at the Le Mans 24 Hours
Charouz Racing System Lola-Aston Martin finishes 9th overall Lola LMP2 Quifel-ASM Team finish class in 4th position
The 76th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours (14 / 15 June) provided Lola cars with a fitting occasion to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. During the build up to this year’s race, Lola Cars landmark achievement was honoured when company owner and Executive Chairman, Martin Birrane received the prestigious ‘Spirit of Le Mans’ trophy.
Off track tributes to Lola’s golden anniversary also saw Great Britain’s longest- serving manufacturer of racing cars featured as the central theme of the official parade, which took place in the town centre of Le Mans on the Friday before the race. On track, a grand 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 marque’s largest entry since 1979. All eyes were on the Charouz Racing System Lola-Aston Martin, which finished Thursday’s qualifying session in 6th position to claim the highest place for a petrol powered entry and in so doing beating one of the Audi R10 diesel sportscars.
The sleek Lola Coupe design 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 suffered the misfortune of an accident early in his first stint at the Dunlop chicane. The young Czech Republic driver managed to get the badly damaged Lola B08/60 Coupe to the pits where it lost significant time during repairs. Some terrific work by the Charouz team ensured that a tenacious fight back took place and by the chequered flag the blue and white Lola LMP1 Coupe finished a fighting 9th overall, in what was its first ever 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 reverted to a manual shift system. This meant that the car fell back to 4th in the LMP2 class but the experience of former winner Smith paid off and the team demonstrated their resilience to hold 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 all-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 the rain was making the track conditions very tricky.
With 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. Just after this the Corvette Racing C6.R driven by Johnny O'Connell tried to come into the pits, but failed to avoid the Speedy Racing Team Sebah. The Anglo-Swiss team finally made it to the pits, but the LMP2 Coupe’s courageous assault of the Le Mans 24 Hours was over after the engine was damaged in the attempts to get the car back to the pit lane, having completed a thrilling 194 laps around the 8.72 miles circuit.
Additional Lola runners who encountered race ending problems included 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). The Audi Sport team with drivers Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello were the overall winner’s of the 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours. Lola sportscars will next be in action in Europe at the Nurburgring 1000kms on August 17.In the US, the next American Le Mans Series event takes place at Lime Rock on July 12th.