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Le Mans 24 Hours 2008
Friday - June 13th 2008

Friday the Thirteenth

After the rigours of two evenings of qualifying, Friday is sometimes mistakenly seen as a "day off", but nothing could be further from the truth. The penultimate day before the start of the race itself usually turns out to be one of the busiest, and also the most hectic. For the drivers, there are meetings and briefings, guests to be introduced to, PR opportunities and, of course, the Grande Parade des Pilotes in the evening. In some respects, it's not exactly demanding stuff, but for the rest of the team it's a busy day in the garage, with the MG EX265 undergoing a full rebuild - new engine and gearbox, plus a full reassembly of all four corners of the car.

Luckily there had been no dramas on Thursday. The car had finished the final session early and with what the drivers described as a perfect set-up for the race ahead - well balanced, comfortable and easy to drive. The challenge for Rick and his engineers was to take the car apart, and then reassemble it, without compromising that set-up. That requires amazing precision and attention to detail, with much use of micrometers and gauges, but with the whole day to achieve their goal they can work at a steady, unhurried pace.

The first appointment for the three drivers was with Phil Barker, who called them together for a meeting to discuss matters arising from qualifying and to finalise the team's race strategy. That lasted until lunchtime, and an introduction to the team's guests and sponsors.

The Grande Parade des Pilotes

Staged through the streets of Le Mans city, the annual parade of drivers has become one of the big traditions of the Le Mans week. It has been organised every year for the past fourteen by Classic Automotive, and this year the central theme to the opening ceremony has been a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Lola Cars.

As featured on our news item from the earlier this month (see here) images of the RML MG Lola and the three drivers; Mike Newton, Andy Wallace and Thomas Erdos, have been used on all the posters promoting the event - and there have been many thousands of them! They have been displayed all around the town and at the circuit, and distributed as A5 flyers in shops, information centres, hotels and restaurants throughout the area - see right.

The plan had also been that the parade would begin with a tribute to Lola, and to a certain extent it did, but the schedule that included a prominent role for the RML drivers, and those of other leading Lola teams in this year's race, including the #10 Charouz Racing Aston Martin Lola Coupé, was clearly forgotten as soon as the razzmatazz got under way.

First through as the parade set off was indeed a Lola - a splendid T70 Mark III, and this was followed by another significant example - a type 1, driven by David Leslie's son Graham.

The original plan had been that Graham would drive his late father's own Type 1 Lola, and the red car was indeed present, with David's white racing helmet, complete with red tartan stripe movingly placed on the bonnet. Unfortunately, when the car was taken over to Lola's Huntingdon works to be prepared for the event, it was discovered that the cylinder head had become porous and it was thought best not to risk the engine on a drive through Le Mans. Instead, Graham was invited to drive a very similar pale blue car from Lola's own collection. At the last moment, Ray Mallock's son Michael was invited to sit in the car with Graham. David Leslie was a key figure in RML's racing history, and had been a close personal friend of the Mallock family for many years. It seemed very fitting that the sons of two such prominent people in the history of British motorsport should the side by side on this very emotional occasion.

Martin Birrane, chairman of Lola since 1997, was guest of honour. In recognition of the contribution to the history and success of the Le Mans 24 Hours by Lola, founded in 1958 by Eric Broadley, the 50th anniversary of the company has been a key feature of this year's event. As chairman, Martin has this week been presented with the Spirit of Le Mans trophy - a specially commissioned Rolex watch. Before taking his seat on the main stage Martin Birrane was introduced to the crowd by Bruno Vanderstick, compère for the evening.

Following the two Lolas was an impressive selection of Group C racecars, including a Silk Cut Jaguar, a Porsche 962 and a Sauber Mercedes. These cars were selected to highlight the selection of the Group C era for this years Le Mans Legends support race.

Thirty-three of these magnificent cars will take place in the hour-long race on Saturday morning. Within the confined canyons of Le Mans' streets, the sound of the cars was nothing less than awesome, although there was some concern that they might overheat at such slow speeds.

This first phase in the evening's parade was completed before the next began, and the historic race cars were allowed to complete the circuit unhindered by marching bands or dancers. Getting the main procession under way was an extravagant and heavily chromed Excalibur roadster - not the kind of vehicle one usually associates with Le Mans, or motorsport of any kind, being more the chosen transport (in films at least!) of pop stars, pimps and drug dealers.

That was supported by massed ranks of Harley Davidson motorbikes and then a selection of "supercars" from the Bell & Ross collection, starting with a Ferrari FXX Evolution. That was followed by examples of the Porsche Carrera GT, Ford GT, Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin Vantage, Spyker C8, Ferrari Enzo, Pagani Zonda, Bugatti Veyron, Koenigsegg CCX, and a bizarre Tramontana roadster (above right).

Various other signatories and guests, including several former astronauts, were introduced to the crowd before the parade proper finally got under way. That was led off by the Le Mans trophy itself - a tall gold and chromed temple-like structure, topped by the "24" symbol. Closer examination reveals that, within its darts' trophy exterior, there stands an eminently more appropriate gilded figure of the spirit of ecstasy standing on a plinth. A silver plaque carries the names of all the previous winners.

When this design of trophy was first created in the early 1990s, the ACO decreed that any team that won the race three years in a row could keep the trophy for ever. So it was that, following a third successive victory in 2002, the original trophy officially became the property of Audi AG, and is now kept in the museum at the company's headquarters in Ingolstadt. In effect, the one now presented is a replica.

In the original schedule, the Lola teams would then have followed at the head of the Grande Parade des Pilots, but that plan had clearly been dropped in favour of a more random order, starting with the drivers of one of the GT1 Corvettes.

Others followed one after the other; Aston Martin, Audi, Charouz (a Lola at last!), the three Peugeot squads, Pescarolo, Creation, Chamberlain Synergy (another Lola), Epsilon, Team Essex, Barazi, Rollcentre, Muscle Milk (Lola) and Oreca.

Interspersed between these teams was a colourful, noisy and at times very energetic mix of marching bands, stiltwalkers, samba dancers and street entertainers.

Then, at roughly half-past seven, came the RML trio of Mike Newton, Andy Wallace and Thomas Erdos, perched on the rear scuttle of a vintage Renault.

For the best part of an hour the threesome were carried through the streets of Le Mans, handing out HeroCards, signing autographs, waving and generally enjoying their status as motorsport heroes . . . at least for this week.


The day ended for Mike, Tommy and Andy with a dinner in a nearby restaurant, followed by an early night.

Further images can be found by visiting the Le Mans 2008 high resolution gallery.