LOLA CARS AT THE 2008 LE MANS 24 HOURS
THE BUILD UP AND QUALIFYING
On Thursday 12th June, Lola Cars were honoured in the build up to this weekend’s 24 Heures Du Mans, as company owner and Executive Chairman, Martin Birrane received the prestigious ‘Spirit of Le Mans’ trophy. Collecting the award from the President of the ACO, Jean-Claude Plassart, during the official function held at the famed ACO Museum at the Circuit De La Sarthe in Le Mans. Birrane now joins the highly acclaimed list of previous winners that include Paul Frere, Derek Bell, Phil Hill, Jacky Icky, Tom Kristensen and Wolfgang Ullrich.
The award is a fitting accolade to Lola’s 50th Anniversary celebrations at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours. Since 1997, the marque’s enviable position has been strengthened under the ownership of Martin Birrane, who has kept the company at the forefront of the motor sport industry, winning a variety of International series during his ownership of Lola.
Birrane competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours a grand total of 10 times as a driver, winning his class in the 1985 running of this classic endurance event. Birrane said: “Since my first visit I have always been touched by the spirit of the Le Mans 24 Hours. This award is a great honour in a year when Lola has a record-equalling seven prototypes competing in the race.”
“This is a special weekend in more ways than one. We are not only celebrating the 76th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours - the most prestigious and greatest motor race in the world – we are also celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Lola - another icon of world motor sport. I can think of no better way to do this than to have our biggest entry at Le Mans this year (with 7 cars) since 1979.”
“I and everyone at Lola are indebted to all those involved in the Le Mans 24 Hours for the prominence they have given us on this landmark occasion and I thank the ACO for the great honour it was to collect such an award.”
The Huntingdon based marque had plenty to celebrate both on and off the track at Le Mans, after a Lola finished the final qualifying session in 6th position to claim the highest place on the grid for a petrol-powered entry by 1.8 seconds and, in so doing, out qualified one of the Audi R10 diesel sportscars. Stefan Mucke set the time for the Charouz Racing System Lola B08/60 powered by Aston Martin with a superb 3m25.158s lap. He did this despite the team losing time during the first practice on Wednesday when gerashift problems reduced track time for both Mucke and his team mates Jan Charouz and Tomas Enge.
Other notable performances by Lola sportcars included last year’s 5th placed LMP1 finisher, the Charouz (Cytosport) entered B07/10-Judd of Klaus Graf, Greg Pickett and Jan Lammers. The experienced trio line-up 12th on the grid and are confident that they can take their qualifying form into the weekend’s race with the Judd powered Lola.
Chamberlain Synergy completes the Lola LMP1 entries with Bob Berridge, Amanda Stretton and Gareth Evans enjoying a trouble free session to line-up 23rd with a best time of 3m38.024.
The all-new Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola B08/80 LMP2 Coupe showed flashes of pace in the LMP2 division but were denied a shot at the Porsche LMP2 Spyders when red flags interrupted potential LMP2 pole laps on Wednesday evening. Steve Zacchia crashed the Judd-powered car at the first Mulsanne chicane on Thursday but excellent work by the Hugh Hayden-led team saw the car return briefly in the final night session. They line up 4th in the ultra-competitive LMP2 class.
RML and Quifel-ASM are side-by-side on the grid in 6th and 7th on the LMP2 grid. RML fought back with typical tenacity after an accident befell Andy Wallace on Wednesday. Mike Newton and Tommy Erdos will be hoping to go for an unprecedented hat-trick of LMP2 wins in the familiar and popular red, white and blue MG-engined Lola.
As well as immensely fast sportscars, Lola also prides itself in producing safe cars. This was proved beyond doubt during Wednesday’s second qualifying session when Hideki Noda crashed spectacularly on the entry to the Dunlop chicane. His Kruse-Schiller Lola LMP2 rolled five times, destroying much of the bodywork and suspension on the Huntingdon built chassis. With the survival cell protecting the Japanese racer from any injury, the team, with the help of Lola engineers, set about the massive task of rebuilding the car for the warm-up on Saturday morning.
