always rains at Le Mans"
March this year a film was released entitled
"Truth in 24". It tells the story
of Audi's 2008 Le Mans campaign, and has been
widely recognised as one of the finest documentaries
about the Le Mans 24 Hours yet produced. It
begins with the gravelly voice of actor Jason
Statham stating: "It always rains at Le
Mans". This short phrase was met with a
certain degree of derision when "Truth
in 24" first aired, but after the opening
two days of this year's Le Mans week, the scriptwriter's
throwaway line has taken on a prophetic quality.
Scrutineering for the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours
will for ever be remembered as "The one
when it rained", in biblical proportions.
the two days, Monday was the better blessed,
with only occasional heavy showers. Even so,
the proceedings over-ran by several hours, and
the last car wasn't cleared until nearly half-eight
in the evening. Much of this was thanks to Audi
- well, not the team exactly, but the intense
scrutiny that was applied to their three cars.
Scheduled to enter the circus at around half-two,
the last car didn't clear the team photograph
arena until after five o'clock, and everything
thereafter ran late.
any normal circumstances the process typically
takes about an hour for each car, but such has
been the controversy over Audi's new R15 TDI
that the ACO was under pressure to ensure that
every element of the car's homologation and
compliance was examined to the enth degree.
Although passed as fit for purpose by the scrutineers,
Peugeot is expected to lodge a protest, and
a meeting is scheduled for Wednesday morning
when it is hoped the issue can be resolved.
The primary bone of contention appears to be
the car's front splitter arrangement, and certain
detail elements in the air-intake area, which
some have interpreted as having an aerofoil
profile. This is against the technical regulations,
but Audi has made changes to the car since winning
the Sebring 12 Hours (largely in an attempt
to achieve a low-downforce configuration that
is better suited to the Le Mans circuit) that
appear to have addressed this point, but a number
of other LMP1 teams appear to feel that the
adjustments have not gone far enough. More in
due course, no doubt.
AD Group's Lola Mazda Coupé was scheduled
to be one of the first through scrutineering
on Tuesday afternoon, and duly arrived in the
square at just after two-o'clock. Unloaded from
the back of a flatbed transporter, the timing
could not have been better. After several hours
of torrential rain, the skies had cleared moments
before, and the first sunshine of the day blessed
the car's arrival, bathing the scene with intense
colour, highlighted by the glistening raindrops
which covered every flat surface. Adam Hughes
had to unload the car single-handed, but soon
had willing helpers from the crowd as he hauled
the Lola back towards the display area, where
he was joined by the rest of the crew.
arrival of the RML entry never fails to impress.
There are good looking cars all through the
grid, but the svelte Lola with its distinctive
colour scheme is still considered to be one
of the prettiest. It only ever takes a few moments
for a crowd five or six deep to surround her,
cameras clicking and hands outstretched for
the team's new HeroCard. This year's card has
been specially created for Le Mans 2009, and
will be described in more detail later.
the car and engineers waited in the sunshine
for their turn to enter the first scrutineering
bay, the three drivers headed for the main administration
buildings in the centre of the square, where
suits, helmets and licences were checked and
boxes ticked. Mike and Tommy had flown into
the circuit on Monday afternoon, arriving at
the neighbouring airfield direct from Liverpool.
Chris Dyson arrived in Paris from the States
early on Tuesday morning.
most concerning "team news" of the
day became evident when Team Manager Phil Barker
arrived, limping and stick in hand. On his way
into the circuit this morning, he had tripped
over an uneven wooden step on the way from the
#7 car park and turned his ankle. He had soldiered
on for about forty minutes before the pain became
too distracting. He initially requested a massage
from the team's physiotherapist, but a quick
examination suggested that the damage was more
serious than that, so he was taken to the circuit's
Medical Centre at around 11:00. There he was
seen by the appropriately named Dr Alain Kind,
who agreed that there was a possibility that
Phil had broken his ankle, and arranged for
an ambulance to transfer his patient to the
local Paul Sud hospital for a more thorough
X-ray revealed that Phil had indeed broken his
ankle . . . but not today. Luckily, his morning
excursion up the steps had only resulted in
a very painful sprain, but the X-ray did reveal
that Phil must have broken a bone some years
ago, but without having it diagnosed at the
time. Dosed up with pain killers, and with his
ankle tightly bound, Phil returned to work.
The team would like to express its thanks and
appreciation to the staff at the Medical Centre
and the hospital for their efficiency, speed
the drivers were being interviewed by the journalists,
and the team's Lola Mazda had moved into the
first of five scrutineering bays. The format
has not changed much over the years, although
the intensity and timescale has tended to increase.
The first small marquee is where the car's paperwork
is checked - just to make sure that the right
car is being presented for scrutineering - before
it is pushed forwards into the larger two-part
bay where the car's physical compliance is checked.
Wooden frames and aluminium straight-edges are
offered up to the car to check such things as
rear wing sizes, overhangs, flat floors, splitter
dimensions and so on, some of these examined
while the car is raised on an elevated platform.
year, for example, as a result of a protest
from Porsche, every GT2 Ferrari 430 GTC failed
this part of the process when the scrutineers
decreed that part of each tyre's tread was visible
outside the wheelarch. All ten affected teams
were instructed to make adjustments to the bodywork
to ensure that the rubber was completely obscured.
