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Another long day . . .

The schedule for the Algarve 1000 Kilometres left little time for a break. With three sessions of practice on Friday, the teams then faced qualifying, warm-up and a six-hour race all crammed into Saturday. There was little margin for error, should any driver have a significant accident. There was also the prospect of two late nights for the crew - especially those with set-up issues to address on Friday after a hard day's running, and with mechanical or technical issues to solve. Luckily, all went well for RML through Friday, and the team was packed away in fairly good order after last Practice, and back at the track keen and eager on Saturday morning.

If it were thought possible - and the facts suggested it was - they were greeted by even clearer skies combined with a slackened breeze and yet greater intensity of sunshine on Saturday morning. It was going to be hot in those cars, and the first opportunity to find that out would come with qualifying, starting at 09:45.

Our coverage of the race was originally featured on this page, but became hugely long, so has now been moved to a dedicated page here.

RML AD Group | Algarve 1000 Kilometres | Photo: Marcus Potts

RML AD Group | Algarve 1000 Kilometres | Photo: Marcus Potts


The first twenty minutes of the qualifying was devoted to the GT cars - two GT1 and twelve GT2. To begin with just two cars took to the track; the Spyker #85 and the #89 Hankook Ferrari 430, and each had a couple of laps of the track to themselves before the rest started to trickle out. The cause of the reluctance was unclear, since there was likely to be little track improvement so early in the day.

Peter Dumbreck - he of the famous Mercedes aerobatics squad - enjoyed the responsibility of holding provisional pole for the first ten minutes of the session; his best flyer being a 1:45.526. The final ten minutes saw all that change, however, and the top times tumbled lap-by-lap, with Bruni emerging quickest with eight minutes to go - 1:43.630 making it a first four Ferrari situation.

Bruni lost out to Velander in the #95, but only for one lap, as Bruni came back with a 1:43.310. Also in among the mix was Tim Mullen in the #91 CRS version, holding third with six minutes to go.

In GT1, the #66 Atlas eFX Saleen headed the two-car pack, which came as something of a surprise. The car in question is a venerable beast, having won the GT class at Sebring in 2001, but is now showing some signs of age. Still, it's good to see an S7-R still relatively competitive after so many years. The Larbre Saleen would have been expected to be much quicker, having won the last-ever GT1 category at Le Mans last month, but Gardel appeared to be having problems in the #50, and with two minutes to go, the car was back into the pitlane.

Having gone through such an exciting two-minute period with those eight minutes remaining, the final minutes proved largely uneventful, and as the chequered flag dropped, the order remained unchanged, with Bruni (#96) on pole from Vilander (#95) and Tim Mullen third. The Spyker closed out in last position, which seems to suggest a biblical quote, something along the lines of "he who shall be first shall be last". (Matthew, parable of the vineyards I believe!) That said, though, only two seconds separated top and bottom in the GT2 grid, such is the competitiveness of the category this year. Imagine trying to get twelve (or fourteen, if you include the two GT1 cars) across the line at the end of a single lap and separate them by two seconds. The blanket needed to cover them would be relatively small, and the sight would resemble M25 on a Friday afternoon.

RML Lola HPD, Algarve 1000 Kilometres. Photo: David Stephens

Ten twenty, and the green flag dropped. First out, the #24 Oak racing Pescarolo and the #4 Oreca Peugeot, followed by the first of the Formula Le Mans Orecas; the #46. Once again, a lethargic beginning.

Tommy was fifth to join, narrowly ahead of Warren Hughes in the #44 FLM.

Lapierre, in the Peugeot, set a first-lap flyer of 1:31.581, to match last year's pole at his first attempt. He followed that with three new quick sectors and a 1:30.681. A new qualifying record.

Tommy's opening gambit was a 1:35.858 to stand second in LMP2, a few tenths behind Lahaye in the #24, but that was as close as it was going to get for a while, with a red flag drawing proceedings to a temporary close. The clock stopped with 14 minutes remaining. Some questioned later whether Tommy's time had been set after the red flags appeared, but it stood nonetheless, and would become academic anyway.

Tommynew time for the #25 of 1:35.016 was enough to demote the Oak #24 to second. "I had to back off as there were yellows at Turn 7. The car feels really good!" said the Brazilian.

Several cars had just taken to the circuit as the red flags flew, and would face the prospect of a slow return to the pitlane, and possibly less optimised tyre temperatures and pressures.

