RML AD Group enters partnership with Mazda AER
RML's LMP2 sports prototype programme has been one of the most successful of the last five years, with back-to-back victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the class title in the Le Mans Series in 2007. Co-drivers Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos have established an excellent reputation as the driving line-up to beat in LMP2, especially at Le Mans, and for seven years the team has championed the motorsport heritage of iconic British marque MG.
From November 5th 2008 a fresh era begins for RML AD Group with the signing of a new deal with car manufacturer Mazda and race engine specialists AER. The deal means the end of the link with MG, but the start of an exciting new partnership for RML and the Mazda-Lola Coupe. "Everything is signed and sorted and we are very happy to have an agreement for two years," confirmed Phil Barker, Team Manager at RML. "We shall be running the Mazda unit in 2009. It will be an evolution of the current Mazda MZR-R engine raced this year in the American Le Mans Series. It is a two-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine developed exclusively for Mazda by AER, and it represents not only an exciting way forwards for us, but also the continuity of our excellent working relationship with AER."
The decision to follow this route was based upon the need to meet a complex series of requirements and parameters, based around the team's decision to upgrade to the closed-cockpit Lola Coupe chassis. This included engine management and gearchange systems, as well as many other essential components. "There were merits and shortcomings to all the various alternatives we considered, but it was vital that we made a decision that was right for RML as a team," said Barker. "The MG engine was nearing the end of its evolutionary prospects, but by contrast, the Mazda engine has the potential for considerable further development. It offers tremendous scope for enhancing performance over the coming years, while simultaneously offering us the opportunity to establish a relationship with a prestigious and forward-thinking organisation like Mazda."
Mike Newton, CEO of AD Group, will co-drive the new Mazda-Lola with Thomas Erdos in 2009. "We had six enormously successful years with MG branding on the car, including two consecutive class victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours and a class title in the 2007 Le Mans Series," he admits. "We're very proud of those achievements, and also for having kept the flag flying so prominently for MG throughout that period. Ultimately, however, the funding from MG that we'd been lead to expect for 2008 never materialised, and I can't deny that we were very disappointed by that. I shall be very sad to sever our links with such an historic British name, and I would like to take this opportunity to say thankyou to the many MG enthusiasts who have given us their support over the years. It has been much appreciated."
The switch to Mazda was prompted by several factors. "The fact that the support we'd hoped for from MG never arrived, combined with recurrent engine problems that were significantly exacerbated by the fuel this year, meant that we neared the end of the season knowing that we'd have to look for a new engine in 2009," says Newton. "Introducing the new Lola Coupe at Silverstone (for the final round of the 2008 Le Mans Series) allowed us to review the upgrade on the chassis in the light of back-to-back engine testing. It was a close-run judgement call between the Mazda and the Judd options, but based upon what we've learned, we're confident that the advances made with the Mazda engine will allow us to move forward next season. Ultimately, we've struck a good deal that offers us an extremely competitive engine in conjunction with maintaining the excellent relationship we've always enjoyed with AER and Life Racing."
Both drivers are keen to get their hands on the new car. "For a number of reasons we were well short of our full potential at Silverstone, yet we still gave a strong performance," says an encouraged Newton. "We're ready to take delivery of the new Mazda engine any day now, and combined with what we learned at Silverstone, we've got plenty of data to carry us forward towards a test early next year. Now I'm just looking forward to showing what we can really do with the coupe!"
It is an enthusiasm shared by Thomas Erdos, who will soon begin his seventh season as co-driver with Mike Newton.. "I'm very excited by this new partnership," he said. "Mazda is a major manufacturer with a strong association with Le Mans, having been the first and only Japanese manufacturer to win the 24 Hours (with the 787b in 1991, driven by Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler, and Bertrand Gachot). It's very encouraging to have a partner of this magnitude, but I am also looking forward to continuing the excellent relationship we have with AER."
RML AD Group has confirmed that Thomas Erdos and Mike Newton will contest the Le Mans Series again in 2009. "These are uncertain times, not just economically, but also in our sector of motorsport," said Erdos. "There are many changes coming, and we don't really know who we will be racing against next year, but the signs are that the series will remain strong. We're moving ahead with our own programme, and I think we've made a very good decision."
Erdos recognises that he'll have to be patient. "We won't be running the car again until we've adopted the full 2009 specifications," he says. "We've had a fantastic six years of consistently competitive racing but I'm now really looking forward to driving the car with the new engine. It's an exciting time for us."
Additional details on the Mazda AER engine will be released shortly.