Thomas Erdos pressed on for the next half hour, and just before half past six passed the pits to see "L2" displayed on the signaling board. It was the last full lap of his opening double-stint, and he made the most of it. With the car light on...
Thomas Erdos pressed on for the next half hour, and just before half past six passed the pits to see "L2" displayed on the signaling board. It was the last full lap of his opening double-stint, and he made the most of it. With the car light on fuel, but the tyres still at performing brilliantly, he pushed as hard as he dared, and clocked up the fastest LMP2 lap of the race so far, clocking a best of 3:44.572 before beginning his in-lap -- and that wasn't slow either! His progress down the pitlane was restricted by the rev-limiter, but was then further impeded by one of the GT2 Porsches, which was waved away from its apron just as the MG was cutting in on its final approach. Both drivers slammed on their brakes, and an accident was narrowly avoided, but it was a close run thing.
Tommy had to take an unconventional line to park up outside the garage, and then be pushed back into his correct slot before the pitstop could begin. He was clambering out within moments, and Andy Wallace, his seat insert in one hand, was rapidly climbing into the cockpit. While the car was refuelled, Andy was helped into his belts, connected up to his radio, and fitted with his drinking tube. Fresh Michelins were fitted, although a quick inspection suggested that this set might yet have done another stint, which came as good news for the cooler night-time periods ahead, when they might well be expected to triple-stint the tyres.
At 6:38 Andy Wallace headed off to begin his first race stint in the MG Lola. He'd rejoin the race in third place, with the extended pitstop having cost a few valuable seconds, but the gap was narrow despite Gareth Evans being between Wallace and Barbosa, eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth. It was now apparent that the rivals were almost exactly half-an-hour out of sequence on the fuel stops, but fuel consumption was remarkably similar, to the point that Warren Hughes and Joao Barbosa pitted together once again at just after seven o'clock. Hughes handed over to Amaral, but Barbosa stayed in for a third consecutive stint, in the hope of keeping pace with RML's widely-acknowledged superior driver line-up. Wallace, meanwhile, had passed Gareth Evans in the LMP1 Lola for twelfth overall, and would then move ahead of Barbosa during the Radical's pitstop, leaving him a mere twenty seconds behind Amaral by the time the second of the Chamberlain Lolas had completed its driver swap.
Getting ahead of Evans was like letting the cork out of the bottle. The LMP1 machine had proven very difficult to pass, thanks to its straight-line speed advantage, but once Andy Wallace had put some clear air between himself and the LMP1 machine, he was able to ease ahead rapidly. Having previously been restricted to whatever pace Evans could maintain, he was now able to go at his own speed, and it was considerably faster. From running in the mid three-fifties, sometimes slower, he was now instantly into the forty-nines and eights. Barbosa, however, was also circulating rapidly, and when Wallace headed down the pitlane for fuel at half-past seven, the Portuguese driver was able to slip ahead once again, followed soon afterwards by Amaral in the #39 Lola.
Half an hour later, of course, the roles were reversed once again, and Wallace swept back into the lead as the other two made their next scheduled stops. By quarter-past eight the MG was standing 7th overall, leading LMP2 by more than a minute and a half, and for the first time having enough of an edge over Moseley, who had taken over from Barbosa in the Radical, to be considered as leader by right, not just circumstance. With Andy now circulating in the low forty-sevens, that margin was growing, and the #39 Lola was a receding threat in 9th overall. Two minutes later Andy set his fastest lap, and also that of the car, with a best of 3:44.495. It signalled his final flying lap, and at the end of the next, he was back down the pitlane to hand over to Mike Newton.
By contrast to the previous driver-change between Tommy and Andy, this one was very straightforward and trouble-free. Mike was rapidly ensconced within the cockpit and sent on his way, with the car refuelled and fitted with another fresh set of rubber. While this was all happening in the relative quiet of the pitlane, all hell was breaking loose behind Clairay in the #36 Belmondo Courage. Heading down towards Indianapolis along one of the fastest lengths of track his rear right tyre exploded spectacularly, ripping the rear of the car to shreds and pitching him helplessly into the Armco. Fortunately, for Mike sake, having just completed his pitstop, the marshals had the wreckage cleaned up very quickly, and there was no need for the safety car. Equally fortunate, Clairay emerged unscathed from what must have been a frightening encounter. Elsewhere, the #7 Audi was being pulled backwards into its garage; the first sign of fragility from an R10.
With a longer than expected pitstop from Amaral in the #39 Lola, Mike was able to consolidate the lead he'd taken on from Andy Wallace, and begin what turned out to be an excellent stint. By quarter-to-nine he was lying a very impressive sixth overall, leading LMP2 comfortably from Moseley in the Radical, with De Castro now third, having taken over from Amaral. That gap to Moseley was drastically reduced when Mike made his first pitstop for fuel at just gone nine o'clock, and when he returned to the track, the Radical was just a minute adrift. De Castro, however, would make a lengthy pitstop at 9:16, and effectively drop out of the immediate contest.
Mike and Moseley turned out to be quite evenly matched, and were trading times pretty effectively. Once in a while traffic allowed Moseley to post a faster lap, and little by little the margin did narrow, from 40 seconds at 9:25, down to 23 seconds ten minutes later, but then Mike responded, and by the time Moseley made his scheduled stop shortly afterwards, it had eased back out to half a minute again.
With the Radical pitstop came a change in driver, team-owner Martin Short taking over the car. The time taken to refuel and swap with Moseley, combined with a slightly less competitive pace, effectively eased the pressure on Mike, and he ended his opening double-stint at just after ten o'clock having not only retained the class lead he'd been given, but extending it. It was time for Thomas Erdos to step back aboard the MG once again.