Le Mans 2006
The Race - June 17-18

The ‘steady start’ to the Chamberlain-Synergy LMP1 attack on the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours continued in the race morning warm-up.

Bob Berridge took to the 8-mile track in hot conditions at 09.00, setting a best lap of 3m45.710 to go seventh quickest, putting a handful of laps on the car in readiness for the start later today.

Hugh Chamberlain was found finishing his breakfast just after the session and summed up his view.

“It went out, it came back again! That was all we were looking for and it was fine. No problems at all. We’re just waiting to start the plan at 5pm now,” he smiled.

As you’ll have read, this car and team have taken a cautious and steady approach to the race meeting so far. But the speed trap figures from Thursday night’s qualifying session show that the Lola is knocking on the door of the Audis and Pescarolos, so a strong finish is certainly on the cards for this trio.

17:00: Bob Berridge in the car for the start – maintains his 11th place slot on the opening lap.

Safety car period called due to Babini’s shunt in the Aston Martin. The Lola pitted from P11 under safety car for fuel, rejoined in 14th place after the stop.

17:30: Bob moves up to 13th place, passing the #64 Corvette ...

..and chasing after team-mate Warren Hughes in the LMP2 car and Barbosa in the Radical.

17:45: Still in 13th and chasing down the P2 Radical and Lola ahead. The next place in LMP1 is the #12 Courage, just over 15 seconds ahead, but lapping slightly faster than the Chamberlain-Synergy car at this point.

17:55: Up to 12th place as the LMP2 leading Lola pits. Bob is now right behind the P2 Radical but struggling to find a way past as the traffic builds up around the circuit.

17:59: Just before the hour and a clear pass on the Mulsanne gives Bob P10, now 20 seconds behind Hughes in the sister car.

Hour 2
18:03: The Lola drops back outside the top ten as Alex Yoong moves ahead of Bob after a stop-go penalty. That car was P3 before its penalty and is running at a quicker pace than the Chamberlain car.

18:15: Bob pits from P9 and hands over to Gareth Evans. Fuel and tyres taken on and rejoins in 14th place. He immediately passes the leading Corvette and takes up place behind Barbosa in the Radical.

Hugh Chamberlain reports from the garage that everything is running fine. So far, so good.

18:44: Gareth moves up to 12th as the P2 leading RML Lola pits. He’s running a consistent pace to stay sandwiched 40 seconds behind the Radical and five seconds ahead of Wallace in the RML car.

Hour 3
19:03: Into the third hour and Gareth drops down to 13th as Wallace moves past him in the RML MG-Lola. However, the #22 Radical pits and it’s a long stop, which hands 12th back to the Lola, just.

19:10: Gareth pits and hands over to Peter Owen for his first stint behind the wheel of the Lola, rejoining in 14th but with plenty of time in hand over the #13 Courage behind.

“It feels a bit sluggish, but that’s the engine, not me,” says Gareth after getting out of the car. “The engine guys are going to take a look at it and do something, but it’s going to take two minutes to do, so that will happen later tonight probably. Everything’s fine other than that though.”

19:35: Peter Owen working his way through his stint. The GT2 traffic is keeping him busy around the track but with the cushion he has both in front and behind he’s keeping out of trouble as the sun sinks lower in the sky.

19:58: About to head into hour four and Peter is still holding station in 14th. The GT1 battle ahead of him is pulling the cars away from him, but he is scheduled for a stop within the next few laps.

20:10: Just as Peter’s first stint is drawing to a close he gets a chop across the bows from one of the Pescarolo cars at the end of the Mulsanne.

“I was driving so steadily, so, so steadily, keeping out of everything’s way, being courteous to all the quicker cars and he just out-braked himself into Mulsanne corner,” said an angry Owen, after getting out of the car. “All he had to do was wait another couple of seconds and he’d have had a clear run out of the corner. Just unbelievable.”

Bob Berridge gets back aboard, fuel and tyres taken on too. There’s no apparent damage or issues with the car, so it at present it looks as if the team is keeping out of trouble, just.

Hour 4
20:25: Bob moves back into the top 16 (first page on the timing screens) after the stop. On his current pace it shouldn’t be long before he’s taken 15th, 14th and 13th too, as they’re all slower GT1 cars ahead.

20:32: Two places up, 14th is now safe and there is only 27 seconds to the Alphand Corvette ahead.

