It takes more than a couple of blown turbos to wipe the smile off Mike Newton’s face, and he shared the team’s positive outlook on a race in which the final result hid a very encouraging discovery. RML AD Group’s preparations for the Imola 6 Hours had not only been disrupted by the Italian weather, but also carried the legacy of the serious accident sustained at Spa. That had destroyed the team’s original HPD ARX-01d chassis, and the squad arrived for Round 3 of the 2011 Le Mans Series after very limited running with the LMS homologated package.
In a bold move on Saturday, between final practice and qualifying, the team made some radical changes to the car’s set-up, and it paid dividends – not in outright pace for qualifying, where the car’s lack of horsepower continues to restrict top-end performance – but in creating a car that was perfectly suited to racing the Imola track.
“We knew from the times all three drivers set in warm-up that we’d found the right balance for this circuit,” said Phil Barker, Team Manager at RML. “In race trim, Ben was straight down to a 1:42 on his first lap, and a 45 from Mike was very encouraging. We had planned on triple-stinting the tyres in the race, and that would have gained us perhaps thirty or forty seconds over the first three stints. It could have made all the difference. Unfortunately, towards the end of the second stint we had the first turbo problem, and that destroyed our strategy.” In a carbon-copy of the problems encountered at Le Mans, the car suffered two turbo failures. The first cost the car twelve minutes, but the second was replaced in a little over ten. Although impressive achievements in themselves, the delay dropped the RML AD Group #36 out of contention.
“After that it was obvious that we were only going to end up where we could, courtesy of whatever befell everyone else,” admitted Mike Newton, CEO of AD Group. “Under those circumstances, I felt I could drive the car like I’d stolen it! I learned more about the car in two stints here than I feel I’ve learned all season. My run just turned into an uninhibited test, and it was excellent. Tommy and the guys did such an excellent job of setting up the car for this circuit, and it was a delight to drive. I really enjoyed myself!” Mike had set himself a target of running a one-forty-four, and he achieved this several times. “Mike came through with some simply remarkable times,” admitted Phil. “He just took to this place so well, and did a great job.”
“It was great that we’d got the car that was so well balanced for the race, and we were all comfortable with the handling,” said Ben Collins, who drove the final stint and endured the second turbo failure. “If we’d found that set-up earlier in the week, then we could have been so much further forwards, but the car felt great. This track is brutal, but the car took it really well, and I loved every minute.”
“The car was excellent on race pace, and it was very encouraging to see how competitive we were against Strakka,” said Tommy Erdos. “We can only really compare our performance against them, and there was only three-tenths between the fastest laps of each car. Without the turbo issues, which prevented us making the most of the tyre strategy that we’d planned, we could have hoped for a good result. It is great credit to Dunlop that they came through with a tyre that offered us the opportunity to triple-stint with confidence, and it’s really unfortunate that we weren’t able to exploit that potential.”
“We witnessed once again how adversity brings out the best in people,” said Pauline Norstrom, Director of Motorsport and Marketing at AD Group. “It was a treat to watch the race team working with such professionalism as they always do, while under so much pressure, yet overcoming the problems to get the car back into the race at breakneck speed. They brought the car home, albeit in eleventh place, and it was just a great effort. It reinforces our philosophy of valuing the effectiveness of teamwork and, as the saying goes, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’, and we’re determined to keep on trying.”
The next opportunity to display that resolve will come in the next round of the Le Mans Series at Silverstone on September 11th.