UK-based Brazilian Thomas Erdos found much to comfort any initial disappointment he might have felt after a troubled first round in last weekend's 2004 FIA GT Championship race at Monza in Italy.
Erdos, who has set up permanent residence in Buckinghamshire, had to contend with a string of misadventures during the 500 kilometre race, including a brace of punctures and a broken anti-roll bar. Despite this his confidence for the season was bolstered by some excellent lap times, a strong middle stint by his co-driver, Mike Newton, and marked improvements in the handling and performance of the Saleen S7-R racecar they share.
The pairing saw steady improvement throughout the 2003 season, when their car was managed by Mallory Park-based Graham Nash Motorsport. This season the two-car squad is being run by Ray Mallock Limited, the organisation that originally designed the American-built supercar. With development work already in hand on the damper and suspension set-up, as well as improvements in engine performance and tyres, the partnership is already demonstrating refreshed potential.
In qualifying Erdos had to be content with sixth after his run was curtailed by a broken halfshaft. His early-set time was subsequently bettered as conditions improved, but he made good his race promise with a powerful run into the first corner at the rolling start. Up to fourth inside a minute, he consolidated his position over the ensuing ten laps before third-placed Uwe Alzen retired with a coolant problem, gifting the position to Erdos. Unexpected pressure from one of the Ferrari 550s and a Lister Storm, culminating in losing two positions in quick succession, resolved itself on lap eighteen when the car's rear left tyre blew. The combination of thick tyres smoke and a snatch of flame in the rearview mirror convinced the Brazilian that his car was on fire, and he brought it rapidly to a halt. Fortunately the damage was not as bad as he feared, and he was able to coax the car back to the pitlane, where the tyre was replaced and he resumed racing.
Consistently fastest on track, Erdos overtook almost everyone - including the leader - in his endeavours to regain the four laps lost. Mike Newton took over for the middle stint, completing a solid run of just under an hour before handing the Saleen back to Erdos. Within seconds a second puncture had brought the car back into the pitlane, followed a few laps later by a fourth visit when the front anti-roll bar snapped and had to be removed by the hard-working pit crew. Despite the handicap of no bar, Erdos completed the race with a further succession of quick laps, but could only salvage twelfth place at the flag. 24 cars had started the race.