Strong showing for Lola at 24 hours

Lola stun Le Mans crowd with impressive running in 2002 24 Hours race. The MG Lola EX257s put on a stunning show during the 70th edition of the Le Mans 24 hours at the weekend, with both cars running at a similar pace to the AudiR8s that ...

Lola stun Le Mans crowd with impressive running in 2002 24 Hours race.

The MG Lola EX257s put on a stunning show during the 70th edition of the Le Mans 24 hours at the weekend, with both cars running at a similar pace to the AudiR8s that eventually went on to a complete a record-breaking 1-2-3 finish. Both of the factory-backed MG Lola EX257s eventually retired, one during the night, the other on Sunday morning, but not before they had shaken the establishment to its core.

Mark Blundell started the run of form by qualifying his MG Lola EX257 that he shared with Julian Bailey and Kevin McGarrity sixth overall on the grid, and was more than a second up at the first split time on another flying lap on Thursday night when hisengine broke. The team had been trying experimental parts on the engine and was not concerned about it for the race.

The second MG Lola EX257 of Jonny Kane, Warren Hughes and Anthony Reid missed four of the eight hours of qualifying when Kane over-revved his 2-litre turbocharged engine while trying to scrub off speed avoiding a back-marker. The team fitted the race engine on Thursday in preparation for the night practice during which each driver must complete three competitively-timed laps.

The race was another spectacular affair for the 'baby prototype' LMP675 cars. The Kane/Reid/Hughes Lola moved up through the field to run consistently in the top four, at times splitting the three factory Audis whom no one else could touch on pace. It lasted until just after midnight, eight hours into the race when the Ulsterman pulled to the side of the road lacking drive to the wheels.

It was a bitter blow for the team, which had spent the early part of the race working on bringing theBlundell/Bailey/McGarrity car up to full speed after it found that the new race engine was not delivering the expected power or fuel economy figures. A changed alternator helped matters, and the British trio moved their way back up the leaderboard.

One glorious moment for the team and for Lola was when Blundell worked his way past both the private Audi and one of the two ORECA Dallaras, both competing in the LMP900 category for heavier, more powerful cars. However, that charge too came to nothing when McGarritypulled to the side of the road with steam from under the bonnet of the MG Lola EX357 on the world-famous Mulsanne Straight. The Ulsterman was unable to fix it at the side of the track, and was out on the spot.

Bad luck also hit the private KnightHawk Racing MG Lola EX257, Mel Hawkins driving at night down the Mulsanne straight when a fire broke out in the engine bay and burned against the night sky. The car was out immediately and the American team went home disappointed.

Frank Biela,Emanuele Pirro and Tom Kristensen raced to an historic third successive victory, the first three ever to win their hat-trick together, and for the same manufacturer too. Team manager Reinhold Joest secured his seventh victory at Le Mans, and became the first man whose team scored 1-2 finishes at three successive races.

The Bentley followed home in fourth position, 10 laps down and delayed by a turbo problem on Saturday night, followed by the two ORECA Dallaras. Corvette scored another 1-2 in the GTS classafter the Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello caught fire during the night while leading by two clear laps. The Racer's Group Porsche of Kevin Buckler, Lucas Luhr and Timo Bernhard won the LM-GT class, untroubled by the Ferrari 360 Modenas, the Morgan or the Spyker, all of which retired.

The two factory MG Lola EX257s comfortably claimed the top positions in the LMP675 class and lined up on the grid for the 70th edition of the Le Mans 24 hours in sixth and12th positions overall. The KnightHawk Racing MG Lola EX257 qualified third in class to complete a clean sweep of positions for the Huntingdon-based manufacturer in the LMP675 class.

Mark Blundell set pole position in the clas s in the MG Lola EX2357 shared with Kevin McGarrity and Julian Bailey. The 36-year-old drove the MG Lola around the 8.7-mile circuit south west of Paris in a time of 3 minutes 33.254 seconds, an average of 230.429 km/h, and believedthat he could have gone much faster.

"At the end of it we felt confident that we could have been a chunk quicker with a bit more commitment from me," said Blundell after qualifying. "We were nearly a second up in the first split before the engine let go." The team was trying out experimental parts in the 2-litre turbocharged AER-prepared engine and was not concerned about it for the race.

The second car, ofJonny Kane, Anthony Reid and Warren Hughes, missed nearly four hours of qualifying after over-revving the engine. Kane, fighting off illness, was attempting to pass a back-marker who he said had not seen him, braked and down-shifted too early, bending a valve.

The team fitted the race engine overnight, and missed the first two hours of qualifying on Thursday in order to save the car and the engine for the race, using it only for the drivers to completetheir compulsory three laps in the night to qualify for the race.

The KnightHawk car was out of luck on Wednesday night when Mel Hawkins crashed into the pit wall after qualifying had finished at midnight. The contrite American was forced to watch the team complete repairs and missed the first two hours of Thursday's session.

Lola was also involved in a rather unusual activity at Le Mans this year, the filming of a motion picture of the comic strip character Michel Vaillante. Michel Neugarten, Philippe Gache and Emmanuel Clerico drive a Lola B2K/10 this year, fitted with a camera.

The trio are the heroes of the film, while the Panoz LMP-1 of Marc Duez, Jerome Policand and Perry McCarthy is to be the baddy of the piece. The crowd has all been shepherded into a grandstand and wave specially printed flags as the Lola and the Panoz streak down thestart/finish straight. In this Lola, Policand set a very respectable time of 3m 44.827s, good enough for 21st position on the grid. Mailing List Software provided


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Series Le Mans
Drivers Tom Kristensen , Frank Biela , Kevin McGarrity , Mark Blundell , Julian Bailey , Anthony Reid , Lucas Luhr , Kevin Buckler , Timo Bernhard , Jonny Kane , Warren Hughes , Emmanuel Clérico , Jérome Policand , Michel Neugarten , Perry McCarthy , Reinhold Joest , Philippe Gache , Marc Duez , Emanuele Pirro