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A Day of Rest?
Friday 16th June 2006

Friday is traditionally thought of as a “day of rest” for the drivers, in anticipation of the race ahead, but there was no shirking from the RML trio today. While their engineers and mechanics were grafting in the garage, performing an almost total rebuild of the EX264, Mike Newton, Thomas Erdos and Andy Wallace were playing the ambassadorial role – meeting the team’s guests in hospitality, taking part in Question & Answer sessions, and signing hundreds of autographs in the pitlane.

The day started far earlier than some might have wished. It may have been an early bed on Thursday by the standards set by some teams in the pitlane, thanks to a comfortable pole-setting exhibition by Tommy and the crew, but being in the garage before ten still seemed a challenge. The day’s first appointment was to welcome more than thirty invited guests from the Sportscar-Racing dot com forum. In its former guise, as the X-Power Forum, this fine body of men and women had been one of the most enthusiastic groups supporting the works MG teams at Le Mans in 2001-2002. Little did Mike Newton and RML know, but when they took on those works cars in 2003, they also took on the mantle of “works team” for the XPF. Just under a year ago, the XPF evolved into the more broadly-based Sportscar-Racing forum, and the team is delighted to have adopted this very active and knowledgeable group as the discussion forum for the official team website here at

The original schedule had listed the pit garage tour for the forum as ten o’clock, but with the pitlane opening being delayed until twenty-past everything from that moment on slipped back half an hour. Having congregated outside the garage, the entire group was then ushered forwards into the doorway, accompanied by a call of “I spy strangers!” as several Gallic gatecrashers were spotted attempting to join the party. With the uninvited tactfully evicted, all eyes then turned to Adam Wiseberg, who had agreed to describe the complexities of the car and answer questions. No sooner had he opened his mouth to begin and the PA outside burst into life, all but drowning out his every word. Fortunately, there was room to move forwards, and everyone clustered around Chirpy, Adam (Hughes), Rick and Vinney as the technicians continued to work on the reassembly of the MG. It was a useful opportunity to see the car at close quarters, and to appreciate how exacting the build standards must be in a technologically advanced and very sophisticated racecar. In addition to a new race engine, an entire rear suspension and gearbox assembly was being prepared for fitting, while all the front suspension and steering components were being checked or replaced. Many of the components had been run-in at the recent Snetterton shakedown test, but in effect the entire car will be as-new for warm-up on Saturday morning.

From the garage, the group moved on to the team hospitality unit, where they were introduced to the drivers. Once again, Adam moved into his element, introducing Mike, Tommy and Andy and getting the day’s first Question & Answer session under way. Tommy was asked to describe his pole-setting lap, admitting how surprised he was that they’d ended up so far ahead of the rest of the LMP2 field, and also how nervous he had been at the start of the second session, believing someone must go quicker. “I’m just happy to be able to do my job, and get pole,” he said.

Adam then turned to Mike. It turns out that Mike made a pledge in 2002 that he would race at Le Mans within five years. Four years have now passed, and not only has he already raced at Le Mans three times, he’s also stood on the top step of that famous podium as a class winner. Perhaps that accolade of being Britain’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2005 is just another indication of a man who gets on with business and life with equal intensity and determination. Not only has he achieved so much, but he’s done it with considerable aplomb; Adam pointing out that Mike may be classed as a “gentleman driver”, but he’s actually a lot faster than many of the “pros”. Mike suggested that much of his pace and ability was down to how well RML put the car together, and how extraordinary it was to be able to get into a car – as he will do on Saturday – knowing exactly how it will perform, even though it has been completely rebuilt in the previous 24 hours. Having TransVu’s exceptional video equipment fitted to the MG also means that he can view the on-board footage ahead of a stint, and remind himself of a track, the braking points and corners, and effectively complete his installation laps from the relative comfort of the garage, and thereby be straight on the pace as soon as he completes his out-lap.

Andy then talked about some of the more memorable incidents in his Le Mans career, including a tyre blow-out at 230 miles an hour, and how he not only controlled the car, but then coaxed it back to the garage, where the crew suggested they fit a new wheel and he could be on his way. “Not ****** likely!” had been his response. “You’ll check this thing thoroughly and find out why that tyre blew before I’m going anywhere!” Tommy also recalled the suspension failure that had pitched him into the gravel of the Ford Chicane last year at 170 miles an hour.

Questions and comments from the floor began with a vote of thanks for the website (gratefully received!) and a query as to why Autosport persists in referring to the RML MG Lola as an “MGola”. There appears to be no sensible explanation. Another guest wanted to know how many years were left in the EX264. “It’ll remain eligible until the next change in the regulations,” said Mike Newton with a slight shrug. “There’s a lot more life left in this project, that’s for certain, and we won’t be jumping ship and buying a Porsche.” With only one car, what was the team’s strategy? “We’ll stay out of trouble at the start,” said Tommy, with a subtle reference to April’s Istanbul 1000 Kilometers perhaps, and then set a fast, consistent but safe pace. “If we’re a few laps down with four hours to go, don’t expect us to hold back, though,” insisted Andy “We’ll just go for it! We’re out to win this one.”

A further string of astute questioning brought the hour-long session to a close, with a final reference to the World Cup. Who was going to win? “Brazil, of course!” came the rapid quip from Tommy. The Sportscar-Racing group departed with RML Le Mans T-shirts and, for those who’d ordered them, specially embroidered pitshirts. The drivers, meanwhile, headed back to the garage where Michell had set out a table and chairs for a half-hour autograph session in the pitlane. The guys were rapidly engulfed in a seething throng of enthusiastic bounty-hunters, eager to add another memento to their collection of Le Mans memorabilia for 2006. The three soon had an efficient production-line in operation and were churning out signed HeroCards at the rate of one every few seconds. Within the half-hour they’d distributed perhaps four hundred or more and were starting to complain of cramped wrists!

That was the end of the driver’s morning. Back at hospitality, however, the next group of guests from Dedicated Micros was having lunch, and would be touring the garage with Adam and meeting the drivers shortly afterwards. Later, sometime around two o’clock, Mike, Tommy and Andy had their final briefing with Phil Barker ahead of tomorrow’s warm-up, taking it as their last chance to discuss the finer points of race strategy and set-up. At half-past, members of the Mallock Club congregated for their tour . . . and so the day went on. The change in routine came in the middle of the afternoon, when preparations were put in hand for the trip down to the town centre for the traditional Parade des Pilotes. The RML squad had been assured that they’d be sent though the streets during the early part of the parade, but it was still ten-to-seven before they were ushered forwards, perched on the back of a vintage Jaguar drophead, to be presented to the crowd, estimated to number some 140,000.

Inaugurated in 1995, the driver parade has grown over the last ten years to become one of the highlights of the pre-race razzmatazz. The drivers of every team, using vintage or classic cars, are driven up onto an elevated platform to be interviewed by Bruno Vandestick and presented with keepsakes. A couple of trophies are presented – one to the outright pole-setter, another to the “Rookie of the Year”; the first-time Le Mans driver who qualifies highest up the grid – and it’s all supposed to be wrapped up by eight o’clock, but rarely is. Having been amongst the early group. Mike, Tommy and Andy escaped as soon as they could and headed back to the chateau, just north of Le Mans, for an early night. We will add photographs of the parade on Saturday.

Saturday starts early. Despite a delayed race start, thanks to a football match, the teams will still have to be at the circuit by half-seven and earlier to prepare for the warm-up. It’s a very long day.


Step back to June 2005, and re-live RML's class-winning run in the 73rd Le Mans 24 Hours: Le Mans 2005