20:46: Bob moves ahead of the #7 Audi R10 as it is held up for six laps in the pits. Up to twelfth place, then becomes eleventh on the next lap.

Hour 5
The Lola is now 6th in class and where the team thought they might be, when discussing possible outcomes at the beginning of the week. But there are a handful of slower cars ahead and the big guns of Audi are struggling: there could be more in store for the team yet.

21:25: Bob initially drops down to 12th as Kristensen in the Audi fights his way back through the field. But the sister LMP2 car has to pit and needs a plug change, promoting the Lola back up to 11th place.

21:34: The Lola is having engine problems and the call has been made on the radio to pull the car into the garage at the next routine stop to check it over and find the problem.

22.00 Bob Berridge pits and gets out and the car is wheeled into the garage: the mechanics descend upon the Lola to find the problem. Bob comes out the back of the garage to say there’s an oil leak.

As of 22:11 the stop has dropped the car to 18th place. Gareth Evans is in the car in the garage, ready to go as soon as the team has completed the work.

“There’s an oil leak and they’re working on it now,” was all Bob could say after a great stint at the wheel that had moved the car into a solid position. This is the first problem the team has encountered all week so far.

22:24: The car is still in the garage being worked on.

22:36: the team has dropped right back down to 36th overall and is still in the pits.

Hour 6
23:00: Gareth Evans has got out of the car and is sitting in the back of the garage while the team works on the car.

“It was a wastegate problem that was the initial concern and then when we got the car back in the garage they discovered an oil leak. They’re changing the oil pump now and hopefully we’ll be back out in about ten or fifteen minutes, but we’ve lost over an hour now,” said a dejected looking Gareth.

The team now lies in 41st place, 25 laps off the leaders and two behind the Lister Storm.

Hour 7
23:56: The Lola LMP1 car is back out on circuit, albeit in 43rd place. Almost two hours lost in the pits for an oil scavenge pump change has put it right out of contention, at least at this point. But there is still a long way to go. Gareth Evans is behind the wheel and is immediately lapping quicker than at least half a dozen cars ahead of him, although he has at least four laps to make up to gain the next place.

Hour 8
00:19: Gareth makes up a lap on the #36 Courage ahead and is lapping around 30 seconds a lap faster than it and the Pilbeam further up the road.

00:21: 42nd place may be about to come up slightly early for the Chamberlain-Synergy car as the #36 Belmondo Courage is creeping slowly round the circuit.

00:28: The Belmondo car stops on the track as Gareth has two laps to make up. Now one as it passes the start/finish line. The next target is the Pilbeam which has four laps in hand but is lapping ten seconds slower than the Lola.

00:36: 42nd place is taken and the Pilbeam is in the pits being worked on, its lead is now down to three laps over Gareth and shrinking rapidly.

00:42: The Pilbeam is still parked in its garage as Gareth has just one lap to gain back. Next in line is the LMP2 Courage of Barazi-Epsilon, five laps up the road, but the Lola has been consistently 10-15 seconds faster up to this point.

00:45: Gareth pits, all routine, and is back out again quickly.

00:47: Locked brake flat spots a tyre and Gareth is straight back in again for replacements.

00:57: Just before 1am Gareth passes the stationary Pilbeam and moves up a place (now 41st). The Barazi Courage is now six laps clear with the Lola lapping ten seconds faster.

Hour 9
01:13: The fresh set of tyres is obviously helping, Gareth is lapping 20 seconds faster than Barazi and has pulled back one lap on the Courage.

01:30: The #12 Courage is now the next target for the Chamberlain Synergy car as it sits being worked on in the pits. Barazi has passed it and is still five laps clear and is lapping in a similar pace to Gareth now.

01:53: Gareth hands over to Peter Owen after a double stint behind the wheel of the yellow Lola. A relieved but happier Gareth is pleased that the car is back out and circulating.

“It’s running and its better than it was before we had the problem, but it’s still not 100%. Mike (Lancaster) is looking at the data and its showing that it’s down on power on one side of the engine,” said Gareth.

“It was a good run though, definitely good fun!” he smiled. “We’ll keep going and see what happens, there’s still a long way to go yet. We’re still on the bottom timing screen at the minute, which isn’t where we want to be.”

