The RML MG Lola EX264 made its race debut at Spa, Belgium today for the opening round of the 2005 Le Mans Endurance Series. In typically wet and foggy conditions the team were optimistic of a good result with Mike Newton and Tommy Erdos taking pole position in LMP2 for the start of the 1000km event. The eventful race which followed concluded with the team crossing the line 4th in class at the chequered flag and thus securing valuable points in the championship.
From the 5th row of the grid Tommy was one of only five prototypes to start the race on intermediate tyres. With the very wet track conditions the runners on full wets had an initial advantage and Tommy ran 2nd in class for the first few laps. As the tyre temperatures came up he was soon setting very competitive lap times and took the class lead and 8th position overall, gradually extending the gap to over 36 seconds ahead of the 2nd LMP2 contender. Continuing the strong performance Tommy had soon climbed to 4th position overall. One hour into the six hour race he pitted for fuel and on rejoining quickly retook the class lead.
The first of many safety car periods followed during which Tommy began to experience some electrical problems. He commented "We had a problem with the master switch relay almost from the start of the race but it had not affected my position and once the tyres came to the fore I had a fantastic run. The car felt great and I had a good lead on the 2nd LMP2 car. When the safety car came out though, the electrical problem became more frequent and I had to stop on track. I managed to re-start the car and pit but we had already lost the lead".
Maximising the pit stop the team took the decision to change drivers whilst investigating the problem and Mike Newton rejoined the race with 3 ½ hours to go. With several laps lost Mike had a tough job to do to catch the LMP2 pack and despite struggling with some understeer he drove a competitive stint, frequently recording the quickest LMP2 times on track. Pitting for fuel and fresh tyres the electrical problem reappeared and a delayed stop ensued while the team investigated. Back on track and this time on slick tyres Mike soon picked up the pace before a slow puncture forced him to pit earlier than scheduled.
Completing the final driver change during this stop Tommy rejoined the race in 7th position in class and drove an outstanding final stint, lapping over 30 seconds quicker than the 5th place LMP2 car. Restarting after the final safety car period Tommy almost immediately overtook the front running LMP1 Creation DBA and continued to trade times with the race leaders. His pace was such that he not only retook 4th position in class but opened up a big enough gap to enable the team to call him in for a precautionary refuelling stop, two laps from the end of the race, whilst still maintaining 4th place.
After the race Mike commented: "I am very happy with the potential the MG has shown today and believe that if we had not experienced the electrical problem Tommy would have handed the car over to me with the class lead, a position I am confident I would have maintained throughout my stint. The car felt good despite the conditions and I was pleased to set the team's fastest lap time during the race."
Tommy commented: "We are confident that we have a package which is very competitive and what happened today was unfortunate. We scored some valuable points which is important in a five race championship. The team worked really well to keep us on track and resolve the problems and the performance of the car has filled us with a lot of confidence going into the next round."
RML Chief Executive Ray Mallock commented "It was good to see the competitive pace of the car and shows that we clearly have enough speed to be a front runner in the LMP2 class. Mike and Tommy did a great job today and, although frustrating to have a problem with a relatively minor piece of hardware, overall we are happy with the performance of the car".
The MG Lola will now continue with the scheduled test programme before travelling to France for the Le Mans 24 Hour test in June. The second round of the Le Mans Endurance Series takes place at Monza, Italy on 10th July.