Tommy and The Art of Villainy
Thomas Erdos celebrated a decade in GT and sportscar racing, and a full ten years since his debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours, with a remarkable class victory in the classic French endurance race in 2005.
In many respects his delight at standing on that top step at the end of the Le Mans 24 Hours surpassed everything that had gone before. It was a quite astonishing story, and while a win for the RML-prepared MG Lola EX264 was fully justified, it came the hard way. Qualifying had not gone to plan. Tommy started the race third in class, and then two minor problems in the opening laps left the team playing catch-up for the next 17 hours. Both Thomas and Warren Hughes repeatedly set new fastest laps for the class, until the MG finally took the LMP2 lead on Sunday morning with eight hours still to go. An hour and a half later, however, and Mike Newton was back into the pitlane with a gearbox oil leak . . . and it took another two hours for the RML squad to claw back to third in LMP2.
Warren Hughes completed his final stint and handed the MG back to Tommy for the last three hours. By the end of the first of those the Brazilian had moved up to class second, but although the MG was lapping quickest, the lead appeared beyond reach. A few minutes later it suddenly looked impossible. Slicing through the Ford Chicane the right rear suspension arm sheared, pitching Erdos into a frightening spin. Erdos was able to ease the car back to the garage, where the exhausted crew set to work on repairs.
It took half an hour, during which they had no opportunity to check the timing screens. Had they done so, they would have seen that the class leader was also in trouble, and there was still a race to be won! When Erdos came back out on track again an unlikely victory looked possible, provided the MG kept going. The tension was electric as the team watched the car’s progress, and at three-fifteen Erdos came through to take the lead.
Over the final 45 minutes the MG hardly missed a beat, and finally crossed the line to take victory by five laps. It was the highlight of an excellent year for Tommy, who also shared the EX264 with Mike Newton in the LMES and ended the season as championship runners-up, with a string of poles and podiums, topped by class victory in the final round.
A second class win in the Le Mans 24 Hours came the following year; 2006. This time Tommy and Mike Newton were partnered by former outright winner Andy Wallace. The RML MG Lola finished 8th overall in a far more emphatic LMP2 performance.
In the Le Mans Series, that runners-up position beckoned again, but for a second time Tommy and Mike missed the title by two points. The MG suffering a rare mechanical failure while leading the final race of the year at Jarama, a mere eight minutes from the flag and the trophies.
In 2007 the fortunes were reversed. Hopes for a hat-trick at Le Mans looked promising, but an accident early in the race ultimately lead to retirement when the engine finally gave way. Compensation came in the Le Mans Series, where Thomas and co-driver Mike Newton at last secured the LMP2 title that had so narrowly eluded them in 2005 and 2006.
In 2008 the MG enjoyed a major upgrade by Lola and RML, but like so many others in LMP2, the chassis was outclassed by the all-dominant Porsche Spyder. Wins were impossible to come by, although the squad still raced competitively in the LMS and the 24 Hours. The following year was equally disappointing, although the lack of rewards in 2009 came as a result of a succession of catastrophic engine failures.
2010 witnessed RML’s return to form. At the tail end of the previous year the team had reverted to the MG engine and introduced the new Lola coupé, with immediate success. For the new season the coupé was fitted with the HPD LM-V8 engine, and reliability as well as pace was restored. Tommy clinched a second Le Mans Series title and finished third in class at Le Mans.
RML AD Group returned to the Le Mans Series for an eighth season in 2011, but for the first time the squad would not be using a Lola chassis. Experience with the HPD engine, and convinced by the performance set by others, the team elected to go for the full Honda package. In the end, changes to the regulations hamstrung the HPD ARX-01d, but did reward Tommy with a richly deserved 4th in the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The end of the RML AD Group sportscar programme closed a major chapter in Tommy’s career as a racing driver. It had been a phenominally successful period, with eight full seasons driving a fantastic array of racing machinery, much of it alongside Mike Newton, but also partnered by some of the most talented names in the business – not least Andy Wallace, Warren Hughes and Ben “The Stig” Collins.
Since then Tommy has expanded his repertoire. He is much in demand by car manufacturers, who call upon his skills to demonstrate their latest road cars. In recent years he has worked with many top names, including Volvo, Porsche, BMW, Toyota, Ford, Renault and Mazda. He has also appeared as a stunt driver in some very high profile films and events, not least being the closing ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.