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Sunday - Raceday

Although the team has rebuilt a car in just a few hours in the past, as they've proven many times under the pressure of race conditions, the decision was taken not to rush the reconstruction of the #25 Lola Mazda after Saturday morning's accident. Having fitted a new engine after the failure at Barcelona, the new regulations would have imposed a ten-place penalty on the team in qualifying anyway, so rushing the rebuild only to be guaranteed a start at the back of the LMP2 grid seemed like an unnecessary risk. Instead the team worked diligently throughout the day, but at a controlled and almost leisurely pace - double-checking every nut and bolt, and ensuring that the car would be 100% when it next took to the track.

Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCBy half-five most of the major work had been completed, and no additional issues had been uncovered during the course of the rebuild. Nevertheless, the entire left-hand side of the car had been renewed, as well as floor, gearbox and many other ancillaries. "The amount of work required was not a million miles away from the level of damage we had to repair when the car flipped at Le Mans last year," said Phil Barker. "The fact that the gearbox casing was also involved gives some indication of the extent of the damage, and this rates as a very major rebuild."

Indeed, it's the kind of work the team might well have preferred to tackle in the relative comfort of their workshops in Wellingborough, but instead had to complete the task in the cramped and slightly chilly conditions of a pit garage in Spa. By seven in the evening the car was starting to look like the finished item, and only the detailed checking of the car's set-up on the flat patch remained to be done. Having achieved such an excellent balance during Friday's free practice session, when Tommy set quickest time in LMP2, the drivers were keen that these settings could be safely replicated for the race.

Warm Up & Morning

At just after 08:00 confirmation came through to the Media Centre that Warm Up had been cancelled due to thick fog and poor visibility all around the circuit. Strangely, the teams were not told. A lengthy queue of cars had built up on the exit of the pitlane before the news finally filtered through to the team managers, just moments before the session had been due to begin at half-past. The decision was relayed via the timing screens.

This was not the best news for RML, who had hopes of running as many laps as possible with the newly rebuilt Lola Mazda. “Having no warm up was hardly ideal for us," said Phil Barker. "We’d have liked to have gone out and checked that everything was OK, but we’ll still do as much as we can as soon as the pitlane opens." Many other teams shared RML's displeasure at the cancellation, especially as the fog had largely cleared and only the pit complex itself remained shrouded in a blanket of grey.

Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCThe morning's events unfurled in their time-honoured fashion, with Mike and Tommy sharing their time between preparations for the race and fulfilling their duties to the team's guests and the public. This included a half-hour stint at eleven signing autographs in the paddock.

RML had always anticipated being one of two teams starting the race from the pitlane - the second being the Reiter Engineering #79 GT2 Lamborghini - since neither had taken part in qualifying. The news on Sunday morning was that five other cars would be joining them. The #007 Aston Martin and #23 Strakka Racing Ginetta-Zytek, which had started out on qualifying but then been involved in incidents at La Source, would not be heading for the back of the grid, as originally assumed, but would also start from the pitlane.

The Bruichladdich Radical, which failed to set a time in qualifying, would be there as well, as would the Team Modena GT2 Ferrari, which had failed scrutineering after being discovered marginally under-weight - thanks to a new set of wheel rims that were fractionally lighter than those used previously by the team.

When the official grid was published, much later than expected, the reason for the delay became clear. RML had been aware of the penalty they faced for having installed a new engine since Barcelona, but they were not alone. Seven other teams had been similarly penalised, each car knocked back ten places on the grid. Two of those were fellow Mazda-powered LMP2 cars; Kruse's Lola and the #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo, both of which had suffered engine problems at the first round. Although Kruse's problem had been turbo related, it is understood that the seals marking the engine had been broken in order to effect a repair, and this was enough to warrant the demotion to row 16.

Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCTakayoshi Ohashi
There has been a very slight but not insignificant modification to the RML Lola-Mazda's livery this weekend. A new badge appears on the panel just below the windscreen. It reads: "Takayoshi Ohashi - Never give up! - 55 - 18 Years of Challenging Le Mans - Winner Mazda – Mazdaspeed 1991". The badge has been added as a mark of respect for Takayoshi Ohashi, who was the driving force behind Mazdaspeed, Mazda’s in-house race and tuning division. He passed away on March 9, 2009 at the age of 67. All the Mazda-powered cars in the Le Mans Series are carrying the small badge, and Phil Barker at RML confirms that the team's Lola-Mazda will also retain the badge for the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Takayoshi Ohashi was also Mazda’s main Tokyo distributor when he established Mazdaspeed in 1968, initially calling the outfit "Mazda Sports Corner". Over the next thirteen years Mazdaspeed launched repeated challenges on major endurance events around the world, culminating in an outright win in the Le Mans 24 Hours with the Mazda 787 in 1991. Along the way Mazdaspeed picked up another five class wins. Mazda remains the only Japanese manufacturer ever to have won at Le Mans.

