Skater Racing Goes Marcos Testing
Since we last reported on Skater Motorsport, right at the start of the season, the team’s Marcos LM500 has made several appearances, both in Britcar and British GTs, and given a good account of itself on each occasion. A podium was a distinct possibility in the car’s first appearance in Britcar, and the teal and silver Marcos also acquitted itself well enough during the recent Snetterton BGT race before being “taken out” in a pitlane misunderstanding. These promising runs were enough to reassure the team that they had a competitive car on their hands, if only they could iron out a few fundamental handling concerns, and raise the level of their game a few notches.

To achieve that next step they’ve turned to a professional for help, and brought in the services of a driver who probably knows the Marcos marque as well, if not better, than anyone else; Thomas Erdos. The Brazilian, best known these days for partnering Mike Newton in the RML MG Lola EX264, twice LMP2 winners at Le Mans, cut his GT racing teeth at the wheel of a Marcos back in 1995. For nearly five years he drove very little else, and did much to raise the profile of the Wiltshire sportscar by achieving more with a Marcos than anyone else, certainly in the UK. Poles in qualifying, lap records and a string of race wins came his way, but one of his most memorable achievements was when he made a guest appearance in the Millennium Motorsport LM500. In those days the Marcos - the same car now being run by Skater - raced in GT3. The team was also managing a pair of the bigger LM600s that year, but Erdos out-qualified them both, as well as the rest of the entire GT2 grid. In that Silverstone race he went on to establish a new lap record that still stands, although that’s possibly because the old “National” circuit is rarely used, but it was still a worthy achievement none the less.

Last week Erdos was reunited with the Marcos when Skater Racing took the car to Rockingham for a one-day test ahead of this month’s round of the British GT Championship. We caught up with them just after lunch, after they’d completed a full morning of work. There was a broad grin on Tommy’s face. “It’s a bit of a trip down memory lane,” he said, “but I’m enjoying myself. The car has changed a bit since the last time I drove it. For one thing, I’m sitting on the other side of the car. It used to be right-hand drive, but I believe it was swapped over by the previous owner.”

Having been driving prototypes for the past two or three years, the LM500 is like chalk from cheese. “The Marcos is very different, and it wouldn’t be fair to make a direct comparison,” said Erdos kindly. “The LM500, just like the 600 that followed it, was always a unique car to drive – very effective when it was well prepared, but challenging. Achieving a good set-up was always difficult, and that hasn’t changed.” That’s one reason why Skater has called upon the Brazilian to assist, and so far both parties have been impressed by what they’ve seen. “The LM500 always tended to move around a lot, especially at the back, and this one has braking issues at the moment, but we’re getting on top of those already,” said Erdos. “We’ve established a positive direction for improvement, and I’m confident we’re going to be able to have most of those issues sorted during the course of these tests. This is probably the first time, maybe ever, that anyone has actually tackled this car seriously, with a view to sorting it out properly.”

Much of that is down to the attitude of Tim Close, the team manager, who’s determined that Skater is going to achieve some good results with the Marcos, despite the fact that this year started late and hasn’t got a lot left to run.

“This season started much later than we’d intended,” he conceded. “We had component and supply issues which delayed us a the beginning of the year, and so we’ve ended up with a five-event season, but our first outing in Britcar could, or perhaps should, have been a podium. Now it’s even more vital we make the most out of Tommy’s time and experience as we can, before it’s too late for this year.”

The team’s two regular drivers, Steven Keating and Mark Powell, have done well, but Tim Close knows that having Thomas Erdos in the car in their quickest route to sorting out the various set-up issues that face the team. “I can see that we’re reaping the benefits already. It’s been difficult for us to make much progress up until now. Steve and Mark are not professional drivers, and while they’re both experienced at club level, that hasn’t given them the background that allows them to relate effectively with the engineers. They drive the cars as fast as they can, and are able to suggest some basic changes to the set-up, but they don’t understand much beyond the fundamentals, and perhaps they find it difficult to put into words what they think needs to be done to improve the car. Having a driver of Tommy’s calibre in the car has been a revelation.”

The truth of that became evident after Erdos brought the car back into the pitlane following his first installation lap in the car. He and Mike Sweeney, the team’s chief engineer, discussed first impressions. “I think I received more feedback, more information we could actually work with, in those five minutes than I’d heard in the previous eighteen months!” said an impressed Sweeney. “It was wonderful, although I immediately realised that I too was going to have to pull my socks up. It’s a challenge I relish, though!”

“The team has done really well to get this car running competitively again,” said the Brazilian. “It’s not a turn-key car, like a Porsche or a Ferrari, and it needs constant engineering. But I felt comfortable immediately, and confident in the car. That’s testament to the quality of Skater’s preparation work: the car’s obviously been well put together.”

During the course of the day the Erdos-Skater combination made good progress. “We’ve identified areas we can improve upon, from a handling point of view. We made some changes, and they worked straight away, so we know we’re going in the right direction. We’ve establishing a set-up that’s already a significant improvement over what we had before, and gives us a good foundation for when we move on to the next test.”

The Marcos was by far the quickest car at Rockingham, despite the restrictions of a track day environment, although that shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. The LM500 has a very distinctive sound, much of it emanating from the transmission, and without other similarly-powered cars on track, it was easy to monitor its progress. “Going through Turn 4 of the oval, it’s very quick,” admitted Erdos, who was pleasantly impressed by the “old” car’s turn of speed. “It makes the rest of the track very frustrating, being unable to overtake freely.”

Later in the afternoon, after some of Erdos’s suggestions had been implemented on the LM500, Keating was sent out in the Marcos. “The data we’ve been getting from Tommy is fantastic,” he enthused. “The car feels so much better already. We can now compare what he’s been able to accomplish with my own efforts. If I know something’s possible, and I can see where it’s been achieved, then I can chase it. If I can get even close, I’ll be delighted, and it will all be very useful ahead of our British GT race here.”

“Tommy’s input has been invaluable right from the start,” agreed Tim. “He was able to pinpoint areas where we needed to make changes from the moment he first stepped out of the car, and he also had ideas of his own about further areas where he could see room for improvement. We knew, for instance, that we’d always had a problem with the car under braking, but Tommy not only confirmed that we had an issue, but he also knew what to do to address it.”

“By the nature of the car we’re racing, we need to be strong and cohesive,” added Tim Close, “but whatever we can do to develop the team as an entity will have a knock-on effect when we move forward into next season.”

It’s unlikely the Marcos will play a part in that future, however. “It’s a twelve-year-old car, and it’s serving us well, but we’re realistic enough to know that it’s not the car to take forward into another season,” conceded Close. The likely long-term destiny for the LM500 looks to be in a historic context, but as a Marcos enthusiast and collector, this particular car will probably stay in the Keating stable for some time to come.

In the meantime, there’s the rest of this season to complete, starting at Rockingham this coming weekend.

“We’ve been getting vast amounts of very useful data here today,” said Sweeney. “When we come back here for the British GT, we should be far better prepared and justifiably confident.”

As one of the other track-day drivers commented, it’s good to see the Marcos running reliably at last. Ironic that this should come in the car’s twilight years, but fitting that Thomas Erdos should be on hand to bring the story full circle.
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