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
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."
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.
Up & Morning
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
should be the third car leaving the pits -
Aston Martin, Strakka and then Tommy in the
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
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.
The leaders complete their first proper racing
lap, with the two Peugeots now starting to
ease away from Senna's multi-coloured Oreca.
has moved through to 12th in LMP2, ten seconds
behind the eleventh placed car. Olivier Pla
has taken the lead in LMP2 from Pompidou,
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
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."
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.".
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
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
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
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.
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
Emanuel Collard gets ahead of Pompidou to
take the class lead. Tommy has a bad lap in
traffic and loses four seconds.
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.
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.
second hour starts with Minassian still leading
overall from team-mate Marc Gene with Darren
Turner third in the first of the two Lola
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."
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.
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
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
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.
the stop complete, Mike powered out of the
pitlane to rejoin, albeit in 28th place overall.
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.
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.
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.
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.
are high resolution images posted in the