|Le Mans Qualifying|
|THE story of Le Mans so far is undoubtedly the performance, and beyond that the potential for the future, of the extraordinary MG Lola EX257.|
We know that the car is very, very new etc. etc., but despite the lack of time and testing for the Chamberlain-run cars, the EX 257s have raised an awful lot of eyebrows in qualifying. They've raised the game a very long way.
Even with the inevitable teething problems taken into account, the team's qualifying performance was extraordinary. Anthony Reid was champing at the bit in the last qualifying session last night and, just as most other teams were packing up for the night, popped up on the timing screens with a mighty sequence of laps bringing the #34 car's best down to 3:40.243, 14th overall and class pole in LMP675.
To put that into some perspective, the little MG is ahead of seven LMP900s (including both Panozes and Le Mans veteran John Nielsen's brand new Den Bla Avis Dome-Judd S101).
More extraordinary still is that the team were genuinely disappointed with their qualifying position. There was a real feeling that if track time had not been lost on Wednesday evening, the car could have got in amongst the real front runners. Splitting the Bentleys was a real possibility if things had gone their way.
Despite this (albeit mild) disappointment, Anthony Reid was thrilled to be back at Le Mans.
"I had a third place here in 1990 in the Alpha Porsche with Tiff Needell and David Sears, taking over the drive after Derek Bell pulled out. It was a fantastic time in my career, stepping into a Porsche 962 which was massively more potent than the F3 car I was then driving. I was back in '91 with Konrad and finished again in 1996 in the then GT1 (now GT2) Lister Storm.
"Whilst the first time here was very special, undoubtedly this is the best opportunity I've had in motorsport, the MG is by far the best sportscar I've ever driven. It's a fantastic car." (Reid was caught on 'film' talking to the TMS Editor).
So where are the cars' greatest strengths?
"It's a great car all round but its brakes are absolutely extraordinary. We run with the same brakes as the LMP900s and with almost a third less weight we can brake later than anybody else. I followed one of the Audis yesterday and believe me, we brake much later than they do and we still don't have to change the brakes at all during the race."
And your prospects for the race?
"I believe that we can finish and, unless we have a fundamental problem out on the circuit, I see no reason why we shouldn't."
Reid was also bubbling about the prospects of getting out in the MG Touring Car, first race in the BTCC in September.
For co-driver Warren Hughes it's the start of a season-long partnership with Reid; they will race together in the BTCC in the MG ZS EX259s. Le Mans though, is a completely different ballgame.
"This is a totally new experience for me and with limited track time available I've really been thrown in at the deep end."
Hughes had to complete his night qualifying laps in the final session yesterday evening after fuel problems for the #34 car on Wednesday, and found it a very different racing experience.
"It's a little frustrating not to get more track time, because there has been no mechanical trouble at all for the #34 car. There's no substitute for driving here, particularly at night. In daylight, you are using your senses in a very different way and if you don't know the circuit very well, the pinpoint accuracy you need in putting a fast lap together is very difficult. It's a long circuit, very difficult to learn and, in parts, far more intimidating than Spa."
Despite this, Hughes was into the 3:46s on two of his four flying laps, times that would still have been good enough for third in LMP675. He's confident too, that much more time can be found as he familiarises himself with the car and the circuit during the race.
Clearly enjoying the car, he has ordered shorter shoulder belts as the "serious" G forces through the Porsche Curves are throwing him around in the cockpit!
"The car is absolutely awesome through the quick stuff. It feels just like a single seater with its grip and chassis reaction."
So is this car showing the way for the future of sportscar racing? By 4pm Sunday we might just know the answer! Or maybe sooner than that. Anthony Reid was too cagey to give anything away about the race plan, but we have it on good authority that the #33 car could be the quick one for the opening period of the race, with #34 playing the 24 hour game plan. That would tie in with the desire to get one car home at the first attempt.
Mark Blundell and Kevin McGarrity were spotted practising balls-out laps on the arcade game......
...while Blundell seemed to be enjoying life with the MG girls...
....and Julian Bailey was spotted with a big grin on his face in the full line-up, despite a trying couple of days. It's good to see that the fringe benefits of an MG factory drive (you don't get this with Lister Storm Racing) can lift his spirits.
Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours
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