Mans 24 Hours 2008
Sunday - Race Hour 10 - Finish. June 17th
from Midnight to 1:00am
is still hectic activity in every direction, but the MG
is finally starting to look like a car again. The serious
concern now is a mathematical one - even if the car can
be repaired and sent out on track again, can it ever be
classified as a finisher? How many laps will the potential
winner complete, and can the MG complete enough of its own
to reach the necessary minimum.
leader has done 152 laps in the first nine hours of the
race. If that kind of pace can be maintained, then a total
of some 404 laps might be achievable in 24 hours. To be
classified, a car will need to complete at least 70% of
that distance. So far, the MG has completed 97 laps, which
leaves a minimum of 186 needed in the next 13 hours to achieve
the cut-off. They're rough calculations, done largely in
the head, but they do suggest that it can be done, it is
possible, but only if everything from now on goes exactly
to plan. There's no margin for error.
The #6 Oreca LMP1, Marcel Fassler is at the wheel, goes
off in the Porsche Curves, ramming the solid concrete wall
back-end first. It's a heavy shunt, and the car is badly
damaged. Fassler is also in need of medical attention, and
a red flag is shown while an ambulance heads off into the
darkness to collect him. The sister car pits for remedial
work on the clutch.
The nose section of the RML MG is brought into the garage
and offered up to the chassis. It's the smooth-nosed 2006
design, without the air intake in the centre. It's the same
nose that the team ran for the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2007,
when the benefits of the so-called 07 nose had yet to to
calls for water to refill the coolant system. A vast plastic
bottle is prepared with the correct mix of anti-corrosion
concentrate and the contents turn a delightful shade of
The water radiators are refilled using a special swirl-type
pot fitted precariously to the "passenger" rollhoop.
A water heater is then fitted into the system so that the
temperature can be increased before the engine is re-started
for the first time.
on the circuit, the #7 Peugeot leads overall from the #2
Audi second, the #9 Peugeot third, and then the #3 Audi
and finally the #1.
LMP2 the #34 Van Merksteijn Porsche leads by one lap from
the #31 Team Essex example, with the #33 Speedy Lola third,
two laps down.
The engine is cranked over for the first time and the oil
pressure is checked. It passes, and there don't appear to
be any leaks anywhere else in the system.
The engine is fired up, and there's a cheer from the grandstands
opposite, where the team's progress has drawn a sizeable
With the engine running, it is put through the gears and
revved quite hard while the mechanics check everywhere for
calls for the rear floor to be brought forward. The engine
is stopped and the team fits the undertray.
While one group is working
to fit the underfloor, another group is fitting the sidepods.
the garage, the sound of cars getting back up to race pace
reverberates between the concrete walls, galleries and grandstands
of the pit straight. Inside, the MG is coming down off its
high stands and is back on the airjacks again.
The rear wing is refitted, and Phil checks with Mason that
the tyres are "nice and warm" in the infra-red
Having been standing around and twiddling his thumbs for
well over an hour, Andy is at last able to prepare for his
return to the car. He pulls on his balaclava, straps on
his helmet, and climbs into the cockpit.
The huge rear engine cover is lifted up over the engine
and slotted into place. The car is almost finished.
It's quick work in these final stages of the rebuild, and
no sooner is the engine cover latched into place than the
wheels are carried through, warm from the oven, and fitted
to the car - fronts first, then the backs, and with the
nuts tightened and checked, the car is pushed outside the
garage. A ripple of applause can be heard from the grandstands.
Andy drives off. The car has been out of the race for almost
exactly two hours and is, in effect, the last of the running
entries . . . again.
(1:00am - 2:00 am)
Andy is straight back into the pitlane, having completed
just a single lap. He's not happy with the way the car is
handling. While the engineers examine the car for an obvious
fault, Phil uses more scientific means in an attempt to
pinpoint the cause. He and the technicians are examining
the telemetry from that last lap. It offers no immediate
The Embassy Zytek is circulating in the dark without lights,
and receives a warning via the timing screens. It's assumed
the driver is aware of his car's shortcoming! The #45 car
is 33rd overall, 6th in class.
The wheels are off the RML MG and back in the warming cabinets.
There's a certain amount of head-scratching going on, and
no obvious answer to what is causing the car to behave in
this way. Nevertheless, various adjustments are made, particularly
to the front suspension, and there's some hope that Andy
can head out again shortly.
Wheels back on, and two minutes later, Andy leaves the pitlane
again. He attempts a lap of the circuit, but hasn't completed
half before he's on the radio to say that the car still
doesn't feel right. He says he's bringing the car back to
the garage again.
time there is even more extensive searching of the telemetry,
and examination of the car. "We're running out of time,
and ideas," admits Phil Barker. "This is just
one run away from being pulled."
The guys with the spanners have done their best, and Andy
once again braves the cockpit. He's strapped into his belts
for another visit to the track in the knowledge that, if
the adjustments haven't worked, this could be his last run.
has not got far along the Mulsanne when the radio crackles
into life again. "Its just as bad as before,"
he says. "Just as bad." Phil Barker's shoulders
slump visibly, just a fraction. "OK Andy. Come back,
nice and easy."
Almost exactly three hours after Mike had
brought the bruised and battered MG back to the pits following
his acrobatics, the realisation has dawned that RML's 2008
Le Mans campaign is drawing to a close. "The car is
just handling so badly," said Andy, gesturing with
his hand how the front of the car was behaving at speed.
"If I ease back on the speed, it becomes less obvious,
but even at those speeds, if I use the brakes, the handling
deteriorates again. It's not nice." It would appear
that there is some further underlying damage to the chassis
which is not evident without detailed analysis back at the
The decision is reached between Phil Barker, Ray Mallock,
Mike Newton and Adam Wiseberg that the team has done as
much as they can, but the game's over. "The truth is,
we simply can't achieve a classified finish from this position.
Even if we could get the car to handle properly again, there
are insufficient hours left in this race for us to complete
the minimum number of laps required to meet the 70% rule."
There's the knowledge that the team has done its best, as
ever. "This has not been for want of trying, that's
for sure," says Andy.
are expressions of dejection across the faces of all concerned,
but there's a certain resignation too. This has been a long,
lingering retirement, and some members of the team have
held that possibility in the backs of their minds for perhaps
an hour or more. It is no longer a shock to accept that
all the hard work of the past weeks has been for this, but
it is still hugely disappointing. "We managed to get
the car back together again, but we've been struggling with
the set-up. Now we've simply run out of time, and we're
not going to be able to achieve the 70% of the race winner's
distance necessary to achieve the classified finish. Accepting
that has been a very difficult decision, but there's no
point in carrying on."
Mallock, founder of RML, was in the garage to witness the
final hours. "We joined the flying club this weekend,"
he said, with reference to the spate of accidents in recent
weeks that have involved prototypes becoming airborne. "Although
the team did a remarkable job in getting the car back together
again, we have been unable to recover the chassis settings
that would enable our drivers to race competitively. Sadly,
there is nothing to be gained by pressing on."
so, with the race on the point of entering its eleventh
hour, and the sound of some 45 of the original 55 starters
still filling the air with noise, the shutters came down
on the #25 RML MG Lola. Tommy Erdos was already resting,
possibly asleep, and unaware of what was taking place. Andy
Wallace, who had been last to drive the car, was preparing
to head back to "an early night", if two in the
morning could ever be called that. And Mike Newton was left
to marvel at the on-board video footage that revealed just
how lucky he had been.
press release that offers a round-up of the RML race, and
observations following the car's retirement, can be viewed
- Overall Result
high resolution gallery an be found here.