Hour 10
02:07: Peter is lapping slower than the next placed car – the #12 Courage – but the two cars in front of them - #73 & #80 Porsches are both currently in the pits being worked on. Two laps to make up on the #80 Porsche and a further two on the #73.

02:21: Peter moves up into 40th position as he passes the #80 Porsche that is still stranded in the pit-lane. Alexander Frei is lapping slightly quicker ahead, but the #73 Porsche is ten seconds slower and only three laps up on him.

02:46: Peter ends his stint after making up one more place and keeping out of trouble. Bob Berridge climbs aboard the car, also taking on fuel and tyres and heads back out into the night as another hour nears completion.

02:58: Bob moves up to 39th just before the hour ticks by. There are now two laps to pull back on the #73 Porsche, which has now pitted.

Hour 11
03:14: The safety car message is shown on the timing screens – reason as yet unknown – the team makes the call to bring Bob into the pits. “I’ll have a large fries and a milkshake to go please!” said the voice from the cockpit as he enters the pit-lane.

03:22: Bob is now into 37th position as the safety car parades the field around the circuit in the darkness. This is about to become 36th as the No 61 Ferrari is parked in the pit-lane.

03:27: Track goes green again and within a lap the Lola has moved into 36th place. A slow lap from the No 12 Courage ahead has narrowed the gap to two laps with Bob lapping seven seconds faster on the last lap.

03:36: A possible radio problem between the car and the pits means that the team will have to revert to using the pit-board for signals and messages.

03:57: The team get a break of luck as the No 12 Courage ahead of them is called in for a stop-go penalty. Bob is currently lapping between 10 and 20 seconds faster than the Courage, but the time spent in the pit-lane will certainly help to overhaul their LMP1 rival.

Hour 12
04:03: Just after the 11 hour marker Bob pulls a lap back on the Courage, it’s now just one lap ahead and is being reeled in at over 10 seconds a lap, with its stop-go still yet to be served.

04:15: Bob Berridge comes in for his scheduled stop. Gareth Evans is suited up and ready to get in if required, but Bob decides to stay aboard for another stint. The team has reverted to using the pit board to give the drivers signals for the time being. A plan is to try and change the radio set in the car at some point, possibly at the driver changeover at the end of this stint.

The No 12 Courage came into the pits with a puncture just before Bob came in. The added time stopped has allowed the Lola to now move up into 35th position, three laps back from a pair of GT2 Porsches.

04:42: Bob is driving a superb stint in the darkness to reel in the slower cars in front at over 20 seconds a lap.

04:50: Bob finally comes in to hand over to Gareth Evans. The car is pulled back into the garage for a 12-hour overhaul. A new radio is hopefully going to be fitted and the team is looking at the wastegate once again.

“The car is good, everything is fine,” said Bob. “Apart from the wastegates, continually,” he added.

He hands the car over just before the half-way mark in the race in 34th place, but the time that will be spent in the garage will wipe out some of the hard work done during the early hours of the morning.

Hour 13
05:33 After almost half an hour in the garage, the Lola is wheeled back out and Gareth sets out as the sky begins to get light. The next prototype for him to aim for is the Barazi Courage, two laps ahead.

05:56: Just before 6am and the gap to the Porsche in front has been halved to one lap, with Gareth lapping just over 10 seconds faster.

Hour 14
06:19: Gareth pits from 34th place after trading times with the Barazi Courage for the majority of the stint. He stays in the car and heads back out to continue giving the No 32 a hard time.

06:55: A hard stint allows Gareth to get onto the same lap as the IMSA Porsche ahead of him as the next hour ticks off the clock. With about half a stint left it might be that the Lola can move up onto the second page of the timing screens over the next couple of hours.

Hour 15
07:11: Gareth pits from 34th place and stays behind the wheel for what will be his third stint in the car.

07:18: He comes back into the pits complaining of what feels like a loose rear wheel. The team put fresh rubber on the car to try and cure the problem, what could possibly be pick-up on the rear tyres. Unfortunately, the extra stop has wiped out the hard work done by Gareth over the first two stints in catching up to the IMSA car.

07:34: It’s looking as though the team may inherit 33rd place due to the mis-fortune of the sister LMP2 car, which is back in the garage on another long stop. It’s currently two laps up on the LMP1 car but does not show signs of leaving the garage in the immediate future.

07:39: The Lola moves up a place and is back to being one lap behind the No 76 Porsche and a place on the second timing screen. Small consolation for a car that was hovering around with the front runners in the early part of the race

07:46: The demise of the Dome has finally allowed the Lola to jump up onto the second page of timing screens.

07:53: A long stop by the Barazi Courage finally allows the Lola through and up one more place, it now lies 31st overall, eighth in class and just 20 seconds behind the No 76 Porsche for 30th overall with the hour about to tick over.

Hour 16
08:22: Bob Berridge is back behind the wheel after Gareth Evans steps out from an epic triple stint that has put the Lola onto the second page of the timing screens (up five places from 05:30 this morning). Amazingly he doesn’t look like he’s completed just over three hours straight at Le Mans.

“I feel it though!” he smiled. “We’re up onto the next page, which is a step in the right direction. The engine still wasn’t right either. I just didn’t have the grunt that I should have had. I would get to the top speed at the end of the Mulsanne, but it just took a lot longer to get there,” he said.

“The guys have altered the map when I got out though, so hopefully that will have cured it. Bob’s got back in again and hopefully we can keep moving up the order, that’s the plan anyway.”

There are another 20 laps between the LMP1 Lola and the first timing screen, with eight and a half hours of the race left to run from this point. But there are more cars spending more time in the pits, so the gap ahead may shrink dramatically in the next few hours.

08:38: Bob’s on a flyer and sets the car’s fastest lap of the race so far, a 3m44.754. On the back of Gareth’s triple stint, the crew of this car look determined to make as much time up as possible after the trials during the night. The top six may be out of the question by this point, but is a place on the first timing page the new objective? He immediately does another fastest middle sector for the No 19 car on his next lap. Up to P27.

The Radical and Spyker may be able to assist in the ambition, as they are both spending vast amounts of time in their respective garages and the Lola is picking the laps off. A 3m46.321 on his next lap and another quick middle sector: the new engine map seems to have cured the lack of grunt at least.

08:46: Up to 26th and less than a minute to the Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari for 25th.

08:53: The Ferrari is dispatched just before the hour is up and the Radical and Spyker are still motionless in their respective garages. There’s two laps to gain on the Dutch car and four on the British LMP2 to make it to 23rd place.

08:57: The Lola is now lapping faster than everything except the leading LMP1 cars (Audi’s, Pescarolos and the Zytek - which it’s matching). A 3m45 just before 9am shows its back on the pace it had from the start.

Hour 17
09:15: The team now stands in 23rd overall, seventh in class. There are eleven laps to overcome before the next car, the JLOC Lamborghini can be taken.

09:25: Another fastest lap, as the track is getting hotter. The gap to the next car is now ten laps, and the car Bob is catching is now the Intersport Lola.

09:44: The Safety car is called out, there’s oil down at Indianapolis. Bob Berridge has the gap down to the JLOC Lamborghini to six laps and the Italian exotic is currently in the pits. The team takes the opportunity to change drivers. The gap is down to five laps, but the Lambo is back out and circulating and Bob hands over to Peter Owen for his first stint since the middle of the night.

09:57: Peter is back out onto the track, but the safety car and the pit stop have dropped them a lap, back to six between the Lola and the Lamborghini.

Hour 18
10:22: The Larbre Ferrari, which has actually stopped, is dropping down the order and will be the next place the Lola inherits, on its way back through the field. Peter is lapping around seven seconds faster than the Lamborghini, but there is still the matter of the six laps it has in hand over the LMP1.

10:44: Puncture sensors go off in the Chamberlain Synergy pit and the crew call Peter over the radio to slow down and pit immediately. The team will take advantage and change drivers at the same time. Gareth Evans will take over in the Lola.

10:59: Gareth Evans is now at the wheel as the team enters the last six hours of the race.

Hour 19
11:38: The Creation Hybrid has spent a long time in its garage and has dropped down the order. The Chamberlain-Synergy car is now just one lap down from it and is about to move into the top 20. Gareth is circulating a lot faster than the Lamborghini that is five laps ahead, but it will be a long wait before it makes all the places back up. It’s now just nine laps away from the first timing screen, with just over five hours left to run.

Hour 20
12:04: Gareth Evans is midway into a double stint, although he isn’t making any impression on the Lamborghini ahead. It’s been a superb fight-back through the field so far, but the larger gaps between competitors could prove to be too much to overcome in the last five hours.

