Portimao: RML Lola qualifying report

Snakes & Ladders for RML Tommy Erdos took an RML Lola back up to the front row in LMP2 for a round of the Le Mans Series for the first time for over a season by qualifying second for today's Algarve 1000 Kilometres, only to see his achievement...

Snakes & Ladders for RML

Tommy Erdos took an RML Lola back up to the front row in LMP2 for a round of the Le Mans Series for the first time for over a season by qualifying second for today's Algarve 1000 Kilometres, only to see his achievement knocked back ten places down the grid just a few minutes later.

The penalty wasn't unexpected, but still came as a considerable disappointment after the team had worked so hard to achieve a near-perfect set-up for the undulating and very technical Autodromo do Algarve. Unfortunately, an engine failure in the previous round at Spa meant a new unit had to be fitted ahead of the Portuguese race, and that incurred an automatic ten-place qualifying penalty and a further two-point deduction from the team's championship tally. So, instead of lining up second in class and 12th overall, the RML Lola Mazda Coupe will begin from 21st and last-but-one in LMP2.

"It's very disappointing to get penalised in this way, through no fault of our own," said Tommy Erdos, "but it's in the regulations, and we have to abide by the organisers' decision. At least we know what we've achieved. The chassis is great -- just fantastic - and the handling is excellent. We made some bold changes after the last Free Practice session, and they were the right changes. All credit to the team, they've created a really good car for us, and even though we'll be starting from the second half of the grid, I'm still looking forward to carrying that potential into the race."

Not since Silverstone in September 2007 has a red, white and blue RML Lola qualified as high as second in class, although race performances have often seen Tommy leading before the end of his opening stint. "I only did three flying laps today before coming back to the pits, but there's no doubt in my mind that we could have gone even quicker." It is not so long ago that RML's previous MG Lola EX264 would have been habitually fighting for pole, and the team would often bring Tommy into the pits for the second half of the session. This time the air temperature continued to fall, by more than two degrees, and conditions improved enough towards the end to aid Olivier Pla in setting a faster time. "In truth, it was a bit of a surprise not to see Olivier going into the thirty-threes," admitted Tommy, "but you have to put the tyres on for qualifying that you'll use to start the race, and in its own way, that tells a story. It was nice to split the Zyteks at last, and be the fastest Lola, even if only for a short time. Very satisfying."

In the minutes after the chequered flag fell, Mike Newton, co-driver and CEO of AD Group, was in high spirits. "It's some good news in what's been an extremely challenging weekend," he said. "Today's is the best qualifying position so far achieved for the Lola Coupe, and it proves that the complete Lola Mazda package can become a very competitive prospect when we can overcome the reliability issues."

However, having been penalised for one engine change, the team has taken the decision to make another ahead of the race. "After qualifying was over the engine technicians encountered some data that gave them cause for concern," Mike added later. "As a precautionary measure, they've decided to replace the designated engine. This will most probably result in yet another penalty for our next race at the Nurburgring, where we will have to fit another new engine in order to complete the season at Silverstone." A regulation change that was originally envisaged as a cost-cutting measure is actually costing some teams a small fortune.

Those engine issues aside, Team Manager Phil Barker was pleased with the way the car had performed. "It has been very difficult to sort out a balance when the conditions have been changing so much, and the hottest daylight sessions can have no real bearing on what we'll face in the race. Despite that, we seem to have established that the car is very quick, especially on old tyres. Tommy's quickest time (in Thursday evening's practice session) was set on tyres that had already double-stinted, so we're confident that the car can remain very competitive over an extended period.

Pauline Norstrom, Director of Worldwide Marketing for AD Group, was "delighted with what was our best qualifying run for nearly two years. That much has been very encouraging. The car always shows that it has great potential, but going all the way has eluded us so far this year. We must hope that our good fortune holds out for the race this evening." That race starts at 19:15 (UK and local time) and will continue through to 01:15, or until 1000 kilometres is completed, whichever is achieved first. The start and finish will be shown live on Eurosport.

-credit: ml

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About this article
Series European Le Mans
Drivers Mike Newton , Olivier Pla