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Drama in Estoril - Pescarolo excluded, RML wins
16 July 2001
RML (pictured) took overall victory in Sunday's European Le Mans Series 1000km race in Portugal after a day of drama.
The Pescarolo Sport Courage C60 was the first car past the chequered flag but was excluded from the results for causing an accident that eliminated the Johansson Racing Audi R8 as it led the race.
This is the first time a GTS car has taken an overall victory in ALMS / ELMS and it is also RML's first overall victory in 17 years of international Sportscar racing.
At the start of the race the prototypes disappeared into the distance, followed by the GTS class, headed by the Konrad Motorsport Saleen. In the highly competitive GT class the pole sitter Mike Youles, in the PK Sport Porsche, lost out to Xavier Pompidou in the Freisinger entered Porsche.
With only 15 minutes of the race completed, the safety car was deployed when the Skea Racing Porsche driven by Richard Dean dropped a trail of oil on the track after being hit from behind.
For a quarter of an hour the cars circulated behind the safety car before being released to start the race again. The Courage C60 went into the lead when the Audi dived into the pit lane for its first scheduled stop as the race entered its second hour.
For ten minutes the French team led the race before stopping for the first time, exiting the pit lane just 8 seconds adrift of the Gulf Audi driven by Stefan Johansson.
The 675 prototype of Didier Bonnet Racing was running well until the car lost a wheel when a spindle broke after completing just over two hours of the race. The GTS battle took a turn when Franz Konrad came into the pits for a driver change with Walter Brun. The Konrad team lost the lead to the RML Saleen as Bruno Lambert elected to stay in the car, saving valuable seconds, when he came into the pits on the very next lap, a lead that RML maintained for the rest of the race.
In GT, the 6500 spectators were captivated by the battle of the Porsches of Pompidou and Robin Liddell in the PK Sport Porsche. These two cars left the rest of the 12 car GT field in their wake and even after 150 laps they were only 3 or 4 seconds apart.
With less than an hour of the race remaining the drama unfolded as the Courage driven by Derichbourg, and a lap behind the Gulf Audi R8, tried to unlap himself at the first corner.
The two cars touched, spinning the hapless Tom Coronel at the wheel of the R8, into an uncontrollable spin. The car took off, hitting the catch fencing, before coming to rest in the gravel trap, parts of the car hitting two marshals causing minor cuts and bruises to the two officials. Debris littered the track as a very unhappy Coronel walked back to the pits.
After the safety car period the Courage C60 paced itself to the line, 12 laps ahead of the second placed RML Saleen and 16 laps ahead of the Konrad Motorsport Saleen. Roman Dumas brought the Freisinger Porsche home just 3.2 seconds ahead of the PK Sport machine.
After the race Boris Derichebourg apologised to the Gulf Audi team for his mistake but the decision was taken by the race stewards to exclude Pescarolo Sport from the results after a protest by Johansson Racing.
After finding out that the stewards decision had promoted his team to the top sport, RML Team Principal Ray Mallock expressed his happiness with his teams performance.
''It is particularly pleasing that after the disappointment of Le Mans, where we had led our class before suffering piston failure, we have bounced back with such an historic win. Mechanically and operationally this was a textbook effort and credit should go not only to the drivers, but to all the members of our team.
“We now lead the driver and team Championships and over the next two ELMS races we will look to add the series title to RML's long and impressive list of victories. We now have a guaranteed entry for Le Mans and our focus over the 12 months will be to convert that into a class victory at the worlds most prestigious endurance event.''
The results are now provisional until the appeal lodged by Pescarolo Sport has been heard.
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