The Race

Race Start Hour 2 Hour 3 Result

Race coverage is created "live", and then driver quotes and additional observations are added later. This can lead to some inconsistency with tenses, for which we apologise in advance.

Race Start

As soon as the pitlane opened, Tommy was out on track and storming up through Eau Rouge and into a series of in-out laps. He completed about half a dozen circuits of the track, negotiating the busy pitlane at the end of each one to return to the garage. This stop-start routine made it hard for him to generate any consistent heat in the tyres or brakes, but he was able to report that the balance of the car felt good. With ambient temperatures expected to rise as the race develops, times should steadily fall.

Photo: Marcus Potts / CMCAfter the early-morning mist, the conditions by 12:30 were almost perfect, with bright sunshine bathing the spring-green of the surrounding trees in an almost ethereal light. The skies are now bright blue, and sparsely dotted with light clouds, and topped over by the criss-cross of vapour trails.

Tommy was back into the garage at just after half-past so that the team could check over the car and make a few tweaks . . . and for Tommy to prepare himself appropriately for the first two hours or so of the race.

The pitlane is closed, and the cars that aren't starting from the pitlane have taken up their positions. A new addition to the pitlane starter list is the #11 Oreca Matmut AIM LMP1 car, to be started by Nicolas Lapierre. The car had not enjoyed a good qualifying session, and would have been starting from row 13. It is assumed that they have elected to begin the race on a different set of tyres, and have therefore been required to move to the pitlane.

Reports suggest that two, or perhaps three cars have failed to make it round the track to the grid. The five-minute siren is sounded.

Tommy should be the third car leaving the pits - Aston Martin, Strakka and then Tommy in the RML #25.

The cars move off the grid on their formation lap. A few seconds later Phil orders the tyres to be taken and fitted to the Tommy's car.

The Signature Plus #12 car goes off at Les Combes on the warm-up lap and hits the tyres fairly hard.

The cars in the pitlane are in the wrong order, and Tommy is trying to make his way to the appropriate slot. Oreca #11 heads the Aston #007, with the Strakka Racing GZ third, and then the Bruichladdich Radical. "I eased my way in alongside," explained Erdos. "I lined up beside the Radical, and then when the lights turned green, I just pushed my way forward!"

The race gets under way. There's a lot of jostling through La Source, and two cars spin off, including the lead Aston Martin and one of the Pescarolos. "With the accident just visible out on the track, I was worried for a while that they might hold us in the pitlane even longer, but actualy they released us almost straight away," said Tommy. With the #12 Signature Plus car still stranded at Les Combes, a pace car is despatched.

Tommy catches up with the end of the pace car trail, having been able to make a relatively leisurely and safe start from the pitlane - knowledge of the safety car having already been supplied to those waiting in the pitlane. "That first safety car was very useful," he admitted later. "We were able to catch up on the tail relatively easily, and everyone was neatly bunched up." Tommy queued up in 42nd place, with five cars behind him.

Timing screens reveal that the safety car will come back in at the end of this lap. In LMP2 Xavier Pompidou has taken the lead from Olivier Pla in the ASM Zytek, with Emanuel Collard third in the #31 Porsche - not the best of starts perhaps from the works driver.

Racing resumes with Minassian leading overall for Peugeot with the #9 second, and Bruno Senna third in the #10 Oreca and really pressurising the #9 Peugeot.

Photo: David Lord / Dailysportscar

The leaders complete their first proper racing lap, with the two Peugeots now starting to ease away from Senna's multi-coloured Oreca.

Tommy has moved through to 12th in LMP2, ten seconds behind the eleventh placed car. Olivier Pla has taken the lead in LMP2 from Pompidou, 9th overall.

Tommy's rise through the ranks continues, and he's moved up to 27th overall and has made up that missing ten seconds on the #35 Oak Racing Pescarolo, which he passes on the next lap.

Five laps into the race and Tommy has overtaken half the field, and is standing in 23rd overall. Meanwhile, out at the front, Senna is being harassed by Fassler in the #13 LMP1 Speedy Sebah Lola, who takes the Oreca car on the run down towards Eau Rouge Senna slows later in the lap with a puncture.

The next target for Tommy is the Kruse Lola Mazda, with Hideki Noda in the cockpit.

Inside half an hour and a second incident - Tommy reports debris across the track at Blanchimont, although it may be from Senna's flailing rubber. Tommy is now able to close up on the next three positions. Tommy has been consistently four seconds a lap quicker than Noda, and significantly faster still over those immediately ahead of the Japanese driver. "It was just a case of plugging away and working through the field as best I could,"said Tommy. "You had to be quite aggressive - perhaps more than I'd usually be - but the car felt so good. It's just amazing what these guys have done; to rebuild this car and then have it handle so perfectly, without any chance to test it, was remarkable. I'm just chuffed to bits to be working with people like this."

