Fast, Reliable Run To Fourth – From The Back
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.
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
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
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
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.”
focus is always on the actual race itself, rather than the preliminaries
such as practice and qualifying.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
be too long in coming. Fast times from Berridge and problems for
others left the car seventh overall with 90 minutes to run.
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.
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
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
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.