Thomas Erdos make an impressive sportscar-racing debut at the weekend in the 1000 kilometre endurance event at Le Mans in France. Driving an MG-Lola EX257 sports prototype for RML, the Wellingborough-based racecar preparation specialists, Erdos set the fastest time in LMP 675 to qualifying on class pole, fourth overall.

With much of the car's testing completed in the wet, qualifying was a novel experience for the Brazilian. Bright sunshine and a dry track brought out the best in the nimble prototype, with Erdos able to set a time of 1 minute 29.533 seconds for the 4.2 kilometre Le Mans Bugatti circuit. This placed the MG-Lola in the middle of the more powerful LMP900 pack, and a full half-second clear of the pre-event class favourites, the Judd-engined sister car entered by Intersport Racing.

"To have qualified on pole by such a margin against a car of the same make, and one which has been competing regularly all year, gave me a great sense of achievement," admitted Erdos. "It's a credit to the whole RML crew."

Sunday brought heavy rain and cold temperatures. Confident in the capabilities of the Dunlop wet-weather tyres, Erdos and his co-drivers, Mike Newton and Chris Goodwin, still had every reason to hope for a good result. Erdos was selected to take the rolling start, and lined up on the second row in auspicious company. Ahead were just two cars; one an example of the all-conquering Audi R8, winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours for three consecutive years, and the other the Racing for Holland Dome, driven by Jan Lammers.

Erdos was in a good position for the start, tucked onto the inside and with a clear run up the main straight. As the lights turned green the track became shrouded in dense spray as 35 cars headed towards the first corner. Erdos, jostling for position among the leaders, went for his brakes, but his foot - and the car - kept travelling. A passenger in the slippery conditions, Erdos was sent spinning off the track, narrowly missing the cars around him. More than half the field had sped past before he recovered the track, leaving the MG-Lola in 19th overall. Erdos struggled gamely with the spongy pedal and started to make progress through the midfield, but the braking situation steadily worsened.

With half an hour completed he headed for the pitlane, where the team spent nearly ten minutes bleeding the system. Erdos and the car were instantly transformed. Restored to one of the fastest cars on the circuit, the RML MG-Lola began to cut its way through the field. It was an awesome display by Erdos, who moved from penultimate place to 30th inside twenty minutes, establishing a fastest lap in class along the way.

"Once we'd sorted the brakes we were lapping as fast as the overall leaders," confirmed Erdos. "We climbed back up to third in class!" By the close of the second hour he was into the top twenty and running line-astern with Lammers' Dome and the recovering Lister Storm, both LMP 900 entrants. Not only was he keeping pace with them but the gap was visibly closing.

Then, with 65 laps completed, disaster struck. The car lost drive. Erdos coaxed the MG-Lola back to the pitlane where a differential failure was confirmed. It was a devastating blow for all the team, and especially Chris Goodwin, who had been keenly anticipating the next stint.

Despite the initial disappointment the team could draw many positives from the weekend. "It was a great effort by everyone," said Erdos. "In a short space of time we managed to learn much about the car, and working with RML has been a fantastic experience. Everyone is so focused on the job. I'm very grateful to them, and to Mike Newton, for including me in the driver line-up. I hope that I have contributed in a positive way to the relationship and that RML will be able to continue their development of the car in their quest for the LMES title in 2004."

The Le Mans 1000 kilometres rounds off the European season for Erdos, but he and Newton are heading out to Australia next week to take part in the last major endurance race of the year, the Bathurst 24 Hours. There they will share the GNM Porsche 911 GT3-RS with Austrian Manfred Jurasz and Australian Rod Wilson.

Picture credits: Marcus Potts/CMC.



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