RML 23 hour report

The drivers were continuing with double stints and Andy would stay at the wheel for the next ninety minutes. Having briefly lost the overall position during the pitstop, the MG was swiftly eased back in front of the Team Modena Aston Martin when...

The drivers were continuing with double stints and Andy would stay at the wheel for the next ninety minutes. Having briefly lost the overall position during the pitstop, the MG was swiftly eased back in front of the Team Modena Aston Martin when it too stopped, and this proved to be the only significant order change during the first of Andy's two stints. He called in for fuel at half-past one, making a characteristically brief and efficient pause outside the garage before being sent back on his way. All signs of the earlier gremlins had now disappeared, and the MG was performing faultlessly, allowing Andy to set some of the fastest laps of anyone on track at the time. As two o'clock approached the next distance milestone was passed, with 300 laps covered in total.

Within the other categories the most enthralling race was being played out in GT1, where Aston Martin and Corvette were fighting out a twin-bladed duel that could still go any one of four ways. Any one of the top three contenders, the #009 Aston Martin and either of the two Corvettes, was still in with a chance of victory, but the #007 Aston was still close enough to be in with a chance, and so was the #72 Luc Alphand Corvette. In terms of overall positions, these five were also in direct contention with RML's MG, but so long as the prototype continued to perform, there should have been no real contest. When the #009 Aston hit clutch problems at just after two, the #64 Corvette moved into the lead of GT1, but with Andy circulating in the three-fifties or better (typically five to eight seconds quicker than these GT1 cars) he was rapidly closing on the Alphand car.

Along the longer straights Andy was probably within sight of the blue and yellow 'Vette, but would be denied the pleasure of passing for eighth place by the need to stop for fuel. It would mark the end of his double stint. At 2:15 he was back down the pitlane, and Mike Newton was ready to take his place. After nearly two hours without any recurrence of the earlier mechanical maladies, it was just Mike's misfortune to be in the car when the next one struck, at half-past two. On the one hand, it was easily fixed, and the cost in time was a mere seven minutes, but out on track the Modena DBR9 had moved through into ninth, knocking the MG back to tenth overall. The two cars would remain on the same lap for the next hour, marking 316 laps at ten past three.

The final hours in the Le Mans 24 take on an almost other-worldly feel, and it is sometimes difficult to balance the sense that the race is nearing its conclusion with the fact that more time remains than is often assigned for a complete "endurance" race in other series. The cars continue to drone round the circuit, many still posting very respectable times, but others clearly nursing problems or desperately trying to coax an ailment through the final miles. Thankfully RML's AER engine continued to hum with metronomic reliability, and Tommy was now at the wheel for his final stint setting some of the fastest times of any car still racing, including most of the leading LMP1 contenders. Although the MG enjoyed a massive lead over the Miracle Courage, there was still that desire to move back up the overall order, and with three cars on the same lap, the chances were good.

With the drivers single-stinting to the end, it would be Mike Newton who would have the honour, and enjoy the pride, of taking the chequered flag in 2006. Last year he had stood on the concrete pit wall and displayed his delight to the world. He seemed a little relieved to think that he'd be able to enjoy the moment this year from within the relative anonymity of a racing helmet. He was pulling that over his head as the #009 Aston Martin, for so long the leader in GT1, left the pits after its clutch change. Following hours with the promise of victory smelling sweet in their nostrils, the car's drivers would now be making up the numbers, but at least they'd be finishing the race. To many that alone is a significant achievement, and something twenty-five out of the fifty starters wouldn't survive to enjoy. For the first time in several years the race was not affected by rain, but the constant searing heat took its toll, and the number of shuttered garages at the close reflected the high rate of attrition in the 74th running of the Vingt Quatre Heures.

-rml-

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