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

Thursday Qualifying

First "Daylight" Session

It was "job done and pleased with it" for RML in the second evening of qualifying on Thursday. Comfortably third in class on what was, to all intents and purposes, a race set-up, was more than enough to satisfy expectation. "The rain yesterday steered us in the direction we've taken," explained Phil Barker, team manager. "The boy-racers in us might have liked to go out there and give it a go, but there's an endurance race ahead of us, and that's what we're looking forward to."

The team stuck with the original plan and spent most of the day giving the MG Lola EX264 a top-to-tail rebuild. The specially prepared race engine was fitted first, and then mated to the new gearbox and transaxle unit that had been bedded in during the recent Snetterton test. In addition a complete set of fresh exterior panels were also fitted, ensuring that those removed, effectively now the spare set, would slot into place first time and without fuss if the need ever arises. By the time they'd finished, the only component that hadn't been replaced, save the tub itself, was the front suspension - and that's due to be sorted tomorrow, Friday.

It was a tight deadline, and the last few components were still being fitted and checked when the first cars were already blasting out of the pit exit. There was still time to clean and polish the car, though. These guys are fastidious, almost compulsive, about cleanliness, and the exterior of the MG is invariably spotless whenever it leaves the garage. One wonders if they're so attentive at home! Warren Hughes was first to be strapped into the gleaming cockpit, and headed out on track at 7:10. With the race engine fitted, each driver was under strict instructions about how they were allowed to use the revs, and the number of laps available to them: the bare minimum necessary, in other words. With so many new components on board, Warrens first venture was brief - he was back in the garage again after a single lap. The engineers gave the newly installed engine a thorough checking before declaring that everything was in order, and Hughes (below) was sent back on his way.

He would be permitted just three laps, and he used them wisely. He found space on his out-lap, and then set a best of 3:49.845 on his flyer to move the #25 straight to the top of the pile in LMP2, proving the sense in not pushing on relentlessly through the rain and dark of Wednesday. In one warm-up lap, Warren had bettered everything that others had struggled to achieve in difficult conditions the night before. With his allocation completed, Hughes headed back to the pitlane, task completed.

Mike Newton (above) was soon strapped into the MG, but he would sit there for some while before being allowed to depart. While radio communication was now good, the team was still encountering problems with the telemetry. The feedback from the far reaches of the track was even now proving unreliable, so further adjustments were necessary. Knowing what is going on in the car at all times is invaluable information for the team, and the system employed by RML is particularly sophisticated. Displays monitor the state of the engine, the tyres gearbox and the suspension, and also confirm the position of the car relative to the track. They also give some indication of what the driver is experiencing, in terms of G-forces and relative pace. When they're not actually in the car, the drivers (below) can often be seen gazing at the screens, judging how their co-driver is getting on, and what conditions they're likely to face when they get out there for their next stint. It's also quite mesmeric watching a little red dot moving round a map, and then hearing the car go by at the right time!

Mike Newton's stint began at 8:08. His out-lap went smoothly, and he built up into his first flying lap, which he completed in a time of 3:58.720. Picking up pace, he was onto a far better lap when, in his own words, he was "monstered by a couple of Porsches" before encountering a spinning Courage at the left-hander through Indianapolis. Forced to back off significantly, he abandoned the lap and headed back to the pits, where he was one of those selected for a random weight check by the scrutineers.

There was another brief pause for tweaking before Thomas Erdos headed out on track. A quarter of an hour of the 'daylight' session remained, and the #34 Miracle Courage had just bettered Warren's time with a best of 3:48.815, demoting RML to second in LMP2. It was also a hectic period on track, with several other cars setting their best times of the day despite heavy traffic. Tommy's first flyer was a 3:49.069, but it wasn't unobstructed, and while an improvement for the car, was not enough to leapfrog the Courage. It was the only chance he'd get before the break.

Second "Night" Session
The team made various adjustments to the car in the hour-long gap between sessions. "There are still blind spots on the radio, and we're trying to address those," said Phil Barker. "With the downforce setting we're running today, there's also some extra drag down the straights, and that's costing us on outright speed. We may try something different in the next session. One more run should do it."

Erdos was given his first and only set of qualifiers for the start of the later session. It was evident that several other teams were trying the same strategy. Didier André was the first to show, with his time of 3:47.029 heading the pack. Not for long, though. Sam Hancock promptly had the Intersport Lola blatting past the pits in a time of 3:46.982 to leap-frog to the front. The RML MG was now fourth in class.

Initially baulked badly by traffic, Erdos held back, as evidenced by a five-minute lap. Significantly, however, he now found the space he needed, and his final sector was one of the quickest yet. The lap that followed was a 3:46.205, and took the MG back to the top of LMP2, this time by more than half a second. It was the kind of encouragement the team needed, and an air of excited anticipation suddenly filled the garage. Clustered round the telemetry and timing screens, the car's every move was followed with avid attention. "He's eight tenths up on the second sector," came the observation from Phil Barker. "Now he's a second and a bit up!" exclaimed Mike Newton. "Come on Tommy!" said someone else. Two-thirds of the way around the track and the Brazilian was almost two seconds up on his previous best, but it couldn't last. Coming through the right-left dogleg at Indianapolis, he met the inevitable traffic. It couldn't have been in a worse place. Forced to back right off, he lost everything he'd gained, and by the time he was weaving through the Porsche Curves all the advantage had gone. With the tyres past their best and conscious of the need to save the engine for the race, he aborted the lap.

"There was no point in continuing," said Erdos after leaping like a gazelle from the car. "This is the race engine. We can't be playing the qualifying game when we need to save the engine for the race." As soon as the car was safely backed into the garage, Phil Barker didn't hesitate. "Well, that's us done," he said. "Lets make it an early night, shall we? As soon as that stuff's off the pitwall, the door's coming down and we're going!" The clock stood at 10:25. Not many minutes later the #37 Courage posted an improvement to 3:42.301, followed a little later by a 3:44.752 from the Intersport Lola #32.

And that was how the evening ended an hour or so later, with the RML MG lying third in class, sixteenth overall. Ray Mallock shrugged. "That's when you say it's nice to have a turbocharged engine," he said, pointing towards the timing screen. "At four o'clock on Sunday afternoon, we hope we can be saying, that's when it's nice to have a normally aspirated engine." In truth, the team were well satisfied with the evening's outcome. In a car set-up for the race, they'd demonstrated an extraordinary pace, and if that can be translated into track performance and reliability on Saturday and Sunday, then their chances must be good.

Equally significant is the strength in the squad's driver line-up. Taking an average of all three drivers in all the LMP2 cars, the RML trio come out top by more than a second and a half. Their average best lap time, taken from the test and both qualifying sessions, is a 3:48.930. Bear in mind that this includes some difficult conditions on Wednesday, and it's easy to appreciate just how good that time is.

Marcus Potts