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This archive remains exactly as it was written in June 2005, and no tenses have been altered.


Scrutineering for the RML MG Lola EX264 came soon after lunch on Tuesday, with the svelte MG following the two muscular-looking Aston Martin DBR9s through the gauntlet of exacting examination. The car had actually arrived in the square the best part of two hours beforehand, but with the officials taking time out for lunch, there was plenty of opportunity for the public to admire the car, and collect the ever-popular HeroCards.

It has to be said, the RML MG did look the perfect accompaniment to the two Astons. Perhaps it was deliberate planning by the ACO, in which case it was inspired, but to see two such famous names side-by-side was quite an emotive sight - the Astons bearing the famous dark metallic sage-green paintwork that was a hallmark of the marques success in the nineteen fifties, alongside the MG's patriotic red, white and blue.

It was gone two o'clock before the six members of the team selected to accompany the car through scrutineering were invited to push the MG into the first enclosure. It's a strictly regimented procedure - never hurried, rarely varied. The first stop, beneath a small white "gazebo", the like of which you're just as likely to see in someone's back garden, is where the entry paperwork and documentation is checked. Basically, has the team dotted all the eyes, crossed its tees, and paid the dues. Satisfied that everything is in order, the car is then eased forwards and up a shallow ramp into the first of two technical booths.

Here the officials bring forward an array of rigs and contraptions that wouldn't look much out of place in a castle dungeon. These are offered up and over the car to check such things as rear wing width and height, effectiveness of the rollover hoops, wheelarch overhang and ground clearance. Satisfied thus far, the car is then eased onto an elevating platform that allows the officials to poke around underneath. In the main, they're checking to ensure that the underside is, indeed, flat. It's a brief moment for debate. "The FIA written regs stipulate that there is no tolerance whatsoever on a flat floor," explained Alistair McQueen, senior race engineer at RML. "In the real world, of course, that's impossible. There's no such thing as a perfectly flat underside, so it becomes a question of application." The inspectors hold up a perfectly aligned aluminium bar (below), and rest this against the underside of the chassis, and measure any deviation from laser-straight perfection. "The ACO has adopted a pragmatic approach, and they're very sensible," he continued. "There's no written tolerance, at least not yet, but it's widely accepted that an allowance of 5 millimetres is normal." The MG Lola fell comfortably within this margin, although to the untrained eye it looked spot on.

Lowered gently back to the ground, the car was then pushed back out into the sunshine, and left to wait for twenty minutes while the Astons cleared the next section. This final bay is where safety aspects are given a thorough going-over. Do all the lights work? Are the fire extinguishers in the right place and fully charged? That's a gross oversimplification, but the MG sailed through without a hitch. The man who steered Team Bentley through scrutineering here just two years ago looked enormously relaxed, despite the heat, and very satisfied as the RML MG EX264 emerged at the end of the hour-long procedure. "No dramas whatsoever," beamed Alastair. "A perfectly clean bill of health - just as it should be." It had indeed been reassuringly stress-free. "RML has a tradition of getting through scrutineering at Le Mans without issues," he added. "It's not original, I know, but its simply a case of checking all the 'P's - proper preparation prevents piss poor performance. The boys are really good at getting these things done."

Phil Barker (right), team manager at RML, was looking visibly more relaxed than usual, and evidently pleased with the day's conclusion. "This is the fourth year on the trot that we've come straight through without a hitch, but it's not something you can ever take for granted. Some scrutineers can be ultra-critical, especially in the technical scrutineering, but we're all sorted now and looking forward to tomorrow."

The three drivers were then reunited with their car for the official team photocall. In its own way, their day had not been dissimilar to the car's - checks to ensure that licences were up to scratch, helmets complying with regulations, and racesuits suitably approved. Despite this, the atmosphere in the Place des Jacobins has felt somewhat subdued this year - and that's an observation that applies equally well to both days. The crowds have definitely been thinner on the ground, and the revised layout has also acted to separate the spectators more effectively from the teams inside the press enclosure. "You don't yet get a feel for the occasion," suggested Warren Hughes, squinting beneath sun-furrowed brows at the surroundings. "It will build up over the next few days, I'm sure, but it still feels a bit like the test day at the moment. Perhaps it's the calm before the storm!" This was some reflection on his whole outlook on Le Mans in 2005. "Actually, it all seems a lot calmer than it did last time I was here," he said, before going on to stress that this had nothing to do with the efforts of his team last year. It was more a case that RML enjoys all those luxuries that go hand-in-hand with extensive testing and several months of preparation, and being secure in the knowledge that little or nothing is being left to chance. "Everyone knows their job, and they're simply getting on with it. There's no last-minute rushing around."