The session went green again with hardly any delay. "There's still more in the car," insisted Tommy, but with few others yet to set times, it was hard for the team to judge whether or not to send the Brazilian out again. In the end, the decision was taken to hold fire and watch . . .

Ten minutes remaining, and Danny Watts had still not made an appearance in the Strakka #42. Ditto Olivier Pla in the #40 Quifel ASM, the two main protagonists yet to show their cards. In LMP1 things were certainly happening, with both the 008 Aston and the #12 Rebellion Lola suddenly showing pace, and almost matching the Peugeot. With Lapierre back in the garage, it must have been a nail-biting time for the Oreca squad, as first Jani and then Mailleux moved to within three-tenths of the diesel's time.

RML Lola HPD, Algarve 1000 Kilometres. Photo: Peter May

Next to make a move in LMP2, the #41 Ginetta-Zytek popped into third. Pla then appeared, with seven minutes to go, and so too Moreau in the #35, and then Tommy in the #25. . . but still no Strakka.

With six minutes remaining, Danny Watts finally steered the black and sky-blue Strakka HPD out onto the circuit. This was like playing poker with a very straight face. Then, with four minutes remaining, Pla snatched provisional pole, posting 1:34.713. It was a brief moment of glory. Despite being baulked, Watts crossed the line with an astonishing 1:33.833. On his next lap he managed two new best sectors for starters, and with a clear-ish lap ahead of him, followed those with a third fastest sector for the #42. It was another improvement for the Strakka HPD, clocking 1:33.489.

Pla hadn't given up though, but a 1:34.096 merely added security to an already strong second place. Tommy, however, was getting back up to speed. A new fastest first sector for the RML Lola was followed by a matched best for the second sector. It was an improvement, with a 1:34.755, but that was as good as it was going to get. He backed off, recognising that looking after his tyres was now a more valuable exercise than pushing for a tenth or two. "We're happy with that, good effort," said Phil Barker, after Tommy conceded that he didn't think there was more to come from the current set of tyres. Setting the improved time was important though, and avoided any questions over the valifity of his pre-red flag lap.

So the chequered flag fell on a fairly predictable order, but it had been a fairly thrilling session.

Qualifying - LMP2 Times

 Team  Car  Drivers
Strakka Racing HPD ARX -01c Leventis, Watts, Kane
Quifel ASM Ginetta-Zytek 09S Amaral, Pla
RML AD Group Lola HPD Coupé Erdos, Newton, Collins
Oak Racing Pescarolo - Judd Lahaye, Nicolet
Oak Racing Pescarolo - Judd Hein, Moreau
Bruichladdich Ginetta-Zytek 09S Ojjeh, Greaves, Ebbesvik
Applewood Seven Oreca FLM Toulemonde, Beche
Hope Polevision Oreca FLM Pillon, Capillaire, Verdonck
Hope Polevision Oreca FLM Moro, Zacchia, Lombard
Boutsen Energy Oreca FLM Kraihamer, de Crem, Delhez
DAMS Oreca FLM Barlesi, Cicognani, Chalandon
DAMS Oreca FLM Hughes, Firth
Pegasus Racing Courage-Oreca AER Schell, Da Rocha
JMB Racing Oreca FLM Kutermann, Basso, Hartshorne

Tyre Manufacturer denoted by:

RML AD Group | Algarve 1000 Kilometres | Photo: Marcus Potts

Post-Qualifying with Thomas Erdos
"That went really well," said Tommy. "I drove the best I could, and I feel it was a fairly good lap, and I'm happy to have set the time without taking too much out of the tyres. I'm confident we can still double-stint that set, which should set us up well for the first third of the race."

"We made a fairly conservative choice on compounds, and set the car up for the race rather than a quick qualifying run, and I think I extracted as much as I dared, and was lucky to find one clear lap."

"After the first run, I'd lost the best of the tyres though, and the red flag didn't help. Without that, I'd have hoped to find another couple of tenths, but that wouldn't have been enough to make a difference in the order. We'd still have been third. My qualifying lap was actually one of my best laps to date, I think. I felt I nailed every corner to the max, and even with a clear tyre disadvantage against the others, we managed to post a competitive third-best time. I was very pleased with that "

RML AD Group | Ben Collin's extended fan base | Photo: Marcus Potts"We simply don't have the outright pace here for qualifying, and we've tuned the car for the race, not a single flyer. That's so much more important in a race of this length. We're happy to be where we are, which is ahead of both the Oak Pescarolos, and within sight of Olivier and Danny. I think that's a bonus, and puts us in an excellent position for the race. The first stint will be telling. It will be interesting to analyse qualifying in the light of what the cars can do in the opening hour or so, as this will give us a better indication of what the tyre performance will be like under race conditions."