Unfortunately, the safety car has missed picking up the leader, and should, by rights, now be letting cars through to collect Nic Minassian in the #7 Peugeot. "The second safety car helped us to stay in touch with the leaders. I'd been fighting through the GT cars and slower prototypes, and that had allowed the cars at the front to pull away. The safety car brought us all back together again.".

Several cars have pitted for fuel, and Tommy finds himself in 18th overall and 8th in LMP2, just behind Noda, who has also stayed out. The crocodile behind the Safety car is moving quite slowly, of course, but the gap between Tommy and Olivier Pla in the class lead is ten seconds.

Photo: Peter May / DailysportscarThe debris has been cleared and racing should resume next lap.

Racing gets under way again, but there's an incident immediately at La Source when a GT2 Ferrari spins, and then is hit by the #17 Pescarolo and a second car, although one of the Kolles Audis is believed to have set up the incident. "That restart was particularly hairy!" observed Tommy.

Tommy has made the most of the restart, and has moved through to third in LMP2, having overtaken three on the restart, made more of a leap by two of the class leaders becoming entangled in the La Source fracas. One of those was Olivier Pla, who slumps to 34th, and judging by the speed of his descent, may actually be stopped. That's last place to third in half an hour for the Brazilian.

The gap between Pompidou, who still holds the class lead, and Tommy in third is now a mere five seconds, although the pace of the Speedy Sebah Lola #33 and Collard, second in the Team Essex Porsche, are much on a par with the RML Lola Mazda at present. On the last lap, Tommy set a 2:11.991, compared to a 2:13.542 for Collard and a 2:12.143 for Pompidou.

Photo: Peter May / Dailysportscar

On the next lap the two leaders respond to the Erdos challenge, and match his time. Out at the sharp end, Minassian leads by four seconds from Gene in the second Peugeot, with Fassler (#13) third, and then Guy Smith in the first of the Ginetta-Zyteks. The two Astons are fifth and sixth (an impressive run from the pitlane by Stephane Mucke in the 007 car) with the #11 Oreca seventh, just ahead of Peter Hardman, up to 8th from the pitlane in the #23 Strakka Racing Ginetta-Zytek.

A few incidents among the leading pack, as Senna spins the #11, and just before that, Guy Smith is tipped into La Source and loses three places.

Tommy sets a new fastest lap for the #25 Lola Mazda, with a 2:11.126. It's still not quite as quick as the two ahead of him have managed, but they've had the clearer track.

Filtering through traffic has not aided Tommy's position, and he's dropped back to 8 seconds on Collard. However, he's eased away by more than ten seconds from the fourth-placed #29 Racing Box Lola.

Darren Turner is in the middle of a nose-to-tail battle for third overall with Fassler in the Speedy Sebah Lola - they share an engine and a chassis, but the two cars look significantly different.

Photo: David Lord / Dailysportscar

Emanuel Collard gets ahead of Pompidou to take the class lead. Tommy has a bad lap in traffic and loses four seconds.

Many cars look to be setting themselves up for a pitstop - those that didn't stop under the safety car. Fassler is the first of the lead cars to head for the pits, but others are sure to follow, but there are several who've suddenly set new fastest laps.

Tommy is advised to "pit this lap" and requests a windscreen clean. There is concern because space in front of the garage is cramped by neighbouring cars, who've also elected to pit now.

Tommy enters the pitlane. Fuel only. Pompidou has also stopped for fuel on the same lap. It's a quick stop, but screen still not ideal. The #41 Zytek inherits second in LMP2 - other positions will be made clear after the next lap or two.

Hour 2 (13:50-14:50)

The second hour starts with Minassian still leading overall from team-mate Marc Gene with Darren Turner third in the first of the two Lola Aston Martins.

Tommy reports that he's picked up what he thinks is a puncture, and it's sent him straight on into the barriers at Rivage. He's unable to reverse out and the marshals have found it hard to extract him. He had stayed on the same set of tyres after his pitstop. The team usually double-stint the Michelin tyres, and they consistently perform well over at least two stints. "At the time I thought it was a puncture, but I discovered later that there was a small amount of oil on the track there. Two or three other cars went off at the same place just after me. I was a total passenger in the car at the time. The slippy bit must have been right on the approach to the corner, and when I started to turn in, the car just went straight on. Then I couldn't get the car into reverse."

Photo: David Lord / Dailysportscar

Tommy is back on track and making his way gently back to the pitlane. He's having to travel very slowly, with some damage to the front of the car.

Collard pits from the lead in LMP2. He'd moved through to 7th overall.

