So How Was Your Season, Tommy Erdos?

Winning Le Mans in 2005 was, without doubt, the highlight for all involved with the AD Group/RML Sportscar programme. So how could we possibly better that in 2006? Simple… by winning the Le Mans Series title in 2006 along with a second consecutive win at La Sarthe! We almost managed both - in fact we couldn't have come any closer...

Missing the Le Mans Series title in 2005 by a single point was a hard pill to swallow. What made it worse was that it happened with less than 15 minutes to go after a long and very difficult six-hour event in Istanbul. We definitely did not want to experience that sort of thing again…. Little did we know that the very last event of 2006 would remind us again “ it ain’t over until… you see the chequered flag”…

The win at Le Mans did come again and we SO enjoyed that one this year. It was a very different Le Mans from 2005. This year we had a pretty clean run throughout the event. If it weren’t for a minor turbo boost problem at the beginning of the race, we would have led the LMP2 Class for the entire 24 hours. The RML crew won the best crew award. And they so deserved it! Mike Newton rose to the occasion – again! – and performed faultlessly throughout the event. He also made sure that I finished as the highest placed Brazilian at Le Mans this year by overtaking Piquet’s Aston Martin…on the last lap. Sweeeet…. Thank you Mike!

Having Andy Wallace in the car at Le Mans this year was a special treat. Sharing race cars has never been an easy concept for me. Coming from a single-seater background, it has always felt somewhat unnatural to share a car. But when sharing with drivers like Andy, it’s just…well…easy!. Mike and I have been very lucky to have drivers like Warren Hughes, Johnny Kane and Andy Wallace involved in our programme. All very fast and great team players. Andy has achieved so much in sportscar racing. It was such a pleasure to work with him and a great honour to share the MG-Lola with one of the biggest names in sportscar racing today. I hope we can work together again in the not too distant future.

Istanbul was our first challenge in 2006. The final event of 2005 now became the season opener. I really enjoy driving the track…shame about the rest…Qualifying goes very well. We are fourth overall and on pole in LMP2. So far so good but then, come race day, and the lights turned green, it rapidly went downhill…or more like sharply left and into the wall.

Hit by an over-excited Frenchman driving his LMP1 machine from the third row of the grid. I did not even see him coming. The road was wet and greasy, it was the start of the first event in 2006, difficult track conditions …just a plain stupid move. I thought, for sure, that’s the end of our Istanbul race. But when you are associated with highly competent and motivated individuals like the RML crew, if you can get the car back to the pits…somehow…anything is possible. What looked like a certain DNF result became a solid top six in class. The car was back out on track 40 minutes after the start line incident. Such is my confidence in my crew; I posted the fastest lap of the class on my second flying lap. There was a degree of anger inside me at that point, which may have contributed towards the immediate pace. But the fact was that after the kind of damage the car had sustained, you should take it easy for a few laps…However, there’s a mutual respect between crew and drivers at RML. It is based on trust. Not only do I trust them to give me a fast and reliable car but more importantly, I know that they will not release the car into my hands if they did not feel 100% that I have a safe car to race with. As a driver, it gives you a huge amount of confidence. We race at circuits around the world experiencing incredible cornering speeds, with approaching speeds sometimes in excess of 190mph. The confidence I have in the RML crew gives me the reassurance I need when racing at places like Spa, flying into Eau Rouge or turning into Indianapolis (Le Mans) nearly flat in top gear! What a great team to drive for…I’m really looking forward to working with all of them again in 2007.

The rest of the season went very well for us in the sense that we were always heading the LMP2 field. At every event we managed to place the AD Group MG Lola on pole position and we led every event in 2006. Unfortunately, lady luck wasn’t always with us. At Spa we had a tyre blow out at Eau Rouge and we lost three minutes bringing the car back slowly, so as to avoid further damage and then repairing the slight damage caused at the rear. We went on to finish second, less than 30 seconds behind the winner. At the Nurburgring we were leading by a full minute when we had a freak brake pad failure under braking for turn 5, sending the car into a series of violent spins. That should have been another certain win…

Lady luck was with us at our home race at Donington Park and we scored our first win of the season. After Le Mans, this was the next high point of the season as we achieved this in our “home” event. Some people said at the time that we were lucky that the Rollcentre Radical had problems in the pits with their starter motor but we had our share of bad luck at Donington when an error in judgement from one of our competitors sent us into the gravel and caused a puncture. Had that not happened, we would not have been behind the Rollcentre car anyway.

