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RML AD Group Turn the Corner in Algarve 1000 kms

Several minor delays curtailed what was still RML AD Group’s best result of the season in Round 3 of the Le Mans Series on Saturday night. Tommy Erdos drove a blistering opening stint to work through from 32nd on the grid to challenge for second in LMP2, but during Mike Newton’s middle stint in the RML Lola Mazda the car picked up a strange vibration, and in the final stages of the race a coolant leak and electrical issues added to the time lost.

Perhaps the strangest problem faced by the team was a metre-long scrap of Astroturf, which became trapped around part of the car’s suspension. Used to decorate the run-off on some corners around the Autodromo do Algarve, segments steadily disintegrated during the race and troubled several teams. This, combined with a coolant leak and a misfire – the latter solved by a costly seven-minute pitstop for replacement plugs and coil - would demand four additional pitstops, and cost the team an almost certain podium.

In a season when simply finishing a race has become an aspiration, to take the chequered flag in seventh was a bonus that netted two points towards a total that had started to look like a good score in the BBC’s cerebral quiz show QI. A blown engine in Round 1 secured a penalty of minus two, but any subsequent failure is scored at minus four, so RML faced the Algarve 1000 Kilometres ten points down. For the same reason, Tommy Erdos also started from the back of the grid after cumulative penalties totalling 20 grid positions were imposed on his front-row qualifying run, demoting the #25 Lola Mazda from row six to sixteen.

The team took these handicaps in good spirit and, fired by determination, Thomas Erdos drove a remarkable opening stint, taking nine cars on the first lap and reaching seventh in LMP2 inside eight. He continued to push, and as the race entered its second hour and darkness fell, he was lying third in class. A quick pitstop for fuel, and the Brazilian resumed the chase, closing to within three seconds of second place before completing his double-stint. “I was very pleased to have got us into a position where we could challenging for second after starting so well back,” he said. “We certainly demonstrated the underlying pace of the Lola Mazda. The guys put together such a good car for the race – it was simply delightful to drive - and that’s all credit to the team.”

Mike Newton, CEO of AD Group, drove two full stints and an extra splash-and-dash third in the middle of the race, but towards the end of his time in the cockpit he endured a vibration that steadily grew worse. “At first I assumed it was pick-up,” he said, but at the next pitstop the true cause was revealed. “The Astroturf was flapping around the front wheel and wishbone assembly, which combined with the normal tyre pick-up to create a severe vibration. That made my second stint very difficult, with driving in the dark being complicated by blurred vision from the juddering.”

The debris was successfully removed and Mike completed his spell at the wheel before handing back to Tommy for the concluding two hours. During that final stint the data technicians began to detect some severe temperature spikes and pressure irregularities in the cooling system. “The car was losing fluid, but it was hard to pinpoint exactly where it was coming from. The temperature and pressure started fluctuating wildly after that,” explained Team Manager Phil Barker. As a result, Tommy had to make four extra pitstops during the final period. “We kept pressure-filling the system, and after the second time we did that, the car did another 30 or 40 laps before it started again.”

Time lost in the pits is harder to recover on track, but Tommy was consistently one of the quickest in LMP2 as he worked back to 7th at the flag. “Those last laps were remarkable,” added Phil. “Without the water leak, we’d certainly have been fifth, or better, but it’s so galling. We started off down at the back of the grid, and yet fought through to third in class, and might have soon made it through to second.”

“Despite these niggly problems, we clearly had the pace,” said Mike. “We managed a clean, consistent, safe run, but that only serves to demonstrate just how competitive the LMP2 class is. You can’t afford to encounter even a very minor issue without falling back out of contention. One good point to come out of this race is that the engine felt very stable, and it’s certainly well run-in now, so hopefully it will be OK for the Nürburgring. We’ll also arrive there without facing any fresh penalties, which is a real bonus!”

Pauline Norstrom, Director of Worldwide Marketing for AD Group, the team’s principal sponsor, was impressed by the team’s performance. “We had been very pleased with qualifying on Friday,” she said, “but we’re even more delighted by the pace of the car in today’s race. Tommy made a solid run through to third in class, and was challenging for second, and that’s very encouraging. All credit to the team and both drivers.”

Tommy felt that the team had worked exceptionally hard for small return, but if a corner has been turned, than RML can look forward to the final races of the year with renewed optimism. There are just three weeks until Round 4 at the Nürburgring, scheduled for August 22nd-23rd.

LMP2 Result

Pos No. O/a Team Driver Car
Best Lap
6 Quifel ASM Amaral/Pla Ginetta-Zytek GZ09S
7 Racing Box Ceccato/Francioni/Piccini Lola B08/86 Coupé
3 41 8 GAC Racing Team Ojeh/Gosselin/Peter Zytek 07S
9 Racing Box Biagi/Bobbi/Piccini Lola B08/86 Coupé
5 33 11 Speedy Sebah Pompidou/Luenberger/Kane Lola B08/80 Coupé
12 Oak Racing Ajlani/Lahaye Pescarolo Mazda
13 RML AD Group Erdos/Newton Lola B08/86 Coupé
21 Oak Racing Nicolet/Hein Pescarolo Mazda
24 WR Salini Salini/Salini/Jouanny WR Zytek
25 Bruichladdich Bruneau/Greaves/Sini Radical SR9 AER
      NOT CLASSIFIED (Not running or less than 150 laps)  
28 Ibanez Racing Ibanez/da Rocha/Cavailhes Courage AER
31 Q8 Oils Hache Jorda/Cortes/Nieto Lucchini Judd

For high resolution digital photographs, please visit the Algarve Gallery.

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Le Mans Series 2009

Round 3. Autodromo do Algarve 1000 Kilometres
July 31st - August 1st 2009

Post-Race Press Release.
Issued August 2nd 2009