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."
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.