RLR MSport secured a top six result in the 2023 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Barcelona (19-23 April), and the team will take confidence into the rest of the season after demonstrating podium potential with both the #5 and #15 cars.
James Dayson, Jack Manchester and Valdemar Eriksen led the charge with the #5 Ligier JSP320 LMP3 but had their strategy severely compromised by an ill-timed Full Course Yellow (FCY), and a starter motor failure thwarted Horst Jr Felbermayr, Gael Julien and Mateusz Kaprzyk’s race in the #15 machine.
The ELMS Prologue and free practice enabled drivers to get their eye in after the long winter while also ticking off their compulsory laps around Catalunya, and it was felt both RLR MSport Ligiers were in fine fettle ahead of qualifying, when Julien took the #15 to fifth and Eriksen in the #5 rounded out the top ten on the LMP3 grid.
However, Bronze-graded Felbermayr and Dayson were installed for the starting stints, and both survived a chaotic opening tour of Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya to then settle into eighth and ninth respectively after five laps behind the Safety Car.
The teammates initially matched each other for pace, but Dayson eventually took over as the lead RLR MSport contender, before a quick pit stop vaulted him up to fourth in class and ensured he completed a stellar stint well inside the top five.
The Canadian Am gave way to ELMS returnee Manchester at the two-hour mark, immediately after an FCY that cost the #5 crew approximately one minute to the lead LMP3 runners, and the British driver and Danish teammate Eriksen subsequently spent the latter half of the race circulating on the edge of the top six.
In fact, sixth is where they finished, three places ahead of Felbermayr, Julien and Kaprzyk, who emerged in a respectable ninth position for two championship points, even though the #15 car suffered a starter motor failure and lost nine laps in the pits.
“I’m very happy with how my race stints went,” said Dayson. “It was a bit of a crazy start with cars getting loose oat Turn 2 and spinning at Turn 3, but I managed to avoid all of the carnage and make the most of our car, which had a really strong race balance. My first stint was pretty clean and included some good battles, and I made up places before the first round of stops.
“From there, I had to manage a lot of traffic and the tyres, but I continued moving forward until the Full Course Yellow hampered us because we were about ten seconds too late to take advantage and pit. We fell off the lead lap as a result, but RLR MSport was great, I’m happy with what Jack (Manchester) and Valdemar (Eriksen) did and I’m hopeful we can fight for some podiums over the course of the season.”
Manchester added: “It was a really strong run to sixth place for us in the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Barcelona, which means good points and a solid foundation for the rest of the 2023 season. The entire RLR MSport team was excellent, and James (Dayson) and Valdemar (Eriksen) drove fantastic stints. Perhaps we deserved more today; the timing of the Full Course Yellow did us no favours, but that’s motor racing. I can’t wait for the next race in Le Castellet, and the rest of the season beyond that!”
Eriksen said: “All things considered, sixth is a decent result. Due to the new Full Course Yellow rules, we just missed the window and lost more than a minute in the pits, so we should have been fourth at the very least. Also, when I got in the car, we already had five track limits warnings so I had to leave a margin to avoid a penalty. RLR MSport did a great job – everything worked and my teammates, James (Dayson) and Jack (Manchester, showed good pace as well. All-in-all, it was a good day at the office.”
Felbermayr said: “The pace of the #15 RLR MSport car and the driver line-up was very good, but a mechanical issue destroyed our race. However, the crew worked very well to make sure we could reach the finish. I had no radio during my stint, so it wasn’t easy for me, especially as there was no information about traffic. Nevertheless, we collected two points and there are five rounds left to achieve our full potential.”
Julien added: “It’s obviously a disappointing weekend in terms of the final result, with a mechanical failure preventing us from fighting for a podium finish. On the positive side, the reality is that my stint was strong and RLR MSport did a great job, giving me, Horst (Jr Felbermayr) and Mateusz (Kaprzyk) a very good car. We can only regroup, analyse and come back even stronger in the next round.”
Kaprzyk said: “Of course, we were aiming much, much higher than ninth, but I’m focusing on the positives and we clearly had the potential to fight for a podium in the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Barcelona. Firstly, Horst (Jr Felbermayr) had a really solid first stint that put us in a very strong position when it came to the strategy for the second half of the race.
“Unfortunately, we lost the chance to challenge for a top three result because of a starter motor problem that occurred during the first pit stop, but these things happen in motorsport and it’s nobody’s fault. We weren’t going to give up, though. My stint was fast and consistent, and so was Gael’s (Julien). This means I’m very confident of challenging for the podium this year. A big thanks to the team and my partners, PKN ORLEN and PZU.”