RLR MSport and Haytham Qarajouli have been confirmed as 2022 Ligier European Series JS2 R Teams and Drivers Champions after increasing their race wins and podiums tallies in the penultimate round of the season at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (23-24 September).
Qarajouli, who only contested the Ginetta Junior Championship before stepping onto the international stage this year, has accrued five race wins, one podium finish, six pole positions and four fastest laps, and he holds an unassailable 55-point lead over M Racing and Laurent Millara with only the season-ending Portimao Heat remaining.
In Qualifying for the Ligier European Series Spa Heat, a last-minute entry from fellow RLR MSport driver Horst Felix Felbermayr (2m35.628s) lifted the young Austrian to second on the race one grid, but having gone fourth fastest in Q1, title contender Qarajouli went on to top the Q2 times with a 2m32.835s to nab pole for race two.
The dry, warm and sunny conditions that dominated on Friday were replaced by drizzle for Heat 1 on Saturday morning, but, while grip was at a premium, Qarajouli found his feet quickly and was second by the end of the first sector, in which Felbermayr tumbled to fifth place while gathering up a dramatic slide at Raidillon.
Qarajouli was chasing down the class-leading #11 TM Evolution car and Felbermayr fourth-placed Fabien Delaplace when the Safety Car was deployed on lap three, but the field spread as conditions became trickier after the restart and it was status quo until the compulsory stops at mid-distance.
However, there was drama when the class-leading #11 machine ended up in the gravel on its out-lap from the pits, gifting P1 to Qarajouli who himself slithered into the kitty litter at Curve Paul Frère with the Safety Car on-track for a second time.
Felbermayr, though, had gained positions during the pit window and was also a beneficiary of his teammate’s demise, and the Austrian teenager did well to keep a cool head as others faltered in the treacherous conditions and come home to a deserved second-place result.
Happily, the weather improved for part two of the Ligier European Series Spa Heat and Qarajouli duly led away from pole position, although he had his attempts to gap the field thwarted by a Safety Car, deployed after Felbermayr was spun out in a collision at Les Combes.
The 18-year-old headed a four-car fight for the lead at the resumption of racing, but, unable to build an advantage between Safety Cars, the mandated longer minimum pit stop time for Silver-graded drivers ensured he dropped to third.
Unperturbed, he set purple and green sectors to return to the sharp end of the JS2 R pack, where he drove a controlled race to seal his fifth victory of the 2022 season and, with it, the Ligier European Series JS2 R title with one heat still to run at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve (14-15 October).
“First and foremost, I’d like to thank my sponsors, family and supporters back home for their backing,” said Qarajouli. “It has been a great year in the Ligier European Series and I’m so happy to have contested my first season of international racing with a brand like Ligier, which has organised a fantastic championship, built an amazing car in the Ligier JS2 R and formed a brilliant calendar that includes some epic circuits.
“I can’t thank RLR MSport enough, as the team ran a really great car all year and deserved to win the Teams title. I couldn’t be happier to be Ligier European Series Champion and I’m looking forward to celebrating the win with friends and family, as well as RLR MSport and Ligier, who have been really supportive throughout the year.”
Felbermayr said: “Of course, I’m really happy to have come out of my first ever race at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps with a trophy for second position, but it has been a weekend of mixed fortunes for me.
“Free practice was affected by a fuel pressure problem but I got up to speed quickly and produced a good qualifying performance, although my fastest time was deleted for exceeding track limits. Nevertheless, the first race was really good and, while race two was a disaster, I’ve enjoyed driving at Spa. It is definitely one of my favourite circuits and corners like Eau Rouge really have lived up to my expectations.”
RLR MSport Director of Motorsport Operations, Nick Reynolds, said: “I’m delighted and proud that RLR MSport has come away with championship wins in only the team’s maiden season in the Ligier European Series, and I’m thrilled for Haytham (Qarajouli), as he has been a dominant force all year and is fully deserving of the title. We have been associated with Ligier for years and I’m thankful to the brand for supplying great race cars, providing excellent support and organising incredible championships. Credit goes to everyone involved with RLR MSport, as so many people have played an instrumetal role in delivering yet more championship success.”