The scrutineers will return to each team's garage
before first practice to check that acceptable
modifications have been applied. For RML, there
were no such issues, and the car sailed through
without a hitch.
this was taking lace the three drivers had been
called up onto the main stage to be interviewed
by Bruno Vanderstick. This is as much a part
of the day's tradition as signing autographs
and posing for photographs. Most of the time
the questions are a little predictable, but
occasionally the crowd is party to a serious
discussion about some technical aspect of a
car, or a personal story about driving experiences
from past races at Le Mans.
was initially quizzed on the team's decision
to swap engine supplier from MG to Mazda. The
name of RML has become closely associated with
the historic MG brand, having raced an MG-homologated
Lola in the 24 Hours every year since 2004.
With consecutive class wins in 2005 and 2006,
RML probably did more to keep the MG name alive
during the period between the factory's demise
and the marque's resurrection with Shanghai
Automotive last year than anything else. Sadly,
as Mike pointed out, the promised support from
China never materialised, and the team was given
no option but to look elsewhere for engines.
However, the association with Mazda has already
proved to be much more sympathetic, and Mike
expressed his delight that the team was developing
such a mutually beneficial working relationship
with such a major international company.
followed up with a question about the concurrent
move from an open-topped Lola to the new coupé,
and Mike conceded that he actually preferred
to drive an open-topped car, but that the enclosed
cockpit did have its advantages, especially
in wet weather!
was asked about the team's prospects in a highly
competitive LMP2 category, and expressed his
wish that we have "seen the last of the
rain" for a while. Regrettably, that seems
unlikely, since the forecast is for more rain
on Wednesday and Thursday before the skies clear
for a warm and sunny weekend, although there
is rumoured to be a high probability of rain
again on Sunday afternoon.
subject then moved around to the engine, and
in particular, the team's likely strategy with
regard to the fitting of the race engine. In
past years, when Wednesday and Thursday have
both been qualifying days, some teams have opted
to fit the race engine for the second day and
ensure it is race-ready for Saturday's warm
up. Most, however, have always favoured a Friday
fitting, and thereby ensured that the unit is
fully fresh for the race. With Thursday now
being the only day for qualifying, this now
seems the only real option, and Mike confirmed
that RML would be fitting the Lola's Mazda MZR-R
then welcomed Chris Dyson, and asked the American
how it was he came to be co-driving the RML
Lola Mazda at Le Mans this year. Chris explained
that while Dyson Racing was racing a very similar
chassis in the ALMS in the States, RML's programme
in Europe was "vast" and that, looking
to the longer term, sharing the RML car in 2009
offered a good grounding for Chris and Dyson
Racing should they be in a position to bring
a team of their own to Le Mans in the future.
what he felt was the state of the American Le
Mans Series at the moment (where entries are
much reduced on previous years) Chris took the
question from a personal point of view, and
pointed out that he had missed the class win
last time out by just half a second, but he
was looking forward to the second half of the
season and the chance, perhaps, of winning a
few races. Did he have a chance at the title
this year? "J'espere," he admitted.
I hope so.
microphone returned to Mike for the next question,
relating to Mazda's involvement in the RML prototype
programme. Back in the 1980s, the name behind
Mazda's success at Le Mans, culminating in outright
victory in 1991, was Mazdaspeed (see our news
from Spa). Was Mazdaspeed also involved with
RML? Mike confirmed that, yes, Mazdaspeed in
the United States was directly involved in the
programme, and that the team was working closely
not only with Mazda, but also with Chris and
was then asked about the team's preparations
for the Le Mans 24 Hours this year. He explained
that, with the absence of Monza from the Le
Mans Series calendar, and the cancellation of
the official test weekend here at La Sarthe
(which he regrets), there had been no opportunity
for the teams to prepare their low-downforce
configurations."I love the cornering of
the car at high downforce circuits like the
Nurburgring and the Algarve, which is a fantastic
track," he said. The Lola is particularly
good, and very competitive, on the very tight
and twisty tracks. "But this is the circuit
I really love," he admitted. "The
Lola Mazda is a great package, and I'm very
fortunate to be involved."
The final series of questions focused on Brazilian
participation in this year's race, and the presence
here of Bruno Senna in one of the LMP1 prototypes.
"Every year we see a few Brazilians here
at Le Mans," said Tommy. "This year
Bruno makes his first appearance, and he has
a very good chance with Oreca. But we're racing
everyone here this weekend, and if we can finish
ahead of him, we will !"
interview was wrapped up in time for the three
drivers to join the rest of the team in the
final element of scrutineering, and then move
through into the corner arena for the official
photograph. With dark clouds and more heavy
rain bowling in from the west, the team had
just enough time for a shirtsleeves pose for
the photographers before the heavens opened
once again. By then, the crew were safely back
in the team minibus and the car, under wraps,
and being low-loaded back to the circuit, although
Mike was keen to stay behind and sign as many
autographs as he could . . .
all the teams being processed on Tuesday, RML
AD Group was one of the more fortunate. Although
it did rain part-way through the scrutineering
process, it cleared up when it mattered.
sun always shines . . .
photographs today by Marcus Potts / CMC
Le Mans 2009 gallery can be accessed here