‘Buzz’ was the buzz word in Birmingham for the launch of the three MG Sport & Racing Ltd. 2001 projects. The Le Mans car was the star, but it was joined by MG’s Touring Car and Rally projects. When discussing any of the three, the staff and drivers were really ‘buzzing’, obviously eager to get out and compete. Are all three going to be winners?

EX257 was centre stage, and it is this one that will enter competition first, the other two coming on stream later in the year. The Le Mans car is very late out of the box, but everyone involved with this fascinating project seems to have enormous, and well founded, faith in it.

Frank Dernie, the Chief Engineer at Lola Cars International, is confident. Rob Oldacre, MD of the new MG Sport & Racing Ltd., refers to it as “a state of the art car. We’re not dabbling in this game.” Dernie and Peter Stevens have clearly used all their massive experience to create the first totally new LMP675 car. “We’ve applied a lot of F1 technology to make a car as small and light as this, and enable it to last 24 hours,” said the Chief Engineer. So how light is it? “We’ll race it at 675 kg,” he replied, with a twinkle in his eye.

The benefits of a 675 (compared to a 900) are confirmed by Dernie: “Light weight, therefore softer tyres, same tank capacity, therefore longer stints. 225 kg is a considerable difference. It would be nice if we had 500 bhp, but we’re saying 450. I’m not going to tell you our simulated lap time at Le Mans – you’ll have to wait and see.”

So will Julian Bailey; he’s the only one of the six drivers who haven’t driven the car, and he won’t get his first chance until the Test Day next month. “I was the only one who missed out at Albacete last week, and although they’re going to Snetterton this weekend, I can’t be there because I’m off to Magny Cours, for the FIA GT meeting.”

Mark Blundell was described as ‘heading up’ the team of drivers, and he expects to “surprise a few people at Le Mans”. Julian Bailey won’t be concerned at a description of his old driving partner which suggests that MB is more senior than JB. After all, JB has his other commitments, and he’s setting an excellent pace in the FIA GT Lister – as you’d expect.

These two - plus Anthony Reid - are the old hands. Jonny Kane, Warren Hughes and Kevin McGarrity are the young stallions. For Hughes, this is one of the rewards of all that persistence he’s shown for more than a decade. The other reward is a drive in the MG Touring Car – the MG ZS EX259 – which will join the BTCC for the last three meetings of 2001. For now though, he’s looking forward to his first Le Mans.

“Martin Birrane played a large part in the decision making that brought me here,” explained Hughes. “The car is just like a large single seater to drive. I felt at home in it straight away. They’ve done an excellent job.”

‘They’ is principally Lola Cars International and Advanced Engine Research (AER). The latter have come up with an all new four cylinder turbocharged engine, the MG XP-20, and those 450 horses ought to see it comfortably exceed 200 mph at Le Mans. The tub benefits fr0m all Lola’s experience, and apparently it looks like a swollen F1 tub with the bodywork off. It’s all carbon of course – there doesn’t seem to be any connection with Lola’s popular SR2 car. This is an LMP675, which is a very different species.

It looks as though it will be quick enough, but will it be reliable, so early in its life? Warren Hughes: “It ran trouble free at Albacete. We haven’t even come close to stretching the engine or chassis yet.”

For Chamberlain Motorsport, this is a very different beast from their Le Mans Vipers – those tried and tested monsters they’ve entered year after year. Their task - with Lola, MG and AER - is to create Viper-like reliability within the next six weeks. It’s going to be fascinating to watch them tackle the 69th Le Mans 24 Hours.

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