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RML’s Lola Mazda Debut Cut Short

The race debut for RML’s Lola Mazda B09/86 ended in disappointment when the new car’s engine suffered a catastrophic failure after two-and-a-half hours of last weekend’s Barcelona 1000 Kilometres. The opening round of the 2009 Le Mans Series had started with promise, after Thomas Erdos fought through to the class lead from sixth on the grid, but a recurrence of the type of engine problem that has hampered so many of the turbo-engined cars since early 2008 cut short RML's race.

The Brazilian had wisely kept clear of trouble in the opening moments of the race, when there was some enthusiastic jostling into the first few corners. “We suspected that several of the cars in front of us after qualifying had been running softer compound tyres, and if that was the case, then the chances were that their initial pace would tail off as the race developed. We’d gone for a hard compound knowing that the track here is very abrasive, and if we waited, then our patience might be rewarded.”

The strategy worked well. Erdos remained in contention for the first half-hour, holding sixth place, and then started to ease forward. “I think we all suffered with poor grip levels at the start, but after the first pitstop, the Lola was transformed,” he said. “With fresh Michelins, it was like driving a different car altogether, and for the first time I think we all saw the potential of the car.” One by one he picked off the opposition, and with exactly two hours of the race completed, he took the class lead. “I simply settled down into a sensible rhythm that felt comfortable and suited the tyres. The car was handling so well and I could push easily.”

At just gone two o’clock, Tommy headed back down the pitlane to hand over to Mike Newton, CEO of AD Group. The driver change went well, but it was soon evident that all was not well with the car. “The engine was coughing and spluttering as I drove out of the pitlane, and it wasn’t picking up at all as I went through Turn 3. I managed to make it round as far as Turn 10, but that was it. The thing had just grenaded,” said a very despondent Mike Newton.

The team watched the monitors in disbelief as the car slowed to a halt, plumes of white smoke billowing from the exhaust. “It was all going so well!” exclaimed an incredulous Thomas Erdos. “There had been no indication of any problems with the engine at all, not even on my final in-lap,” but there was no denying the facts. RML AD Group’s race was over.

The data suggests that the problem is linked to similar failures in the past. “We now know that some of the other teams have expressed concerns,” explained Mike. “There appears to be an incompatibility between the bio-fuel formulation supplied to the teams and the technology associated with turbocharged engines.” RML suffered a number of such engine failures in 2008, and the performance of the turbo-powered cars at Barcelona would tend to indicate that the problem has persisted into the new season.

“We saw a flash of the car’s true potential today. If these issues could be resolved, it would be good to think we could carry that potential forward into the rest of the season,” said Mike Newton. His co-driver Thomas Erdos shared his frustration. “The car obviously has tremendous promise, but this is not the result we were hoping for.”

The team has four weeks to prepare for Round 2 at Spa in Belgium, scheduled for the weekend of May 9th and 10th.

There are high resolution images posted in the Barcelona Gallery.

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Le Mans Series 2009

Round 1. Catalunya 1000 Kilometres
April 3rd-5th 2009

Post-Race Press Release

Issued April 8th 2009