the American Le Mans Series, 2008 will be the first time that the German-built cars will have raced in Europe. Of the eight LMP2 entrants booked to run at Paul Ricard, two will be using the Porsche; Team Essex from Denmark and the new Dutch outfit Van Merksteijn Motorsport.

Also fresh to all tracks – not just the European ones – will be the exciting new Lola Coupé. Not only will Charouz Racing be debuting their Aston Martin powered LMP1 coupé, but Speedy Racing Team Sebah, an Anglo-Swiss team, will be showing off their LMP2 version. The full list of participating teams at Paul Ricard for LMP2 is as follows:

#25 RML AD Group MG Lola EX265 (GB)
#26 Team Bruichladdiuch Radical SR9 (GB)
#30 Racing Box Lucchini – Judd (Italy)
#31 Team Essex Porsche RS-Spider (Denmark)
#33 Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola B08/80 Coupé (Anglo-Swiss)
#34 Van Merksteijn Motorsport Porsche RS-Spider (Holland)
#40 Quifel ASM Team Lola B05/40 (Portugal)
#41 Trading Performance Zytek 07S (Swiss)

Peugeot won’t be there in LMP1, but a dozen other top-flight prototypes will be. These include two Audi R10s, the factory having confirmed that it’s works team will be contesting the Le Mans Series this season, as well as the aforementioned Charouz Lola Coupé, three Pescarolos, two Courage LC70s, two open-topped Lolas, a Creation CA07 and the new Epsilon Euskadi LMP1 coupé. Seven GT1 entrants are booked to attend, including two Astons, two Saleens, two Corvettes and a Lamborghini Murcielago, while GT2 has attracted five Porsches, two Ferraris, a Spyker and another Aston. A total of eleven cars, including RML’s MG, will take part in the night-time running, but only three are expected to attempt the full twenty-four hour test.

Several significant cars are absent, including the all-new Embassy WF01 Zytek (left). Embassy was a strong competitor in LMP2 last year with their black-liveried Radical SR9, but the team has gone out on a brave limb in 2008 by developing its own chassis, in conjunction with Zytek, and entered two cars. Former RML racer Warren Hughes will headline one of the pair, but with the second unlikely to be ready in time for the Paul Ricard test, team boss Jonathan France has elected to concentrate on getting both cars finished in good time for Barcelona. Factory time is simply too valuable at this stage in the season! Another absentee is Kruse Motorsport, which plans to return to the Le Mans Series this season with the ex-Fernandez racing Lola from the ALMS. The swap from Acura (Honda) power to Mazda AER will not be completed in time, so they plan an independent test ahead of Round 1 in April.

As LMP2 title-holders, Mike Newton, Thomas Erdos and the EX265 will be under intense pressure, and the Brazilian knows it. “It will be interesting to see where we fit in,” he said. “There are some very fast cars there, and we know we’ve got a challenge ahead of us this season. The Porsches are going to be quick, we know that, but so too the Zytek, the Lola Coupé, and our old rivals ASM. The Embassy cars won’t be at Paul Ricard, but I’m sure they’ll be strong right from the start. Yes, it’s going to be tough!”

Joining Mike and Tommy for the Paul Ricard test will be Le Mans veteran Andy Wallace. Although 2008 will be Andy’s third Le Mans 24 Hours with RML AD Group, in previous years commitments in America have always prevented his joining the two Le Mans Series regulars for their pre-season tests. This time he can devote his full attention on the MG programme. “I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “RML is a wonderful team to work with, and I thoroughly enjoy racing with Mike and Tommy, but this season I feel that I’m a fully integrated member of the team.” He has already tested the EX265 this year, but will now also take part in both the Paul Ricard test and the pre-Le Mans weekend at the end of May. “Having Andy so much more involved this year is excellent news for us,” said Erdos. “It not only ensures that we can make the best possible preparations for the 24 Hours in June, but it’s also so good to have a driver of his calibre to bounce ideas off. He’s a huge asset to the team, and a great guy to work with.”

While the two-day Paul Ricard test is officially an opportunity for teams to make early preparations for the Le Mans 24 Hours, there’s no getting away from the fact that most will also be contemplating the imminent start to the Le Mans Series. Barcelona hosts the opening round this year, with the calendar confirmed as:

Calendar 2008

Date Venue Country
March 2-3 Paul Ricard Test (France)
April 6 Barcelona (Spain)
April 27 Monza (Italy)
May 11 Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium)
May 31 Le Mans Test (France)
June 14-15 Le Mans 24 Hours (France)
August 17 Nürburgring (Germany)
September 14 Silverstone (Great Britain)
November 2 Shanghai (China)

The Shanghai race, only announced earlier this month, will be a non-championship event, but with incentives provided by the ACO, could prove to be an attractive pull for many teams, not only in the Le Mans Series, but also from America and across Asia. Having recently taken over responsibility for the Japan Le Mans Challenge, the ACO is seen to be attempting a revival of interest in the Far East for sportscar racing, and perhaps this event in China will be the precursor to a full-blown Asian Le Mans Series.

