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Lola Cars Silverstone 1000 kms Warm-up

RML AD Group racing driver Thomas Erdos, and the team’s Lola Mazda B08/86 racecar, were two of the stars at an exclusive gathering at Lola Cars’ headquarters in Huntingdon on Wednesday 10th September.

The event was a precursor to the final round of the 2009 Le Mans Series at Silverstone, and was an opportunity for invited guests to quiz a panel of experts including Robin Brundle, Managing Director of Lola Cars; Damien Smith, Editor of Motor Sport Magazine, Rob Bell, current Le Mans Series GT2 titleholder and soon to be co-driver of the new Drayson Racing LMP1 Lola Coupe; Nicolas Prost, co-driver of the Speedy Team Sebah LMP1 Lola Aston Martin; Neil Primrose, drummer with Travis and presently lying second in the 2009 Classic Endurance Series in his historic Lola; and Thomas Erdos, winner of the 2007 Le Mans Series LMP2 title and co-driver of the RML Lola Mazda.

Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC

The question-and-answer session, compered by John Hindhaugh, lasted almost an hour and is now available as a podcast on Radio Le Mans. It began with an introduction to the panel from John and then confirmation that Lola has won this season’s Le Mans Series constructor’s title in both LMP1 and LMP2.

Robin Brundle, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCFirst to speak was Robin Brundle, who welcomed the audience of about 60 invited journalists and key members of the motorsport fraternity to the new car assembly room at Lola, clinically clean and only finished earlier that morning. He suggested that Lola now designed and manufactured some of the best customer products in the marketplace today, and had been the first racecar manufacturer to embrace the coupe bodystyle.He revealed that Lola was currently working towards the release of the 2010 upgrades, made necessary by the recent announcement of revised regulations fro the ACO. These revisions had to be completed in the light of the current economic situation, and he was pleased to divulge the fact that Lola’s materials and spares charges were expected to fall by around 3% over the coming year.

Damien Smith was the next to speak. He outlined the changes that the Lola company has undergone since Martin Birrane took over the organisation in 1997. It has been a fantastic transformation of a company that had been on the verge of disaster, but has grown, and flourished during the last ten years to become the UK’s last true independent racing car designer and manufacturer – a leader in automotive technology and an innovator in the field of composites and fabrication. Not only does Lola lead the world in the production of contemporary racecars, but Lola is also at the forefront of the huge growth area of so-called “continuation cars”; re-manufactured historic sportscars like the Lola T70 that celebrate the heritage of motorsport. Historic racing is now a major part of today’s motorsport scene and a huge growth area for the future.

Lola T70, 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC

It is interesting to compare the parallels between Lola’s latest offerings in the form of the LMP prototypes, in both open and closed forms, and the T70, which is now also available once again as an elegant coupe and low-profile open-topped variant.

John Hindhaugh then turned to Thomas Erdos, and asked him how the experience of driving the coupe compared to that of racing the open-topped Lolas that RML campaigned between 2003 and 2008. Tommy explained that the most significant difference was the loss of any direct and physical sensation of speed in the coupe, but that he felt it was an enormous privilege to be able to drive a car that looked so good! He also expressed how much he appreciated the relationship with Lola, not just in terms of the cars he’s raced, but the people he’s worked with.

Thomas Erdos and Robin Brundle, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC

Tommy came from a “formula” background of single-seaters, and John asked him how he felt the perception had changed over the years that sportscars were a “softer option”. The Brazilian countered that by stating that today’s prototypes were every bit as physically demanding to drive, with high-downforce and fast cornering capabilities., and that the sensation today was very similar to that of racing in a single-seater. Ultimately, he admitted, he and drivers like him race these cars because they love doing it.

Rob Bell. Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCNext up was Rob Bell, who will be getting his first experience of prototype racing in a few weeks when he joins Drayson Racing in the team’s new Lola Judd LMP1, entered in the 10-hour Petit Le Mans event in America. Rob’s recent experiences have been in GT cars, and most especially Ferraris, and John welcomed him to the Lola family.

Like Tommy, Rob also came from a single-seater background, and admitted that he’d initially found the transition to endurance racing a little difficult – forgetting to get out of the car during his first driver-change pitstop, and then fitting tear-off strips to his visor, even though he was driving a car with a full windscreen. “I still had a lot to learn!” he conceded. He has yet to test the new Drayson Lola, and his first experience of the car will be when he climbs into the cockpit for first practice at Road Atlanta.

