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”…
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.
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
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
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
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!