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RML Le Mans Series News 2008
MG Lola EX265C - First test. Issued September 4th 2008

Successful Snetterton Shakedown for RML MG Lola Coupé

Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC GraphicsJust seventeen days after competing in round four of the 2008 Le Mans Series at the Nurburgring, RML was testing their LMP2 sports prototype again at Snetterton in Norfolk. At first glance, perhaps there is nothing significant or even surprising about that fact, but pause to consider that the car on test was both the same car, and yet a totally new one.

Having returned from Germany, the team’s MG Lola EX265 #25 was taken to the Lola factory in Huntingdon, half an hour’s drive from RML’s home in Wellingborough, where it was stripped down to its component parts and then completely rebuilt again, but this time as the uprated and singularly roofed EX265C. More than 70% of the original car has been carried over, making this one of the most radical sportscar evolutions attempted in recent years. The need to do so is not unexpected, bearing in mind the depth of knowledge and understanding that RML’s team, lead by Phil Barker, has gained after five years of running first the MG Lola EX257, inherited from the MG works team in 2003, and then its successors; the EX264 and EX265. In partnership with Lola, RML developed and honed the MG into a package that proved capable of taking the LMP2 class at Le Mans twice, and then rounding off an enviable heritage by securing the 2007 Le Mans Series title. That level of development experience is not dispensed with lightly.

So, on a sunny Norfolk morning, the gleaming MG Lola EX265C took to the Snetterton track for the very first time. In the hands of Brazilian Thomas Erdos, it then proceeded to pound round the circuit, lap after lap, and amass several hours of virtually trouble-free testing. It is testament to the skills of all those who worked so diligently in the previous fortnight that everything performed so well, straight ‘out of the box’. “We’ve experienced a few of those new-car gremlins, just as you’d expect,” admitted Phil Barker, “but nothing in any way major. This has been an incredibly quick build and lots of people have been involved all along the way, not only at RML, but also at Lola. The potential to drop the ball in situations like that is huge, but the car has run throughout the day without any significant problems at all. To achieve such a level of basic reliability has been excellent, and what little issues there have been, we’ve largely been able to iron-out during the course of the day.”

Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC Graphics

The car certainly looks the business. Within a few of hours of the car’s appearance, photographs had already appeared on some of the leading Internet websites and forums, and the consensus has been overwhelmingly positive – the RML Lola Coupé looks exceptional. “The car is stunning – really, really good,” said Adam Wiseberg, Director of Motorsport at AD Group, the sportscar team’s principal sponsor. “We’re delighted with the way the coupé looks, and also with how well it has run today. This has been a very encouraging shakedown.” Comments on-line ranged from a very simple “What a nice car!” through “Superb!”, “Spectacular” and “That RML car looks fabulous!” to “How good does that RML coupe look!??” and “Wooooooooow, that RML Lola coupé is gorgeous - best looking LMP car - even better-looking than the Charouz Lola and the Oreca. Can’t wait to see it in the flesh!” Doubtless many will not be quite so enthusiastic, but there seems agreement, as stated in one post, that the colour scheme really does suit the shape of the car.

Although still recognisably based upon the red, white and blue livery that has become such a distinctive feature of the RML MG Lolas these past five or six years, the addition of the roof has offered more scope to work on the patriotic branding. The cockpit and profile give the car a definite jet-fighter appearance – so a qualified pilot like Mike Newton, co-driver and CEO of AD Group, should feel perfectly at home inside the domed polycarbonate “greenhouse”. To date only two other B08/80-based Lola Coupés have taken to the track; one raced in LMP2 by Speedy Team Sebah and the other in LMP1 by Charouz Racing, both in the Le Mans Series. However, others are in-build and expected to grace race circuit both within Europe and across the United States during 2009. In terms of aesthetics alone, RML’s MG Lola EX265C has the benefit of a lower, sleeker roofline, thanks to the AER-derived XP-21 powerplant, which doesn’t demand a roof-top air intake.

Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC Graphics

Svelte and stylish she may be, but the coupé also seems to satisfy the performance expectations of Thomas Erdos, who readily accepted the responsibility of shaking down the new car. “This is Day One in the life of a racing car, and as such, I’m very excited about the whole thing. I’m also pleased that things have gone so smoothly. When you bring together all the complex systems of a racecar like this, you’re always up against it when you decide to attempt something so major mid-season. Bearing in mind the schedule that RML has had to meet – taking a car that raced at the Nurburgring just a few weeks ago and rebuilding it totally from the ground up, and creating what is, in many respects, a brand new car – is a humongous task, and yet they’ve not only achieved all that, but it has run without a single major drama. That’s impressive.”

Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC GraphicsWhat the Brazilian has been keen to emphasise since news broke cover of the uprated coupé is that there may well be a considerable amount of work still to be done. “Silverstone will be very much like an extended six hour test for us,” he says. “If all we do is aim to learn as much as we can about the car ahead of next season, then that has to be our primary objective. All this – the shakedown today, the free practice sessions at Silverstone, and the race itself – all this is just development track time in advance of 2009 as far as we’re concerned. That’s what we need to focus on.”

That Wednesday’s test went through without any dramas must have come as a bonus. “Oh, there are some minor issues that we’ll have to sort out between now and Silverstone, of course there are,” concedes Erdos. “It’s almost like a new car, after all, but we should be able to address most of these before we even get to Silverstone; it’s just a case of prioritising the list of things to do. The set-up on the car isn’t ideal just yet, but overall, this has been a really positive day. I’m confident that next time we go out on track at Silverstone, it will be even better.”

Judging by the grins on some very tired faces at Snetterton – many of the team having forgone sleep the night before in their eagerness to see the car completed and ready for the test – it had all been worthwhile. “It’s been a very satisfying day,” smiled a well-pleased Phil Barker. “Now we can all start looking forward to Silverstone and, we hope, a rewarding 2009.” Adam Wiseberg, no doubt happy to see that AD Group’s investment has enjoyed such a positive re-birth, shared his view. “The potential is already very clear, and we’re really looking ahead to next season with fresh optimism,” he said. “We’re entering a very exciting new phase in our relationship with RML, and I hope it can be as rewarding as the last.”

All photos by Marcus Potts / CMC Graphics. Any reproduction elsewhere must include an acknowledgement. For alternative images, please also see previous news item here.