The discussion then returned to Robin Brundle, brother to former Grand Prix driver and BBC TV commentator Martin, and the question of Lola’s possible future in Formula 1. The Huntingdon-based manufacturer was one of several big names in motorsport, including RML, which were linked with the recent selection process for potential new teams to join F1. Brundle admitted that Lola had not dismissed the idea entirely, but it wasn’t on the current agenda.

Tommy was then asked to consider what had been a “difficult year” for RML, with John observing that, when the Lola Mazda has “gone”, it’s “gone well”, but surely the team couldn’t continue like this? What were the plans? Tommy suggested he’d be “the last to know!” Yes, it had been a difficult season, but the Lola Mazda combination was a new project, still in its early stages, and the team was going through a steep learning curve. 2009 had been a generally tough season in LMP2 anyway, but the team is committed to its partnership with Lola, Mazda and AER, and Tommy appreciated the efforts that all parties had put into the 2009 season. “We’ve had some great performances this year, and I still want to be around when the engine really gets going!”

Thomas Erdos, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCJohn then turned to the subject of Tommy’s co-driver, Mike Newton – very talented, but not a professional racing driver? Tommy was happy to say that Mike is “highly intelligent, and he carries that into his racing.” He’s also a very knowledgeable electronics engineer, and his troubleshooting skills are excellent. In fact he’s a “data engineers nightmare!” because he knows as much, and sometimes more than they do.

Mike and Tommy started racing together in 2003, explained Tommy, and during that first season Mike admitted to having a “five year plan” to compete at Le Mans. Tommy had conceded at the time that the goal was certainly possible, but as it turned out, Mike not only raced in the 24 Hours the following year, but then went on to win it for the first time in 2005! “He didn’t put a foot wrong!” said Tommy, “in what is the toughest race in the world. That’s an incredible achievement.” John then concluded that Mike was no longer a “gentleman driver” but was perhaps better described as a “sportsman driver”.

That concluded the formal section of the discussion, and the event was then thrown open to “the floor”. Sam Collins (Racecar Engineering) steered the conversation, and Robin Brundle back towards Formula 1. “Lola has deferred its entry into F1,” clarified Brundle, “but we will be reconsidering our position for 2011.”

Tommy was then asked why Dyson Racing gets results in the ALMS with essentially the same car, so why can’t RML? Tommy explained that the cars might look similar, but there were fundamental differences between the RML and Dyson Lolas, and also between the races they contest. The two cars have different restrictor sizes and the two series use different fuel formulations, but most significantly, the ALMS races are very much shorter. “Our issues have regularly occurred at two hours and forty-five minutes,” said Tommy, by which time ALMS races are over and finished!

Tommy did admit that it had been great to have Chris Dyson in the car for Le Mans, although there had been a potential for difficulty because Chris is so much taller, but then again, “so is just about everyone else!” joked the Brazilian. Did RML have plans to race in the States? Tommy admitted he’d personally enjoy the opportunity, if it arose, but for budgetary and commercial reasons, it was unlikely,

Robin Brundle, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCJournalist Andrew Cotton touched on the subject of the various different series around the world, such as the Le Mans Series, ALMS and proposed intercontinental (Asian) series, and wasn’t there a need to simplify this mix? Robin Brundle thought not. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said.

This did, however, steer the conversation towards the question of the differing ways motorsport is promoted on each side of the Atlantic, and how vital and exciting the race organisers make events in the United States. European spectators are, perhaps, more “hard core” serious enthusiasts. Perhaps that needs to change?

Ian Wagstaff wondered if Lola might be considering a possible return to IRL and, more especially, the Indy 500. Robin Brundle admitted that, if the opportunity arose over the next three years or so, it would certainly be something that Lola might consider. The conversation then veered towards the topic of one-make series in general, and thence to the stability of construction and use regulations. Several speakers agreed that the current lack of such constancy was an increasingly taxing problem. Sam Collins wondered if there was, perhaps, a call for the amalgamation of the ALMS, currently suffering from diminishing grids, and Grand Am. Robin Brundle thought it both undesirable and unnecessary.

Neil Primrose, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCNeil Primrose, drummer with pop group Travis, was then introduced and John asked him about his Lola T212 that he campaigns in the Classic Endurance Series. Neil is currently second in the 2009 championship, and will be racing at Silverstone this weekend. “It’s been a great year – hard work and a steep learning curve, mixing motorsport with music” and very soon he might have to go back to work and earn some money.

Rob Bell admitted that he and his JMW Motorsport team-mate Gianmaria Bruni are “up against the wall” in their attempts to win this year’s GT2 title. “We’re out to win the race, but it’s ours to win and theirs to lose,” he insisted referring to their rivals in the Felbermayr Porsche.