12:45: The Intersport Lola spends an extended period in the pits and it allows Gareth to close the distance between them to three laps. It then has to pit again and the gap closes to a single lap before he comes in to hand over to Bob Berridge. The Chamberlain team gives the Lola a once over as Bob climbs aboard and new tyres are fitted.

Hour 21
13:10: Bob passes Duncan Dayton in the Intersport car to move into 19th place. The Zytek is currently in the pits being worked on and it only has a lap in hand over the Lola. With just under four hours of the race remaining the possibility of making it back into the top 16 looks possible, but they’ll need luck too. Its current position gives the team sixth in class.

13:17: Make that fifth in class as the Zytek slips behind while stuck in the pits. The GT1 Lamborghini and the LNT Panoz are the two cars ahead. But the Esperante has a seven lap cushion over the No 19 Lola with the LMP1 lapping about 30 seconds faster.

13:20: All the hard work could be for nothing though as Bob radios the pits to say he’s got gear selection problems. The team gets ready for a ratio change, but it looks like it will take at least 30-minutes with a ‘hot ‘box’. The team sets to the task as soon as the car is wheeled into the garage: getting the Lola to the finish appears to be the main aim at this point in the race.

Hour 22
Into the final three hours and the team is still working on fixing the gearbox/drive train problem that halted Bob Berridge’s charge back towards the top 16 overall. He had already reclaimed fifth in class before having to head for the garage.

14:32: Hugh Chamberlain doesn’t think that the gearbox on the Lola is fixable.

“I don’t think we can actually repair it,” he says. “We’re going to try and cobble something together to see if we can get it to the line, but I’m not so sure it’s going to be possible.”

The team has come so close to picking up the race finish that they wanted. After they fixed the oil pump problem overnight and solved the engine mapping issue during Sunday morning, Bob Berridge was flying, hauling the Lola back up the order. Gareth Evans’ fantastic triple stint, also on Sunday morning to back up an early Berridge charge put the squad back in the hunt for a place inside the top twenty and into the top five in the LMP1 class.

As it stands they will pick up fifth in LMP1, but may be unable to cross the line after 24 hours.

Hour 23/24
With just one hour left on the clock the team seem determined that the car will cross the line. Hugh Chamberlain thinks that the car will manage two laps with the ‘fix’ that they’ve come up with, enough to bring the car home.

It was a steady, foolproof plan for the No 19 Chamberlain Synergy Lola during the course of the 2006 Le Mans week. A top six finish (they should be classified fifth in LMP1, albeit 25th overall) was more than possible in the early stages when the car ran well. Once the engine mapping issue was solved on Sunday morning the car flew, all the way back towards ‘page one of the timing screens,’ as Gareth Evans pointed out.

Bob Berridge is able to cross the line to take a finish in the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours, a Hugh Chamberlain ‘quick fix’ was enough to get the car home.

“I don’t know how the guys in the team did what they did,” exclaimed Bob Berridge after climbing from the car. “I had 1st and 5th gears and we’d worked out that we had to do two laps and that the last one had to be less than six minutes, with those two gears!”

“We’ll be back next year. But it won’t be as close as that though, will it?” said Hugh Chamberlain.

Gareth Evans drove like a pro, triple stinting in conditions that many a paid driver would have baulked at. And Peter Owen didn’t put a wheel wrong, all weekend. He even had to take evasive action from one of the race favourite Pescarolos! The team works well together and at an event like Le Mans that is of paramount importance.

Unfortunately, when the official race results came into the media centre on Sunday evening the sad truth was discovered that the hard work that the team had put in came to nothing. The No 19 Chamberlain-Synergy Lola was not included in the classified results. Just outside the lap limit to be included in the results.

Well, that was wrong - an unfortunate fact of posting information so quickly. When the final, final results sheet was issued, as opposed to the final hourly page, there was the Lola in 25th place.

"We'd calculated that the winning Audi would complete 380 laps, which was spot on, so we'd aimed to complete 266 laps," explains Bob Berridge. "We got another one in just to be sure."

Clear thinking, even after nearly 24 hours of graft, saw the Chamberlain-Synergy Lola on the classified list.

After not finishing the race last year, 2006 must be seen as a victory, of sorts, for Bob Berridge, Gareth Evans, Peter Owen, Hugh Chamberlain and his squad. But you can bet that next year they will aim for the glory, as well as the chequered flag.


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