Monza: Thomas Erdos race notes

Thomas Erdos in MG at Monza LMES British-based Brazilian Thomas Erdos came through the first round of the all-new Le Mans Endurance Series at Monza feeling very positive about the future. In his first race of the season in the RML MG Lola,...

Thomas Erdos in MG at Monza LMES

British-based Brazilian Thomas Erdos came through the first round of the all-new Le Mans Endurance Series at Monza feeling very positive about the future. In his first race of the season in the RML MG Lola, Erdos was buoyant, not only about the pace of the car, but also the fact that the MG went the full five-hour distance to finish seventh overall. "The car performed really well," he enthused. "It went the whole 1000 kilometers without missing a beat, and I think that's the first time that chassis has ever finished a race! A credit to RML for working at it and getting the car reliable."

The MG Lola being developed and run by Ray Mallock Limited is one of the original ex-works cars that made their debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2001. It is also the only Lola chassis of its type still competing with the MG AER turbocharged two-litre engine. The task facing RML over the coming weeks, ahead of the car's return to Le Mans, is to improve reliability, and the opening round of the LMES proved to be the perfect work-out.

Friday's free practice gave all three drivers a chance to increase their understanding and appreciation of the nimble MG Lola. Joining the regular driver pairing of Erdos and Mike Newton came team-colleague Miguel Ramos, who normally co-drives the #8 RML Saleen S7-R in the FIA GT Championship with Chris Goodwin. "The important thing for us in practice was to give Miguel and Mike as much time in the car as we could," explained Erdos. "Everything went fine, and the car ran well. We had some new compounds to try from Dunlop, although it was difficult to do a tyre programme with limited track time." Best time of the day was 1:45.834, set during a dryer morning session and just missing the top ten.

The RML strategy was much the same on the following day, when the teams prepared for qualifying. "We decided that I would do just three laps in first qualifying, so that we'd set a reasonable time early on," said Erdos. "I hadn't done much running at all by that point, and couldn't set much of a pace with just an out lap, one flyer, and then back in again. I handed the car over to Miguel, who did a good job of getting his times down, and then Mike went out to finish off." The session ended with the #7 car lying eleventh overall, based on that single lap from Erdos.

The plan was that Erdos would then go out during the day's second session and post a quicker time. Unfortunately, that wasn't about to happen. "Right at the start of my second lap, when I was about to go for a quick time, I experienced a significant loss of power from the engine," explained Erdos, who was seen to coast to a halt out on the circuit. "I decided to stop the car straight away, before any real damage was done." It was a sensible move that would safeguard the engine, but it also meant that Erdos would be unable to set a realistic time and the Jota Zytek would move ahead. "That left us twelfth from just the one lap that I'd already done," he said, "but we were then able to investigate the engine problem and change it for the race." Uppermost in his mind may have been the class pole he claimed for the MG in last November's 1000 Kilometer race at Le Mans, and would be unable to repeat at Monza.

The team's engineers and mechanics worked late into Saturday night fitting a new engine, which ran smoothly through Sunday's warm-up session for Ramos and Newton, confirming the team's readiness for the race. Erdos took the rolling start and completed a blistering first lap, picking up three places along the way by passing the Nasamax Judd (tipped aside by Hiroki Kato in the Advan Kondo Dome), the #17 Pescarolo Sport, and the Jota Zytek. He then started to exert increasing pressure on Kato for eighth, but this did not account for the Dome's retirement on lap nine with suspension failure - more likely a result of the incident with the Nasamax.

Having moved into eighth, Erdos then began to hunt down Collard in the Pescarolo Judd, itself gunning for Martin Short's Rollcentre Dallara. The trio ran closely for fifteen laps before Collard got in front of Short, and then Erdos did likewise. "That was a good run against Martin," said Erdos, smiling at the memory. "I eventually overtook him into the Lesmo 2, but it was pretty close all the way. I just managed to get through on the inside."

With the arrival of the first refueling pitstops the economy of the small but hard-working AER engine came into its own. Erdos, able to stay out almost six laps longer than his rivals, moved up to fourth overall, and was running in tight formation with the leading Audi R8s. "The car was going so well," he said with satisfaction. "It was my first chance to run hard laps in the dry, and the race pace was down into the 41s." This was five seconds quicker than the car had set in qualifying, hinting at the potential that lies within the diminutive MG. "When I was running near the Audis on the track," he continued, "I seemed to be within a second or so of their times, yet it was a reasonable pace for us." In the closing stages, when McNish was chasing down Herbert for the lead, Erdos was keeping pace with the action and able to witness the chase-down from close-quarters, despite very wet conditions.

At the end of lap 30 Erdos pitted to hand over to Mike Newton, who came back out on track in eighth place and stuck there for almost his entire stint. "He kept us in the top ten quite comfortably," observed Erdos later, who watched his co-driver complete an extra half stint after coming in under the safety car for fresh tyres and fuel. Then, with the MG still holding eighth, Newton handed over to Ramos. The Portuguese driver picked up the baton and ran strongly, only losing out when David Brabham came by in the works Zytek, recovering from a broken brake pedal. The final stint fell to Erdos's once again, and saw the MG's only hesitant moment of the entire day; "There was a slight problem when the engine didn't want to restart, but we soon had it going again!" Erdos explained. No such uncertainty on the racetrack, despite the arrival of heavy rain and a change of tyres, with Erdos moving up to seventh in the final minutes, passing the DBA Zytek.

"That has been a positive experience for all of us," said a very satisfied Erdos. "If we can captialise on this with a successful test day at Snetterton next Tuesday; get more miles on the car and work even more on reliability, then we'll be in good shape for Le Mans. It has been a real boost to the entire programme, and finishing seventh was almost like bonus. I'm especially pleased for the guys who were up until two in the morning changing the engine. They looked so tired, so it was good to give them a reward for all their hard work." Ray Mallock was equally encouraged. "All our recent development modifications proved successful," he said. "The drivers recorded very competitive lap times and we were also able to carry out some further development work with Dunlop".

Members of the RML squad have a hectic schedule ahead of them in the coming weeks. In addition to the Snetterton test they also have another round of the FIA GT Championship at Hockenheim to look forward to next weekend, followed by a BTCC meeting at Oulton Park with the Seat touring cars on the 23rd. Round five of the FIA GT at Brno at the end of the month leaves just one week spare before heading for France and the Le Mans 24 Hours.

-mp-

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Series ELMS