RLR MSport secured seventh place with LMP3 trio Christian Olsen, Martin Rich and Martin Vedel Mortensen when the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) raced into the night at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (19-20 July).
The LMP3 contingent were finally able to show their potential after a luckless start to the 2019 season and RLR MSport’s title defence, deploying race-winning pace to threaten the podium runners in the ELMS 4 Hours of Barcelona on Saturday evening.
During a fine opening stint, Olsen lapped at the leaders’ pace and climbed from a lowly 14th on the grid to fifth, keeping his team in the mix until the first driver-change on lap 36.
Thereafter, Rich used his raw speed to continue RLR MSport’s ascent; the experienced endurance racer was one of the quickest on the track when he picked up the baton, circulating in the 1m46-47s bracket and lifting RLR MSport into the top three, tantalisingly close to the class lead.
Unfortunately, the Brit’s charge was thwarted when he was pitched into a spin by an over-exuberant LMP3 rival as darkness descended upon Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
The resultant Full Course Yellow (FCY) enabled RLR MSport to switch Rich for Vedel Mortensen, although a seatbelt-related issue caused a significant time-loss.
While a podium was now out of reach, Vedel matched his teammates for pace and solidified a season’s best seventh-place result on his night-time dash to the chequered flag, breaking the team’s unlucky streak.
RLR MSport’s LMP2 crew – John Farano, Bruno Senna and Arjun Maini – had an uneventful build-up to the ELMS 4 Hours of Barcelona.
During Friday practice, the Bolton team rotated its drivers while evaluating its tyre strategy in the searing Spanish heat, before India’s Maini pulled off another stunning qualifying performance that secured a spot on row two of the grid.
Unfortunately, a tentative start to the ELMS’s maiden ‘day-into-night’ race wasn’t enough to keep RLR MSport out of harm’s way.
Canadian racer Farano took the opening stint for the first time in his LMP2 career and fell from fourth to the outskirts of the top ten during a typically frenetic opening lap, before being tipped into a spin on the third run through Turn 5.
With no lasting damage, Farano began a recovery drive; he was some 43 seconds adrift of the main LMP2 pack once he had cleared the slower GTE and LMP3 traffic, although his stint would be cut to 18 laps when he nosed into the wall, again at Turn 5.
The #43 ORECA was retrieved by the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya marshals, enabling Farano to return to the pits for repairs and for Senna to take the wheel.
However, RLR MSport was now four laps adrift of the race leaders in 41st overall and, despite a reactive strategy and some quick driving from Senna and Maini, the team came home in 13th place.
“Qualifying fourth as the second Dunlop-shod runner was a great result and a big step forward for RLR MSport,” said Maini. “Unfortunately, rear-end contact and a spin during John Farano’s stint put us back. From there it was simply about learning as much as possible and we were pleased to discover that we had good pace at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya that I hope we can take into the next round at Silverstone.”
In the supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup, Christian Olsen was joined in the #14 Ligier JSP3 by James Dayson, and RLR MSport felt its new combination had podium potential at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
The Bolton team kept its cards close to its chest in free practice, but both Dayson and Olsen were reportedly pleased with the Ligier’s balance, particularly in race trim.
However, Dayson and Olsen were unable to realise their potential in Saturday’s two-hour Le Mans Cup race, after a high-speed spin resulted in a terminal collision with the tyre wall.
RLR MSport Director of Motorsport Operations, Nick Reynolds, said: “It was a fine performance by our LMP3 trio in the ELMS 4 Hours of Barcelona. Christian (Olsen) did a brilliant job to rise up into a strong position before passing the car to Martin Rich, who also completed a superb double stint – his pace was very good throughout. Frustratingly, we had a problem with the seatbelts during the final driver-change to Martin Vedel Mortensen. We lost over a minute in the pits and had to settle for seventh in the end. We would have been comfortably inside the top six and we’re looking forward to realising our potential at Silverstone.
“In LMP2, we felt running John (Farano) first would be the best race strategy and we’re disappointed for him, because the rear-end contact was not his fault. The subsequent bodywork repairs cost us four laps, which we were unable to recover, but Bruno (Senna) and Arjun (Maini) did a superb job. They were consistently among the quickest drivers on the track, but the damage was done at the start and there was no way we of achieving the top six result we were clearly capable of.”
Source. Leveridge Promotions