RML Win Le Mans 24 Hours in LMP2
At a little after four-ten, Mike Newton set off up the rise towards the Dunlop Bridge. For the next fifty minutes he and the car simply had to maintain a steady pace. The MG's lead stood at seventeen laps, which was more than the second-placed Lola #24 could physically cover in the time remaining. That meant the victory was assured, providing the car kept going. In order to be classified, a car must not only cover 70% of the total number of laps completed by the winning car, but must also take the chequered flag under its own power. The pressure was still on! Elsewhere in the pitlane, cars that had been hidden away, some for several hours, started coming back to life for that very reason. The #22 Radical had been nursing a cracked cylinder head since the early morning, aided by generous doses of Radweld, and kept emerging from time to time to add a few more laps to its total. It now barked back into life and sped off towards the track. The #19 LMP1 Chamberlain Synergy Lola had serious gearbox problems, but somehow the ingenious Hugh Chamberlain had managed to contrive a way of offering his drivers at least one gear that worked, and it too emerged from the shadows. The yellow car would end up being the last car classified, 113 laps behind the winners.
As five o'clock approached the cars still running started to clique together in small groups; the two Audi R10s to create the perfect photo finish, with smaller fry lingering in the background hoping to be a part of that sure-to-be-famous picture. The two Corvettes paired up, as did the Pescarolos, one heading for second place overall. Mike was on his own, and this seemed more appropriate somehow. The reverse clock on the gantry ticked down, and at two minutes to five the two Audis went through the valley of grandstands for the very last time. Their last lap would also be the slowest of their race, but they would achieve that photograph Audi wanted and make motor racing history. When the #8, driven by Biela, Pirro and Werner took the flag at 5:04, it would be as the first diesel-engined car ever to win the Le Mans 24 Hours. Second was the #17 Pescarolo C60, driven by Helary, Montagny and Loeb, and third the #7 Audi of Kristensen, McNish and Capello.
Fourth overall, and winning GT2, was the Corvette of Gavin, Beretta and Magnussen, with the second Pescarolo recovering to fifth, the first of the works Aston Martins sixth, the Luc Alphand Corvette seventh and, crossing the line in splendid and richly deserved isolation in eight place, Mike Newton in the RML MG Lola EX264. A mere eight seconds behind him, and racing all the way, was the Russian Age Team Modena Aston Martin in ninth. On the pit wall to welcome him home were Mike's co-drivers and all the RML squad. It was an emotional moment for everyone -- not only because the team had repeated the class win of 2006, but also because they'd done it from the front. The MG led LMP2 for all but a small handful of laps, and the category effectively threw off its reputation for being fast but fragile. Still fast, the MG also proved itself rugged and, on the whole, reliable. Including regular pitstops, the MG had spent just one hour, thirty-six minutes in the pits, which compares favourably with the thirty-nine minutes total spent in the pits by the winning Corvette, the least of any car in the race.
As the final car crossed the line the hordes were released from behind the fencing, moving in a seething swathe across the track. For the second year running Mike and Tommy would stand on the top step of the podium in the most famous motor race in the world. Sharing their jubilation this time would be a man who's also known that experience more than once before; Andy Wallace. Joining the three drivers would be Phil Barker, the team manager and mastermind behind RML's race strategy; Ray Mallock, team owner, and Adam Wiseberg, Motorsport Director of AD Holdings. Their ceremony came after the LMP1 winners had been presented with trophies and champagne, an opportunity for Bruno Vendestick to build up the big occasion in his inimitable style. A massive crowd of nearly 80,000 had filled the pitlane and adjacent track to witness the presentations, and a huge cheer went up when the RML squad stepped out onto the platform to receive their trophies. The support for the MG has been particularly noticeable this year, and enormously appreciated by the drivers especially.
Winning Le Mans in 2005 was a remarkable achievement for RML and the MG Lola. To do so for two years in succession is tribute to the quality of their work and their dedication to the sports prototype programme.