On track, a total of seven entries; three in the LMP1 class and four entries in the LMP2 entries took the start of the world’s toughest endurance race. This was the largest Lola entry since 1979.
All eyes were on the Charouz Racing System Lola-Aston Martin which finished Thursday’s qualifying session in 6th position claiming the highest place for a petrol-powered entry. In so doing it even beat one of the Audi R10 diesel sportscars. The sleek Lola Coupe took its impressive qualifying performance in to the race with Stefan Mucke lapping quickly in the opening hour. Holding 6th place in the early stages the German handed over to Jan Charouz who unfortunately suffered an accident at the Dunlop Chicane early in his first stint. The young Czech driver managed to get the damaged Lola B08/60 Coupe back to the pits where it lost significant time undergoing repair.
Terrific work by the Charouz team ensured a tenacious fight back and by the chequered flag the blue and white Lola LMP1 Coupe finished a fighting 9th overall on it’s first appearance at the 24 Heures Du Mans.
Also taking the chequered flag at 15.00 hrs on Sunday afternoon was the Quifel-ASM Lola of Guy Smith, Miguel Amaral and Olivier Pla. The AER-engined Lola encountered paddle shift problems during the race but the well drilled ASM squad quickly reverted to a manual shift system. The car fell back to 4th in LMP2 during repairs but the experience of former winner Smith paid off and the team demonstrated their resilience, holding on to the position for their first Le Mans 24 Hours finish in three attempts.
Undoubtedly the only challenger to the Porsche LMP2 Spyder on pace throughout the weekend was the new Lola B08/80 LMP2 Coupe of Speedy Racing Team Sebah. The Judd powered car was in a comfortable 3rd place in LMP2 after a relatively trouble free first half of the race, with only a puncture and some electrical issues hindering its rapid progress. At 04:30 hrs rain was making the track conditions very tricky and on the greasy surface, Xavier Pompidou lost control of the Lola Coupe and crashed at Indianapolis corner. The 33 year-old managed to limp back to the pits but the car stopped just where the pit-lane leaves the main circuit. Following Pompidou was the Corvette Racing C6.R driven by Johnny O'Connell who also tried to enter the pits, but failed to avoid the Speedy Racing Team Sebah. The Anglo-Swiss team finally made it to their garage but the LMP2 Coupe’s race was over, the engine having been damaged whilst attempting to get the car back to the pit lane.
Other Lola runners who encountered race-ending problems were the Kruse Schiller Mazda Lola, lap 147 - transmission problem, Charouz Racing-Cytosport Lola-Judd lap 146 - engine failure, RML entered Lola-MG, lap 100 – accident damage, and Chamberlain Synergy, lap 87 - engine.
Lola sportscars will next be in action in Europe at the Nürburgring 1000kms on August 17th. In the USA the next American Le Mans Series event takes place at Lime Rock on July 12th.
All pictures by Jakob Ebrey unless otherwise stated.
Martin Birrane receives the "Spirit of Le Mans Trophy".
Lolas on parade on the streets of Le Mans
Jan Charouz looses the Lola Aston Martin..
...at the Dunlop Chicane...
...resulting in a long pit stop to repair the damage...
...but some great work from the Charouz team saw the Coupe...
...back on track to finish an excellent 9th and first of the petrol-fuelled LMP1 cars.
4th in LMP2 for the Quifel-ASM B05/40.
The Charouz Racing-Cytosport Lola B06/10-Judd retired due to engine failure.
Accident damage ruined the chances for the RML Lola B05/40-MG. (Picture David Downes-DSC)
The Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola B08/80-Judd was out of luck after a great showing in qualifying.
Transmission problems saw retirement for the Kruse Schiller Mazda Lola B05/40.
The Chamberlain Synergy car was another engine-related rtirement.
There was plenty of support for Lola!
The Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola B08/80-Judd passes the Ferris wheel in the night.