Deja vu for RML AD Group in Spa
A month after retiring from Round 1 of the 2009 Le Mans Series in Barcelona with engine problems, Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos in the RML AD Group Lola Mazda pulled out of Round 2 at Spa when a second engine failed to go the distance. Just as he had in Barcelona, Thomas Erdos drove a faultless first stint, and worked through to be running third in class from a pitlane start in under half an hour. There appeared to be every chance of challenging for a podium finish until, eight minutes into Mike Newton's mid-race stint, the engine died.
The retirement came at the end of an arduous three days for Wellingborough-based RML. Fastest in class by the end of Friday free practice, the prospects had looked excellent, but a first-lap accident for Mike Newton on Saturday morning left the team with extensive repairs to complete and no chance of participating in qualifying.
This meant starting the race from the pitlane, but having been penalised ten positions on the grid for replacing the blown engine after Barcelona, starting the race from the back of the field hardly mattered. However, when thick fog forced the abandonment of official warm-up on Sunday morning, the drivers faced a six-hour race in a car that hadn't turned a wheel since a ground-up rebuild. It was testament to the skill and meticulous work of the RML mechanics that the car was on the button from the moment the lights turned green.
One car spinning off on the warm-up lap, followed by a first-corner incident, brought out the safety car and allowed Tommy to catch up on the tail-enders before the restart. He then sliced through the 50-car field, taking half of them inside five laps and reaching third in LMP2 within half an hour. "The car was just such a delight to drive," said Erdos. "It was handling perfectly, and even though I didn't have the top-end speed of some of the others, it felt strong, and I could challenge. It's just amazing what the team did, rebuilding the car completely in an afternoon, and then to have it perform so well without any time to test it was remarkable."
Early in his second stint Tommy caught a patch of oil at Rivage and took to the gravel, but he and the team recovered well from that, and the Brazilian went on to set the car's fastest lap just before handing over to Mike Newton. The CEO of AD Group would manage a mere four laps before the engine let go on the run up towards Les Combes. "We're so disappointed for the guys that our race ended this way," said a disconsolate Thomas Erdos. "After all their efforts, they deserved so much better than this."
The depth of RML's disappointment and frustration is emphasised by the undeniable potential of the team's Lola Mazda Coupe. Setting fastest lap in free practice on Friday and battling through to third in class from the back of the field confirms that the car has the pace, but so far the engine reliability that brought two class wins at Le Mans in 2005 and 2006 eludes RML in 2009.
The team plans to introduce a series of additional track tests before heading for the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, and has little over four weeks to seek a way through the problem.