The half-way mark in the race came and went almost unnoticed, with Mike Newton reporting back to the pits that he felt the track wasn't in too bad condition, but that his tyres were starting to suffer. He was coming towards the end of his stint,...
The half-way mark in the race came and went almost unnoticed, with Mike Newton reporting back to the pits that he felt the track wasn't in too bad condition, but that his tyres were starting to suffer. He was coming towards the end of his stint, and he'd been driving hard to maintain the kind of pace being set by his co-drivers. A very quick stop saw Tommy jump behind the wheel and rejoin the race on fresh tyres.
With the car still running strongly, the misfortunes of others became highlighted by the MG's progress. The Racing for Holland Dome, for so long a serious challenger for an outright podium, had suffered broken steering and crashed heavily on one of the Mulsanne chicanes. Although several laps ahead of Tommy at the time the incident happened, it was less than twenty minutes before the Brazilian swept passed the stricken Dome and moved into sixth position overall -- almost back to the earlier high of fifth.
At half past five on Sunday morning the order in LMP2 stood as: RML MG Lola #25 leading, sixth overall, with the #27 Miracle Motorsport Courage second in class, but five laps adrift in 12th place. Third, and even more distant, was the #24 Binnie Motorsports Lola 05/42, 14th overall, with the #22 Rollcentre Radical fourth, fifteenth overall. The long-time challenger, the Chamberlain Synergy Lola #39 was still running, with Warren Hughes making a routine pitstop at 5:37.
Any signs of the earlier handling problems had disappeared, and with Tommy throwing down regular laps in the region of three forty-eight or better, the MG's lead was growing steadily. Further unscheduled pitstops from the #22 Radical and the #39 Lola further narrowed the field to just three serious contenders for LMP2 glory.
Just before six Tommy brought the MG back into the pitlane for another scheduled fuel stop. After a quick once-over by the Michelin technician, the tyres were left untouched for another stint, but data was downloaded from the onboard telemetry. In well under a minute, Tommy was back on track again. His progress was serene and relatively untroubled, with the MG circulating comfortably well within it's full potential.
Thirty minutes after the hour Tommy added another lap to the Radical's disappointment, passing Martin Short at about the same time as RML's lead over the #27 Miracle Courage grew to eight laps. Ten minutes later the MG crossed the line to notch up its 200th lap, just ahead of Tommy's last lap of another faultless double-stint, and time to hand over to Andy Wallace. "The car's fine now," said a much happier-looking Tommy. "It's beautifully driveable -- the brakes are good, the gearbox is good, the engine's good -- it all works, and it's going well." That pitstop came at 6:48, and after fuel, tyres and driver swap, Andy was back on the charge.
Andy's stint turned out to be smooth and untroubled, working through the first fifty minutes to a pitstop at 7:40, and then pressing on for another forty-eight during his second stint to hand over the car to Mike Newton at half past eight. Along the way he'd passed the spectacular end of the WR Peugeot, which erupted in flames beside one of the Mulsanne chicanes, but this aside, the only point of significant note was that Andy not only retained the lead in LMP2, but also built upon it. "I'm loving it!" he told the interviewer from Radio Le Mans, and to see the grin on his face, you had to believe him.
Mike's first double-stint of the morning also went well, and apart from going round and round in extended circles for an hour and three-quarters, there was little to report. Towards the end of his second stint the race entered its third Safety Car period, caused this time by a trail of oil that ran from Indianapolis and around most of the rest of the track, that actually came at a convenient moment for RML. Mike was drawing near to the scheduled end of his second stint. At five-to-ten he and Tommy completed their pitstop and driver change, just in time for racing to resume at five-past. Two cars not joining in were the Chamberlain LMP2 Lola and the Barazi Courage, both hitting mechanical problems at the same time and heading for the garage.