The team has probably done as much pre-Le Mans testing as anyone, including several of the factory teams, and so far it has been hugely valuable, and virtually faultless. "But we're somewhat a victim of our own success," shrugged Alastair McQueen, accepting that the team's preparation had been both extensive and, in the main, problem-free. The old adage of 'if it's not broke, don't fix it' is not always appropriate in motorsport, and components are "houred" for replacement, even when they're still working perfectly. When a team hits problems in testing, many components can end up being replaced on a regular basis. That's not an issue that has taxed RML, but it does mean they face a dilemma after Wednesday's first qualifying session - do they replace the engine or not. "We didn't really need the extra hours on the engine itself," continued Alastair, "so we have the choice after tomorrow of running the engine again on Thursday, or fitting the new one that's intended for the race. It may depend upon the weather, so our plan could be hatched with one eye on the sky." If, as is currently predicted, Thursday evening looks set to be wet, then the team could end up using the second day's qualifying to perfect their race set-up and bed in the race engine.

While the engineers and mechanics following the car back to the circuit the drivers then faced perhaps the greatest ordeal of the day; being interviewed by the irrepressible Bruno Vandestick. The "Voice of Le Mans" has been around for over a decade now, and no 24 Hours would seem complete without his high-speed delivery and penetrating interrogation. Mike, Tommy and Warren took the stand alongside the three drivers from Noel del Bello Racing, with Portuguese driver Ni Amorim doing most of the talking for the French squad. Indeed, he was also called upon to translate, into French, some comments in Portuguese from Thomas Erdos; the Brazilian being asked to say a few words for the sake of any of his compatriots in the crowd.

Warren Hughes (left) was the first of the RML line-up to be quizzed. Bruno's first question was to ask what Warren why he was smiling so much. "I'm just a happy person," came Warren's quick reposte. "Happy to be here, and happy to be in a great car, with great drivers, and a great chance of success." He was then asked for an explanation of the car's designation as an MG, which he promptly handed on to Mike Newton to answer. Bruno wanted to know if this was a works entry, clearly angling for a follow-up question about MG Rover. Mike gave him no such opportunity, explaining that the EX264 "is derived from the 257, with several parts that were unique to that car being carried across to the new one, which is why it is designated an MG EX264."

Tommy's first question (in English) was about the handling of the car during the recent test weekend. Was it well balanced? "Very much so," he insisted. "The car ran faultlessly, which is a great credit to RML, and the hours of work have clearly paid off. It was a very successful day for us." He went on to explain that there had never been any intention of setting a fast time, but "we were very happy with the way it turned out." The MG had been fastest in LMP2 most of the day, and only pipped by a few tenths late in the day by Sam Hancock in the Intersport Lola. Light rain had then prevented the team from attempting a response.

Mike extolled the virtues of RML, a "team with broad experience and resources", before Warren gave his thoughts on competing in LMP2 rather than LMP1. "The car is fabulous" he concluded. "We're in with a very good chance, provided the car can run without problems." Tommy also suggested that "the LMP2 scene is especially healthy just now and it's a category well worth winning."

The interview then steered towards further questions about RML and the organisation's relationship with Chevrolet. These were directed at Mike, who confirmed that RML has a three-year contract to run the Chevrolet works entry for the World Touring Car Championship. "This is the first year," he explained. "Already the chassis is very competitive, and with more work on the engine, I think the whole package will soon prove very effective."

The session concluded with some questions addressed to Tommy about living in England, so far from home. "I have dedicated my life to motorsport," he said, "and that means living in Europe. I still have family in Brazil, and I travel back there whenever I can, but I don't get involved in the politics. I just like sitting on the beach!" A final quip from Warren about Tommy "speaking better English than I do" wrapped up a long and tiring few hours on the centre of the city for the drivers and the team.

Back at the track the car was already being prepped for tomorrow's qualifying. It was particularly pleasing to see Phil Barker looking so fresh and at ease. For those many people out there who follow the fortunes of RML and their MG project, it was especially worrying to hear that Phil had been taken ill after the official test here at Le Mans ten days ago. Thankfully, he has made a very speedy recovery. "I'm due to see another consultant at the end of the month, but I'm feeling fine now," he assured us. "I received A1 medical treatment from the staff here at the circuit, and at the local hospital in Le Mans; they were superb. I can't thank them enough. Now I'm feeling fighting fit and looking forward to the week ahead. I'm planning on staying stress-free - easier said than done, I know, but that's my plan!"

Being installed and checked was the on-board video system designed and manufactured by TransVU, one of the team's major sponsors this year. The installation will provide on-board video footage, with views looking both forward, from above the driver's left shoulder, and also to the rear. In due course we hope to be able to post "a lap with the MG Lola" from some circuits using a web-enabled version of the image file this system generates.

We'll be following the team closely this week, and running various competitions. The first of these was launched on dailysportscar on Tuesday morning, with entries being invited in a competition to win one of the brand new Scalextric models of the RML MG Lola EX257 - the car that RML ran here at Le Mans last year. Hopeful winners must predict this year's best qualifying time for the EX264, and the first response was received within minutes of posting the competition page. The entry came from none other than Tommy's mum in Brazil! We'll find out just how close she is, and the many hundreds of other suggestions we've already received, when qualifying ends on Thursday night. Winners will be notified on Friday.

Marcus Potts