Centred upon Europe, the Le Mans Series itself goes from strength to strength, and fifty entries have now been confirmed for the 2008 season. Sixteen LMP1 prototypes will be joined by fifteen from LMP2, five GT1 entries and fourteen in GT2.

Le Mans Series 2008 Entry List for LMP2

No. Team & Nationality Type Drivers
#25 RML AD Group (GB) MG Lola EX265 Thomas Erdos (BRA) Mike Newton (GB)
#26 Team Bruichladdich (GB) Radical SR9 Stuart Moseley (GB) Jacob Greaves (GB)
#27 Horag Racing (SUI) Porsche RS-Spider Fredy Lienhard (SUI) Didier Theys (BEL)
Jan Lammers (HOL)
#30 Racing Box (ITA) Lucchini-Judd Marco Didaio (ITA) Filippo Francioni (ITA)
#31 Team Essex (DEN) Porsche RS-Spider John Nielsen (DEN) Casper Elgaard (DEN)
#32 Barazi Epsilon (DEN) Zytek 07S Juan Barazi (DEN) Michael Vergers (HOL)
#33 Speedy Racing Team Sebah (SUI) Lola B08/80 Coupé Andrea Belicchi (ITA) Steve Zacchia (SUI) Xavier Pompidou (FRA)
#34 Van Merksteijn Motorsport (HOL) Porsche RS-Spider Peter Van Merksteijn (HOL) Jos Verstappen (HOL) Jeroen Bleekemolen (HOL)
#35 Saulnier Racing (FRA) Pescarolo 06 Pierre Ragues (FRA) TBA
#37 WR/Salini (FRA) WR-Zytek Stéphane Salini (FRA) Philippe Salini (FRA) Patrice Roussel (FRA)
#40 Quifel ASM (POR) Lola B05/40 Miguel Amaral (POR) Olivier Pla (FRA)
#41 Trading Performance (SUI) Zytek 07S Karim Ojjeh (KSA) Claude-Yves Gosselin (FRA) Julien Schroyen (BEL)
#44 Kruse Schiller Motorsport (GER) Lola-Mazda Jean de Pourtales (FRA) Alex Müller (GER) Hideki Noda (JPN)
#45 Embassy Racing (GB) WF01-Zytek Jonny Kane (GBR) Warren Hughes (GBR)
#46 Embassy Racing (GB) WF01-Zytek Mario Haberfield (BRA) Joey Foster (GBR)

“There are just so many good cars among that list – and so many exceptional drivers!” was Tommy’s immediate reaction. “There are world champions, former F1 drivers, guys like Jan Lammers, John Nielsen and Jos Verstappen, there’s Warren and Jonny Kane in one car together, Michael Vergers . . . . the list just goes on and on. It’s quite daunting to think that we have to face all that lot every weekend!” From a personal perspective, he recognises the challenge, and he’s gearing up to face it. “This year, perhaps more than ever before, I’ve been working hard on my own preparation. I’ve focused hugely on my fitness, and have taken on my own personal trainer. We’ve been working together for several months now, trying to make sure that I’m at peak fitness for Barcelona. I’m feeling strong, back on track, and quietly confident.”

Looking beyond Paul Ricard, he knows that the first and only true test of where the team stands for 2008 will come at Barcelona. “It’s not until we get there that we’ll know for certain where we stand. Before Barcelona, Paul Ricard can only be an indication, nothing more. People play games at Paul Ricard – running cars specifically set up for the track, trying with qualifying tyres and so on. Things like that make the outcome of the test somewhat inaccurate. We’re running Paul Ricard as a test for Le Mans, pure and simple, but Barcelona will be something else entirely.”

A report from Paul Ricard will follow next week.


Television 2008
Media coverage of the Le Mans Series this year will be even more generous than it was in 2007, with Motors TV once again broadcasting each event live in its entirety, while Eurosport will provide additional exposure by screening the opening half-hour of each race, also live. In June, coverage of the Le Mans 24 Hours is reputed to have been awarded to Eurosport this time around, after Motors TV followed every day of the 2007 pre-race build-up, as well as the whole of the twenty-four hours. The extent of Eurosport’s time allocation is expected to be somewhat less, at around 30 hours in total.

Paul Ricard Schedule
The track schedule for the Paul Ricard circuit has been confirmed, and teams will be able to take advantage of extended running throughout the two-day test. The circuit will open at nine on Sunday morning for the first three-hour period, followed by a short break for lunch, before the lights turn green again at one o’clock. That will be the signal for those teams planning a full Le Mans simulation to begin their twenty-four hour run, while the remaining cars can use the track through until six, and then again after dinner and until midnight. Those doing the 24 Hour test will press on though the night, and will hopefully still be circulating when everyone else heads back out again from nine on Monday morning. The track will close at one o’clock for everyone, bringing to a close the designated twenty-four hour run. The final period will be between two and five, before everyone packs up and goes home.

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