The first round of the 2011 Le Mans Series saw RML AD Group's HPD ARX-01d cross the line eleventh overall, seventh in class, to secure points towards the championship despite issues that threatened to overshadow the race weekend.
Having encountered an intermittent electrical fault in qualifying, Thomas Erdos was required to start the six-hour race from the back of the grid. He skilfully negotiated the chaos of a catastrophic start, which saw several cars eliminated from the race even before they'd crossed the line, and began a spirited fight-back through the field. Weaving his way through the GT cars, Erdos had worked through from 33rd to 14th overall inside 20 minutes. He reached the top ten after forty minutes, and by the end of an impressive triple-stint the Brazilian had reached sixth overall, fourth in LMP2.
Mike Newton completed the middle stints of the race, holding position and working through a well-timed tactical pitstop under a safety car to hand over to Ben Collins for the final ninety minutes. Damage to the car's front louvres, caused by debris thrown up from the track, left Ben coping with a challenging handling issue, and the team had to bring the HPD in for repairs. The damage was made good remarkably quickly but the delay cost time, and Ben crossed the line 11th overall, 7th in class.
"We're disappointed by the way the weekend has played out, with all the politics associated with the car's relative performance, but we're pleased to have run the car for the very first time and brought it home," said Phil Barker, Team Manager at RML. "The only issue we encountered was one with the louvres, which we had to fit and fix. Our thanks go to Strakka Racing for lending us the necessary spares, because without them we couldn't have finished the race. I appreciate their help, and we have collected some valuable points as a result."
"I've never worked so hard in my life for P7!" said Thomas Erdos. "I'm very happy with the reliability of the car and, to be honest, I had some fun through the traffic, but I could pick out 100 situations where there could have been serious contact. There was huge potential for an accident, and an element of frustration. It's not the way to go racing, and the ACO really does have to address the issue of performance balancing urgently. There will be a serious accident if this isn't sorted."
"Being the slowest in a straight line makes for a very strange experience," admitted Ben Collins. "Even so, this has been a better start to the year than we might have expected yesterday. I just hope we can get the performance adjustment we deserve so that we can compete fairly with the rest in LMP2." The two HPD chassis are currently carrying more weight than their competitors and the HPD V6 twin-turbo engines are governed by smaller restrictors, giving a power disadvantage believed now to be in excess of 50 horsepower.
"I didn't get bottled up behind any GTs, which was something I'd been concerned about before the race," conceded Mike Newton, CEO of AD Group, and co-driver in the #36 HPD-ARX-01d. "I had a good clean run, without any incidents, but this isn't my idea of motor racing," he added.
Speaking on behalf of AD Group, the team's principal sponsors, Pauline Norstrom, AD Group's Motorsport and Marketing Director, said: "Despite all the challenges, and starting from the back of the grid, the team brought the car home with points. It may not be the result we might have hoped for, but it has been a strong reflection on the determination and resourcefulness of the team. We appreciate their efforts, and credit to all three drivers for staying out of trouble in the scramble through the GT class."
"The last few weeks have been a voyage of discovery, but the car has been exceptional and lived up to all our expectations," said Phil Barker. "We only took delivery of the parts on February 14th, and faced a huge task in preparing the car for this weekend. We've achieved so much in such a very short space of time, and that has been a great effort by everyone in the team. I have huge admiration for every single one of them. It is just disappointing that we haven't been able to show the true potential of the car. The mandatory two races have now been run, here and at Sebring, so we just hope that the ACO will now be true to their word and reassess the situation."