Another podium was snatched from RLR MSport’s grasp when the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) raced deep into the night in the Le Castellet 240 at Circuit Paul Ricard (28-29 August).
Solid drives by James Dayson, Robert Megennis and Malthe Jakobsen in changeable conditions ensured RLR MSport led after three hours of racing, but a poorly timed Safety Car ultimately resigned the Motul-powered team to fourth in LMP3.
RLR MSport went second fastest in testing on Thursday (27 August) and maintained a strong presence at the top end of the timesheets in free practice.
Satisfied with its drivers’ testing performances, RLR MSport sat out FP1 as part of a tyre conservation exercise but made brief appearances in the Bronze Collective Test and FP2, held during the hours of darkness when conditions were most akin to what teams and drivers would experience in the race.
LMP3 Qualifying was held at a wet and gloomy Circuit Paul Ricard on Saturday afternoon and Jakobsen looked very comfortable in the inclement conditions.
The Danish teenager looked to have pole position in the bag when he went 1.2s quicker than the rest of the LMP3 field on a 2m07.564s, only to be pipped to pole in the final throes.
Canadian Am racer Dayson took the start from the front row of the grid and lost track position while trying to manage overheating tyres in the spray.
However, a Safety Car start and rainfall enabled RLR MSport to extend its fuel load and a dogged double stint meant Dayson was inside the top five when he passed the #15 Ligier to ELMS rookie Megennis.
The young American consistently lit up the timing screens with team-best laps in the 1m53s, reducing the gap to the class-leading #7 Nielsen Racing entry, which ultimately suffered a loss of power and gifted RLR MSport first position, just as it was preparing for its final driver-change.
Unfortunately, an ill-timed Safety Car placed RLR MSport on the back foot during the fourth hour. As per the regulations, the pit lane was closed when the Safety Car was deployed, forcing RLR to delay its stop until the resumption of racing.
Fuel was marginal and the #15 Ligier barely made it back to the pits, coughing and spluttering as Megennis toured in to pass control to Jakobsen, but the Safety Car had condensed the field and ultimately took the Motul-powered team out of podium contention.
With little hope of making up for lost time, Jakobsen pumped in the second fastest LMP3 lap of the race to consolidate fourth position, to keep RLR MSport in fourth in the championship with an assailable 19-point deficit to the leaders.
Dayson: “We got some really good points, but it’s one of those days where we fell short of what we expected and deserved through a bit of bad luck,” said Dayson. “Being in fourth feels like the first of the losers, and although I don’t think we would have won, a podium was definitely on the cards. I think we all drove well for the most part, although I could have done better in the first 30 minutes because I ended up overheating my tyres. It was definitely a crazy race, but we’re still in a very good championship position.”
Megennis added: “I wouldn’t say I’m 100 per cent satisfied with the result, but I’m really pleased with my own performance in the European Le Mans Series Le Castellet 240. I did a decent number of laps in testing to get myself up-to-speed, but it was tough to be as quick as my teammates, who have both previously completed full race weekends at Circuit Paul Ricard. It didn’t hold me back when it came to the race, which was so much fun, as I was able to continually set green sectors during my stint.
“It was another weekend of firsts, as I had never been to Le Castellet, never driven in the dark or in such changeable conditions. We definitely had a really good shot at winning and it’s a real shame the Safety Car came out when it did – I was due in to pass the car to Malthe (Jakobsen) when the pit lane closed and had to do some heavy fuel-saving behind the Safety Car, which went against us this time around. Still, I learnt so much again this weekend and I’ll take all that forward to the next round at Monza.”
Jakobsen said: “To finish fourth is a good result, but I was expecting a little more after testing and qualifying. We were all hoping for a podium at the very least and the pace we had in testing, FP2 and then again in qualifying showed we were more than capable. It was a little disappointing to not get pole, although I still beat a lot of very experienced drivers by a full second and our starting position didn’t impact the race result. My stint in the dark was quite uneventful, as I was a long way back from the podium and could only really concentrate on setting fast laps to consolidate fourth. The points keep us in a strong championship position, so hopefully we can do something more at Monza.”