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Virgo Motorsport Dealt Cruel Blow at Le Mans

15th June 2008

Retirement with less than three hours remaining

The Virgo Motorsport team so nearly cracked the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the first attempt, but it was a story of what might have been, after engine failure with less than three hours of the race remaining forced the team into retirement from a solid second place position. A sad end to such a strong effort from this debutante team.

Drivers Rob Bell, Tim Mullen and Tim Sugden were all extremely disappointed that all their hard work and 22 hours of race running ended so abruptly and with such finality. Yet with only 35 cars finishing from 55 starters, the challenge of Le Mans was tough for many, including Virgo Motorsport.

Rob Bell said after the race, ““I’m just gutted. We had a car capable of winning, but it wasn’t to be.. Although we struggled with the car at first – particularly after we lost our power steering fairly early on - the race came back to us and we hung in there, coping with everything for nearly 22 hours, until I lost power, warning lights came on and I had to return to the pits. It was a terminal engine failure and after lying second for so long, it was all over.”

Tim Mullen added, “We were so close, it was so disappointing. I came third in 2006, so it would have been great to go one better this year. Everyone put so much effort into this attempt, it makes it very hard – the crew gave us great pitstops every time and while others were making mistakes all three of us kept the car on the road, we were quick as well, just very sad we couldn’t make it to the end.”

Tim Sugden echoed the sentiments of his team mates, saying “This was my sixth attempt, and it’s rare to have a team without any compromises, such as we had this year. Three strong drivers, a highly professional team, a car with the capability to win, great tyres, we had all the ingredients, and it’s not often that’s the case, so it makes it all the more disappointing for us. It is renowned as the hardest race and that reputation is for good reason. Like the others, I’m just gutted.”

Preparations for this weekend’s race began on Wednesday with the first evening of qualifying. The Porsche proved to have the best pace with the top two cars in the GT2 class taken by the German manufacturer. On the final evening of qualifying on Thursday Bell’s experience came to the fore, with the Virgo Motorsport driver claiming a new record for the Ferrari GT2 car, with a sub-four minute lap, the first time that this has been achieved at this legendary event. Despite this supreme effort, the team remained third fastest in class at the conclusion of qualifying.

The race morning warm up was the final opportunity for the team to finetune their set up for the race and with the weather remaining dry at 3pm, the 58th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours race began with the Virgo Motorsport team finally making their race debut.

Bell took the start, and in the melee of the 55 car grid, dropped a place in the GT2 class early on. However with nearly 24 hours until the chequered flag the Newcastle driver was unperturbed. He pressed on. The team suffered a bout of bad luck less than an hour into the race when their Ferrari was hit by the No.59 Aston – in the pits. The Aston pulled out of its pit as Bell was coming in, tagging the rear of the Ferrari. The rear bumper was taped and the team continued on, although disappointed to have been delayed by this incident.

Although having dropped back down the order, the team’s position in class was improved when two Porsches running in front of Virgo Motorsport come together after just under two hours of racing, taking them both off and with substantial damage dropped them behind the Virgo entry. The team had recovered to lie fifth at the two hour mark, a position which they retained for the first six hours, moving in to fourth after seven hours of running.

As the race reached one-third distance the team moved to third place after an off-course excursion for the Ferrari ahead of Virgo Motorsport. The team then had a Porsche ahead in second position in class, and the Risi Ferrari leading the GT2 category. Less than half an hour later the Porsche was pushed into the garage for mechanical repairs, handing second position to Virgo Motorsport. The class leader, Risi Competizione, was over a lap ahead at this stage, so all the team could do was keep pushing and running cleanly. The Dunlop tyres were proving to be a match for the Michelins, with the Risi car unable to beat Bell’s quickest lap of the race.

For over half the race distance – 13 hours of running – the Virgo Motorsport car sat in second place, but with less than three hours of the race remaining, engine failure forced the team into retirement and out of the race. A sad end for a very determined team.