"We acknowledge that the teams we're competing against here are all very, very good. They're well prepared, serious competitors, and it's going to be very close at the top. Having such a depth of competition is the best way to go racing. It's good for us, it's great for the spectators, and it's excellent for the sport."

Tommy is expected to take opening stint in the race, but is not yet sure whether he'll be able to triple stint, should he be asked to do so. "It's exhausting in the car, in these conditions," he said. "You need to be super-fit to keep going for a double-stint when the cockpit temperature is hovering around the 30 degree mark. Yes, we have air conditioning, but it's not like you'd find in a hotel room, where you can crank it up and get really cold. The system we have just takes the unbearable edge off the temperature, nothing more, and we're working so hard, all the time, in a thick race suit. I'll be happy to do a double, but a triple? We'll see!" Tommy had anticipated this, and has been on an intensive fitness regime for the last three weeks, adding to his routine schedule, which might sap the spirit of a lesser man. He's fit, and he needs to be.

RML AD Group | Algarve 1000 Kilometres | Photo: Marcus Potts

The official warm-up kicked off at 12:10, with a busy track, and the Hankook ferrari immediately in trouble, with smoke reported from the rear-left wheelarch. It returned to the pitlane, but not to the track, so the issue was deemed to be more serious than simply a tyre problem.

Tommy took the RML Lola #25 out first, and the team worked through its usual warm-up routine. With the car on full tanks, the three drivers completed a series of out-laps, single flyers and than back to the pitlane for a simulated driver change - refuel, tyre swap and fresh driver on board. Mike was second in and saw off his laps without incident, and then handed over to Ben.

Times in warm-up are rarely significant, and today was no exception. No surprise, however, to see the #4 Peugeot quickest, but seeing the #40 as fastest in LMP2 was also not unexpected. In their home race, the ASM squad is always keen to show strongly at the Algarve whatever the session, while the likes of RML and Strakka concentrate on the practicalities of final race prep. Ben Collins and Jonny Kane were circulating in formation for the last couple of laps, with Collins still finding improvements to his personal best. A 1:39.295 on his final lap was one of his best to date, so he returned to the pitlane confident that there will be more to come from the race.

RML AD Group | Algarve 1000 Kilometres | Photo: Marcus PottsBack down the pitlane, Ben faced a final simulated driver change, with everything played for real. Down the pitlane, removing his drinks tube, and preparing to slacken off his belts, then leaping out as quickly as possible, his seat insert chucked clear as Tommy clambered in. Ben's duty as departing driver is also to help the next driver into his seat, the limits of the regulations preventing more than two other members of the crew from "working on the car" at any one time.

Autograph Session
The official autograph session took place at 2:00pm, but the attendance here in the Algarve is so poor that there were not many queues, and anyone wanting to collect signatures from all drivers ought to have had an easy task, except perhaps half of the team's elected not to place their drivers out in the direct sun, and skipped the session. Mike, Tommy and Ben did their bit, and had a good crowd clamouring for autographs and the new-for-Algarve HeroCard.

The Race
Our coverage of the full six hours of the Algarve 1000 Kilometres 2010 was uploaded "live", but resulted in an unmanageably long web page. This has now been moved to a new and dedicated web page. To read a blow-by-blow account, please follow this link.

Alternatively, you may read a round-up and short press release here.

Radio & On-line: The team from Radio Le Mans offerred live coverage of the race in the Algarve. Click the button below for access to podcasts of the vital moments.

Click here to open the Radio Le Mans home page

Le Mans Series 2010

Round 3, Algarve
July 16th 2010

Saturday - Qualifying & Warm-up

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RML AD Group in the Algarve, 2010 | Photo: David Stephens, Studio 21






RML AD Group | Algarve 1000 Kilometres | Photo: Marcus Potts







RML AD Group | Algarve 1000 Kilometres | Photo: Marcus Potts









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RML AD Group | Algarve 1000 Kilometres | Thomas Erdos | Photo: Marcus Potts


RML AD Group | Algarve 1000 Kilometres | Ben Collins | Photo: Marcus Potts


RML AD Group | Algarve 1000 Kilometres | Mike Newton | Photo: Marcus Potts