The win at Donington gave us a three-point lead in the Championship going into the final round at Jarama, Spain. We were all very confident about the last round but always mindful of what can happen in these six hour events. You cannot relax at all - always making sure to avoid contact with others and looking after the equipment, as well as pushing hard for a good result. It is always a fine balance. But our team had proved that we have done that very well throughout the season and it was just a case of being a little extra careful to make sure we scored enough points to win the LMP2 title. After what had happened in Istanbul in 2005, we certainly did not want to do anything to jeopardise our title. But…. lady luck decided to desert us again…. Within seven minutes of the chequered flag, we were running in second place and taking it easy, as we were easily in a Championship winning position, when the engine suddenly changed note and in less than a couple of seconds it decided to spit its guts out the side of the engine block. It was a catastrophic engine failure. Later it would be revealed as an oil pump failure. AER had never had such failure before and we were all completely stunned…Mike Lancaster’s face said it all… Like us, he simply could not believe what had happened. AER did not deserve this. Their engines have been simply brilliant all year…None of us deserved this…

There were at least 50 guests of our main sponsors, Dedicated Micros, at the circuit. Before the race started, we all looked at the superb images from the Trans-Vu system on-board the MG Lola. This is DM’s technology inside the race car being pushed to its limits and providing incredibly clear pictures of the car around a lap of what is a very bumpy Jarama circuit. Impressive stuff!!

The guests were all inside the garage at the end of the race to celebrate the LMP2 title…And then with less than seven minutes to go, it all went quiet…It was a very cruel blow to all of us.

A few months later and you begin to think of the following season and looking on the positive side, not winning the LMS title in 2006 adds an extra focus to try and win it in 2007…of course there is also the business of the Le Mans “hat trick”…Now that would be something….

I cannot say thank you enough to AD Group, RML but especially to Mike Newton and Adam Wiseberg. I’m embarking on a fifth consecutive season with the AD-Group and RML. I have often been “on the other side of the fence”, without a drive, hoping someone would give me an opportunity. There are always many drivers out there in the same position and I sympathise with them. I feel very lucky and very grateful that I have met people who value my contribution as a professional driver. I am part of a great Team. I am living my dream…. Thank you all…Muito obrigado!

The involvement with Mike took me to America again in 2006, for the Rolex 24, where we joined Eddie Cheever Racing for our third appearance in a DP at the 24 hour race. Eddie runs a very professional team and yet the atmosphere is very relaxed and friendly. Although the team is based in the US and runs in US based series, the crew is headed by two Scotsmen: Iain Watt heads the Engineering side and Duncan Charnell is the Crew Chief. Our car was driven by Stefan Johansson, Mike Newton, Warren Hughes and myself.

I was very motivated for this race as I felt we had a great team and an excellent driver line-up. The addition of Johansson was just fantastic! A great name in world motor sports, ex-F1 Ferrari ...I mean this is Stefan Johansson!!..I used to watch him on the telly!...before I was racing!!!..so it was fantastic to share a car with him. Unfortunately we had an oil leak on lap 1, which cost us a lot of time...We couldn't possibly make that up, as the field was very competitive. However, we were running on the same pace as our sister car driven by Carpentier, Fittipaldi and Cheever and they managed to lead the race at one point...So the old story of....IF...oh well. It was a great experience being in the same team with many top names in motor sport...Cheever, Johansson, Carpentier, Fittipaldi...I was hoping to meet up with Christian's uncle...But that wasn't to be...However, later that year, in August, I did the next best thing...I managed to snick in a picky inside Emerson's Championship winning JPS Lotus...WOW!!

It's becoming an annual thing at Daytona where Adam Wiseberg and I rent a couple of Harleys for a few hours. We travel up the A1A (coastal road at Daytona Beach) towards Jacksonville...stop for a refreshment..and ride back...iPod on Rolling Stones...It's AWESOME!!

The relationship with Eddie's team continued after Daytona and I was asked to sub for him, when he was racing at the GP Masters at Silverstone. I shared the car with fellow countryman Christian Fittipaldi at the Watkins Glenn 200. We finished fifth there. Eddie won the GP Masters...That worked well for him....maybe he'll asked me back again!!

My last race of 2006 was at Magny-Cours, at the end of October. Simon Phillips invited me for the VdeV's annual 12 hour of Magny-Cours. I met Simon a couple of years ago when I was helping him with a little bit of driver coaching. He and Rob Garofall race in the VdeV Series in their Norma chassis. It was a very nice way to finish the season - a very relaxed atmosphere and both Simon and Rob were very helpful to me, making sure I fitted into the team straight away. This was a very different way of going
racing. The car costs about £50k ...and that's a top of the range machine. It's great fun to drive and for a 12 hour event it was effectively run by two mechanics. Fantastic value! We led the race after starting from the back of the grid....that was fun! But we eventually finished third, after we lost some time with gear linkage issues, but apart from that, the car ran faultlessly for 12 hours. It was a real pleasure driving with Rob and Simon, just a great way to finish off the year. Simon will be campaigning a new Norma chassis in 2007. I have no doubt that he and Rob will be regular front runners in whatever series they choose. Thank you guys for a great weekend!
Tommy Erdos

 

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