RML makes a promising start to the new season
RML's 2007 Le Mans Series campaign launched to an excellent start with second place in the opening round at Monza in Italy. The team's driver pairing of Thomas Erdos and Mike Newton lead the LMP2 category for nearly two-thirds of the thousand kilometer event, and coped excellently with a coolant leak for the final hour to finish strongly, still consistently quickest in their class.
The race had been preceded by two days of official free practice and qualifying, during which it became evident that the RML MG EX264 faces an even stronger challenge this season than ever before. As many as six other teams demonstrated the pace to challenge for victory in the six-race series, but in Saturday's twenty-minute qualifying session, Thomas Erdos once again delivered a blistering performance to vie for pole. Although narrowly outpaced on Saturday, the Brazilian did, in effect, start from the front row after the polesetter's time was disallowed for a technical infringement, and one of the other quick cars, the Barazi Epsilon Zytek, failed to start the race.
By the end of the opening lap Erdos had already established a clear lead in LMP2, and he steadily built upon that until the MG had an advantage of more than 30 seconds over the second-placed Quifel ASM Lola. At the conclusion of an impressive two-hour stint, Erdos handed over to co-driver Mike Newton. The CEO of AD Holdings picked up the baton and maintained the charge, extending the lead until it stood at well over a minute. Towards the end of his mid-race stint, however, the MG began to demonstrate the first signs of an engine overheating issue that would blight the final stints of the race.
When Erdos returned to the cockpit, the MG was able to run for nearly twenty laps between enforced pitstops to replenish the cooling system. As the leak worsened, that frequency increased, and with a series of additional unscheduled stops the chance of victory slipped away. A good result remained possible, thanks to the massive advantage already established over the third-placed Binnie Lola, some ten laps in arrears.
The team employed considerable skill and ingenuity to speed the refilling process until each pitstop was taking just seconds to complete, and this ensured a strong finish, second in LMP2 and eighth overall. The class win eventually went to the Horag Racing Lola B05/40 of Theys, Lienhard and Van de Poele, with outright honours falling to the all-new LMP1 Peugeot 908 of Minassian and Gene. Forty-six cars started the race.
"I'm delighted!" said Adam Wiseberg, Motorsport Director of AD Holdings, principal sponsor of RML's MG programme. "Second place in the first race of the new season is an excellent start to our championship campaign. We'll treasure those eight points throughout the year. It's a good job all round, and the drivers, both of them, drove exceptionally well." Phil Barker, Team Manager at RML, was in full agreement. "Races are won by drivers, and if there are problems, it's down to the drivers to drive around them. Both our drivers gave excellent performances today. I couldn't have asked for more. Our Le Mans preparations paid dividends. We have the systems to look after the car in situations like these, and it got us home."
The drivers were more than satisfied. "We're delighted with the result," said Thomas Erdos. "We knew we faced a lot of competition this year, racing against good drivers and good teams, and we focused on preparation for the race, not qualifying. It paid off." Mike Newton saw the result as the perfect opening to the season: "Coming away with eight points, and with our closest rivals gaining none, gives us a valuable buffer. It's so much better a start to the season than we endured last year!" In 2006, when the duo missed the title by a handful of points, the first race started with disaster, when a fellow competitor forced the MG into the pitwall even before the cars had crossed the start line.
Chief Executive Ray Mallock said "Whilst it was disappointing not to get the win that was on the cards, it is nonetheless a good haul of points with which to open our championship account with this year's Le Mans Series. I'm very pleased with the performance of the drivers and the team and it was unfortunate that the small leak within the engine prevented us from winning today"
Race Operations Director, Phil Barker commented "We were running comfortably for the first 2 hours when we developed a water leak. Upon inspection we could not find the problem, which lead us to make more pitstops than planned to keep the engine cool. All things considered, to get a second place with 3 hours of over heating problems was a good effort, we are very happy to have picked up 8 points"
The next round takes place at Valencia in Spain on May 5th.