What did Tommy think RML’s chances were this weekend? The team completed a successful shakedown at Rockingham on Tuesday, before bringing the car over to Lola for the day’s events. “We know the chassis quite well now,” he said, “but we have made a change with the engine [since the Nürburgring] to achieve some reliability, but that’s cost us a few horsepower.” He wasn’t prepared to commit, but did feel that the chances were fairly good.

Peter Weston, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCPeter Weston, Chief Engineer at Dyson Racing, then took to the stage, and John asked him about the team’s year in the ALMS. James Weaver, for many years a key driver in the Dyson line-up but recently retired, was also brought into the discussion. “We’re back to Lola after a two year hiatus with Porsche,” said Weston. He appreciated the input the team had witnessed from Mazda, and discussed some of the other differences between racing Stateside and in Europe not touched on previously, which included the challenging nature of some of the tracks in America, which tend to be narrower, very abrasive on tyres and hard on the cars.

James Weaver is back with the team in a consultative role, but looked back on his first ten years in the States with some nostalgia, when he had been one of very few European drivers to have discovered the delights of racing in America. He then started enthusing about witnessing the current crop of prototypes, including the LMP1 Acura and the LMP2 Dyson Lola, as they tackled Turn 2 at Mosport – perhaps one of the most demanding corners anywhere in motor racing.

Hugh Hayden, Team Manager of Speedy Team Sebah running Lolas in LMP1 and LMP2 this season, then spoke at some length, and with passion, about the need for the Le Mans Series, and especially its organisers, to achieve a better interaction with the public. “There must be a greater effort to promote the races and offer more for the public to do at a six-hour race,” he said. There was general agreement that not enough was being done to attract the public to endurance racing, and that the ACO does not promote the series as effectively as it needs to. There’s a dire need for “family time” at these weekend events, it was suggested. Perhaps races need to be of different lengths, and start at different times of the day – but not so late that they finish in the early hours of the morning, as was the case in the Algarve.

What was also needed, Hugh suggested, was greater stability in the regulations, and they should be fixed for a period of three years.

Drayson Racing LMP1 Lola Judd, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC

Dale White, Team Manager at Drayson Racing, talked briefly about the team’s LMP1 Lola Judd project. It was suggested that to debut a brand new untried car in a ten-hour, 1000 mile race at Petit le Mans was a brave move.

RML Lola Mazda, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC

The focus of attention then moved to the RML Lola Mazda, with Tommy and Julian Sole, Chief Engineer at Lola Cars, walking around the car, describing the salient features, and the processes involved in adding a roof to a car that had previously been open-topped. One of the proposed changes to the regulations will see the need to infill apertures in the car’s bodywork that are currently filled by mesh, or louvres, with solid panels, and Julian explained how difficult the late change to these specifics was making the work for manufacturers like Lola.

Nicolas Prost and John Hindhaugh. Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCThey also discussed high-and low downforce settings, and Tommy observed how difficult it must have been for Chris Dyson to adapt to the skittishness of the car at a low-downforce circuit like Le Mans having come over from the high-downforce environment of the ALMS.

Finally, Nicolas Prost, who had arrived late for the occasion, was welcomed to sportscar racing. How had he found the move from single-seaters to sportscars? “Fun!” he admitted. As racing drivers had been in the past, Nicolas wanted to see a return to a time when drivers could be versatile in the disciplines they tackled, and he relished the opportunity to race single-seaters in the winter and sportscars in the summer.

That concluded the discussion period. A tasty buffet lunch was then enjoyed, while the drivers present signed autographs and chatted with guests, before the gathering was treated to a guided tour of the extensive Lola premises. This included a visit to the workshops where the Drayson racing LMP1 prototype is nearing completion, although photographs were not permitted.

Drayson Racing LMP1 Lola Judd. Photo: Mike HoyerLate News
Since the above was written, the Drayson LMP1 Lola Judd has completed a successful shake-down test on the Silverstone "school" circuit. Mike Hoyer of Ebrey Photography, and a regular contributor to Dailysportscar, was on hand to record the occason.

To hear the podcast of the Lola Preview, please click this link:

Click here to listen to the podcast

RML AD Group Industry News 2009
Lola Cars hosts Silverstone Warm-up
Issued September 11th 2009

Lola T70, 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC












Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC

















John Hindhaugh, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC































Rob Bell. Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC





























































RML Lola Mazda, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC







Rob Bell, Thomas Erdos, Nicolas Prost, Lola 1000 Kilometres Preview. Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC