Nurburgring 1000 Kms
Fast, Reliable Run To Fourth – From The Back

Practice and Qualifying

The Nurburgring can often throw up unpredictable weather but the 2006 1000km race weekend found the weather gods in a good mood – clear blue skies, sunshine and a cooling breeze – Perfect!

But the #19 Chamberlain-Synergy Lola team had a trying start to the weekend, finding in the first 90 minute practice session on Saturday morning that the car’s set-up and gearing were a long way short of the ideal for the challenging Grand Prix circuit.

Peter Owen, watching team mate Gareth Evans’ progress on the superb MoTec telemetry screens, immediately observed that the car was not even able to pull enough revs to get to sixth gear on any part of the circuit during the session. “We’re way off,” said Owen and the looks on the faces of the seasoned Chamberlain-Synergy crew, bolstered this weekend for the first time by Malcolm Swetnam, signalled their agreement.

Here's Peter Owen taking over from Gareth Evans.

It was time to think again and the team got to work as soon as the session came to a close.

That was a particular problem as this round of the Le Mans Series was just a two day race meeting, all practice and qualifying taking place on Saturday, with the 1000km race taking place on the Sunday - with just a short early morning warm-up session on day two, to sort out any last minute niggles.

What this timetable meant in practice is that the changes required to the set-up of the car had to be done quickly and under pressure. The car wasn’t quite ready for the start of the early afternoon practice session: a little more valuable track time ebbed away, but from there on in things started to look much, much better for the crew of the #19 car.

The second practice session was the last track time available before qualifying later in the afternoon and it found the Lola in much better fettle, Bob Berridge bringing the car into the top ten, well in touch with the leading cars.

“That was way better, not perfect but we’re heading in the right direction now, there are more changes to come before qualifying,” explained Gareth Evans, below.

Again the crew descended upon the Lola and the next set of changes again gave the team a major step forward, Berridge storming round in the 20 minute qualifying session to lie fourth overall on the timesheet at one point. Fourth became eighth as others improved, but the qualifying time of 1:47.510 was an encouraging result for the team’s Saturday labours. “We’d have been quicker still if we’d not lost the time earlier,” Berridge offered as he packed his driving kit away for the night, “but that will do nicely for the race, six hours is a long time.”

The team’s focus is always on the actual race itself, rather than the preliminaries such as practice and qualifying.

Race

Hopes were high for the race, a start from the fourth row in a car which had already proved to have good early pace boded very well indeed.

Bob Berridge would take the start ….but then disaster: as the cars left the grid for their formation lap behind the pace car, the #19 Lola was left stationary. Bob Berridge’s body language said it all, and as the marshals moved to push the car away, it seemed at first as if Chamberlain-Synergy’s race was over before it had even begun.

But then, amazingly, the car found drive and rocketed away, Berridge making up for lost time, unable to take up his grid position but having just enough time to join the back of the train of cars before the race began. But what had happened on the grid to delay him in the first place?

“Unbelievable bad luck!” he said later. “As someone handed me my helmet it looks as if it hit the switch for the paddleshift. The car started fine but when they moved off I couldn’t select a gear. It took me a few moments to realise what had gone wrong. Very, very frustratin’!”

So it was a pumped up Berridge who took the start, diving toward the pit wall to go inside the Rollcentre Radical as the pair crossed the line to start the race, and continued to make rapid progress through the slower GT cars.

“We had to abandon our usual conservative strategy at the start. The only way to make up any of the lost time was to go for it.”

The Lola was well up to the task as the GT2 runners were rapidly dispensed with, followed by the faster GT1 cars.

Berridge continued storming up the order, and by the half hour mark he was in an astonishing tenth place overall, having passed a grand total of 34 cars in the process – or put another way the Lola had passed a car for position on average once every 53 seconds in the first half hour of the race.

“We’ll have to make him angry more often,” said Gareth Evans, watching the telemetry from the pit garage.” He drives faster when he’s p***ed off!”

It was Evans who was due to take the wheel next, Berridge handing the Lola over in 6th place overall after a storming double stint.

As the pit stop sequence wound out the Lola stabilised in 11th slot. It was now time to switch back to a slightly more conservative pace, the opportunity to make up ground (and time) had been grabbed with both hands and it was back to the plan. “Drive it quickly and finish the race.” It’s a tactic that has served the team well.

Gareth fulfilled the brief perfectly, fast and steady lap times kept the car in touch with the pack ahead and out of the clutches of those chasing behind. And in the endurance racing game fast, steady and (crucially) reliable is a successful combination.

Whilst the Lola was proving its reliability, others were beginning to fall by the wayside. That meant that any threat from behind began to evaporate and also that cars ahead of the #19 car began to hit trouble.

Evans handed over the Lola to Peter Owen after a fine and controlled stint, Peter rejoining in tenth place with his job list matching the “fast and steady” brief too.

Once again the stint went perfectly. Peter Owen measured his pace beautifully: the car was delivered back into the welcoming, gloved hands of Bob Berridge still in tenth place after a faultless run. “I felt good after that one,” a beaming but rather warm Owen said immediately afterwards: the Gareth Evans and Peter Owen stints had offered the opportunity for Berridge to go hunting for further progress.

It wouldn’t be too long in coming. Fast times from Berridge and problems for others left the car seventh overall with 90 minutes to run.

He wasn’t done yet either. With a full blown LMP2 battle directly ahead, including the car the ‘Three Musketeers’ took to the class title in 2005, there were rich pickings ahead.

Berridge was soon right with Angel Burgueno (in the ex-Chamberlain-Synergy Lola B05/40, now run by Portugese outfit ASM) for sixth place and was now lapping regularly in the 1:49s.

Clearly in no mood to hang about, Berridge found a way past both this car and the Rollcentre Radical SR9 on the very next lap: fifth place now and just 15 seconds shy of LMP2 leader Thomas Erdos in another LMP2 Lola.

With the gap closing for fourth one of the harsh realities of motorsport battles loomed large. Berridge was due a routine but essential pit stop for new rubber and a full tank of fuel.

Cue a repeat performance, Berridge repassing Burgueno for fifth, but then running wide under braking and dropping behind again. The Radical was now ahead of both battling yellow Lolas, but Martin Short was struggling whilst the Erdos MG Lola was the latest car to hit trouble dropping to the foot of the top ten.

After a couple of laps making up the ground lost to Burgueno, Bob Berridge made the move stick and with Short pitting to hand the Radical over to Joao Barbosa, the #19 car was now sitting in a most impressive fourth place.

All too soon though it was time for the #19 car’s final pit stop, Berridge staying aboard for a third consecutive stint and rejoining 20 seconds behind the still battling LMP2 cars. And it was this battle that was to present Berridge with a further boost up the order, Barbosa and Burgueno clashing on track, the Radical spinning off and Burgueno penalized with a 60 second stop/go penalty. That was more than enough for the Chamberlain-Synergy man to claim fourth overall, and he’d hold it to the end of the race – just off the podium, but after starting 44th on track the Lola boys would surely be delighted?

A wry smile from Berridge though is as good as it gets - “I’d rather have started eighth and finished third.” Fair comment really after the woes at the very start of the race, but what a chase for the Lola! Fast and faultlessly reliable, despite being pushed harder than the team planned. That bodes well for the team’s next outing on home ground at Donington Park in August.

The switch to the LMP1 class has already proven to be a very good one, with excellent finishes at two of the three 1000 kilometre races so far (third at Istanbul, fourth here). That leaves the crew of #19 equal second in the points, with the Swiss Spirit team, on 11. The crack Pescarolo outfit is out of reach already, with 30 points (three wins out of three) - but it's looking like an excellent race for runner-up spot.

 

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