Tommy radios in to say he's made it to the Bus Stop. He arrives in the pitlane shortly afterwards. The team quickly examine the car, and confirm damage to the nose. Tommy heads back out with a replacement nose, although without the same aerodynamic package as previously. He's dropped to 39th overall. Not quite the back, but almost.

Elsewhere in LMP2, Collard's dropped to 16th overall, fifth in class, with the #41 Zytek now leading the class (9th overall) from Pompidou, back into second, from Noda third in the #39 KSM Lola.

Photo: David Lord / Dailysportscar

Overall, there have been more changes. While Minassian continues to lead, but Gene has dropped two places to fourth, with Boullion in the #16 Pescarolo second and Albers third in the first of the Kolles Audis.

The #39 Kruse Motorsport Lola is given a stop-go penalty, and will lose third as a result.

Having emerged in eleventh place, 39th overall, he's back up to tenth, 30th overall, within ten minutes. He's tagged on to the tail of the lead Peugeot and is following through as best he can.

The car seems to be behaving normally, and Tommy's last lap was a 2:11.164, making him the fastest runner in LMP2 at present. He's up to 29th overall.

With the #41 making a second scheduled pitstop, the lead in LMP2 has been handed on to the #33 Speedy Sebah Lola, 10th overall, from Emanuel Collard second, 12th overall. Third is currently the #29 Racing Box Lola. All three have yet to make their second stop.

Tommy sets a new fastest lap for the #25 Lola, with a 2:10.427. He radios in to thank the guys for putting together such a great racecar. Unfortunately, all these great efforts are earning small reward, since the extra pitstop and, more particularly, the slow return to the pits after the "off", have cost five laps.

Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC

Photo: Marcus Potts / CMC14:42 PITSTOP
After a consistent run, steadily recovering lost ground lap-by-lap, Tommy's second stint comes to an end, and he heads back down the pitlane to hand over to Mike Newton. It's a typical RML pitstop and driver change, with a disciplined refuel while Tommy was extracted from the car, and then with, the tank full, the designated mechanics set-to on fitting a new set of tyres while others dealt with cleaning the screen and other essential duties.

With the stop complete, Mike powered out of the pitlane to rejoin, albeit in 28th place overall.

Hour 3 (14:50-15:50)

Mike's opening few laps were steady and controlled. "I was working my way in gently, picking away at my braking points and hoping to pick up my ace as the race developed." Sadly, he wouldn't be offered that luxury.

MIke radios in to complain that the engine has started to misfire. He's just starting what must be his fourth lap.

He never gets as far as Les Combes. The engine gives way, with the telemetry confirming that, once again, the Mazda unit has suffered another catastrophic failure. He coasts the striken car towards the outside of the complex, up the old route of the circuit. Helped by the marshals, the car is pushed back behind the safety barriers, race over.

Once again, it will not be possible to state categorically what has caused this second consecutive failure, but the early signs are that this is a carbon-copy of the fault that ended the team's race at Barcelona a month ago.

LMP2 Race Result

The following is the result for LMP2 in the Spa 1000 Kilometres 2009. This remains a provisional order subject to appeals by three teams: Racing Box Lola Judd #30, Barazi Epsilon Zytek Z07S #32, and Team Felbermayr Porsche #77. All were disqualified for technical infringements in post-race scrutineering.

Pos No. O/a Team Driver Car
Best Lap
1 31 8 Team Essex Collard/Elgaard/Poulsen Porsche RS Spyder
2 33 9 Speedy Sebah Pompidou/Luenberger/Kane Lola B08/80 Coupé
14 Oak Racing Ajlani/Lahaye Pescarolo Mazda
19 Bruichladdich Bruneau/Greaves/Coleman Radical SR9 AER
24 Pegasus Schell/Thirion Courage AER
29 Kruse Schiller Marsh/Noda /Sini Lola B05/40
32 WR Salini Salini/Salini/Gommendy WR Zytek
33 Quifel ASM Amaral/Pla Ginetta-Zytek GZ09S
35 Q8 Oils Hache Moncado/Combot Lucchini Judd
10 41 39 GAC Racing Team Ojeh/Gosselin/Peter Zytek 07S
44 RML AD Group Erdos/Newton Lola B08/86 Coupé
45 Ibanez Racing Ibanez/da Rocha/Cavailhes Courage AER
46 Ranieri Randaccio Randaccio/Solieri Lucchini McLaren
47 Racing Box Biagi/Bobbi/Piccini Lola B08/86 Coupé
48 Racing Box Ceccato/Francioni/Piccini Lola B08/86 Coupé
16 32 49 Barazi Epsilon Rees/Barazi Zytek 07S

There are high resolution images posted in the Spa Gallery.

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Le Mans Series 2009

Le Mans Series 2009
Round 2. Spa-Francorchamps 1000 Kilometres
May 8th-10th 2009

Saturday Report