Le Mans Dream up in Smoke
RML's hopes of completing an unprecedented hat-trick of LMP2 wins in the Le Mans 24 Hours literally went up in smoke at 09:53 on Sunday morning, when the MG Lola EX264's AER turbocharged engine blew a piston along the Mulsanne straight.
It ended a dream that had still been very much alive only moments before, after the team had worked with such determination and skill to recover what had looked to be a lost cause. Fifteen hours previously the MG had been involved in a heavy accident at the entry to the Porsche Curves, part-way through Andy Wallace's second stint. Following an extended pitstop of 52 minutes to carry out major repairs, the car occupied "dead last" position. Since that time the #25 car had moved smoothly through the night to reach 20th overall and second in LMP2 -- an occasion Thomas Erdos marked at just after nine o'clock by setting a new fastest lap of 3:45.773 for the RML AD Group entry.
In many respects, it had been as uneventful a process as any team could wish for. Between them Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos had filled in the darkest hours, each completing triple stints at the wheel and thereby allowing Andy Wallace a well-earned rest.
Although bruised and suffering the effects of concussion, Andy is well. He had been offered the choice of whether or not he wished to drive again today, but had not recovered sufficiently well to do so before the car retired. "The car was running so well," said Mike Newton. "Our main challenge had been to see how best to manage the driving stints. Tommy and I shared the last twelve hours, and would have continued to do so through to the finish, if that had been necessary." Mike was not to be given that opportunity. Only minutes after taking on his next stint, the engine blew in a most spectacular fashion.
There was an air of universal dejection within the team. "It would have been better if this had happened when we were fiftieth, not second," said Phil Barker, Team Manager.
Ray Mallock, Chief Executive, was stunned. "It had been great to see the car recovering so strongly through the night. Mike and Tommy did a fantastic job, taking on the burden of all the driving between them, and this is the cruellest bad luck."
Adam Wiseberg, Motorsport Director of AD Group, the principal partner in RML's sportscar programme, was devastated. "The team did such a remarkable job to get the car back into the race, and Mike and Tommy drove splendidly to recover so much lost ground. They deserved better, but this is Le Mans, and as we know, anything can happen. We have been fortunate to win here twice before, and we'll be back again."