RLR MSport was on course to bookend the 2020 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) with podiums, until a starter motor failure removed the team from third place at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve (30 October-1 November).
The Motul-powered team opened 2020 with a top three result in Le Castellet, and Lorenzo Veglia, James Dayson and Malthe Jakobsen each contributed stellar race stints to remain in podium contention until the final ten minutes of the Portimao finale.
RLR MSport concluded official testing fourth in LMP3 but worked its way up into third in FP1 on Friday, before securing a position on row two of the grid in Saturday’s tightly bunched qualifying session.
However, new recruit Veglia improved from third to second on the opening lap of the ELMS 4 Hours of Portimao (Sunday 1 November), despite locking his brakes at Turn 2, and then successfully blocked United Autosports’ attempts to regain track position.
The brawl enabled the #2 United Autosports entry to scamper away and consolidate first position, but RLR MSport headed the LMP3 class after its rival chose to box during an early Full Course Yellow (FCY).
Despite carrying deep flat-spots on his front tyres, Veglia was still one of the quickest drivers of the first stint, and he built a 12-second lead during 33 gruelling laps of the Portimao circuit that took his Michelins down to the canvas.
With Dayson at the controls of the #15 Ligier, RLR MSport cycled back up from the lower half of the top ten to third, the Canadian Am lapping competitively in the 1m40s to reduce a four-second deficit to United Autosports at mid-distance.
However, a Safety Car compressed the entire ELMS field and Dayson switched from attacker to defender at the restart, soaking up immense pressure and guarding his position until he was summoned into the pits to give way to teenage teammate Jakobsen.
RLR MSport’s grip on third position tightened as Jakobsen executed no less than four on-track passes on rival cars from Nielsen Racing, Realteam Racing, United Autosports and Eurointernational before building what looked to be an unassailable advantage over the chasing pack.
But the #15 Ligier JSP320 required a splash of fuel to reach the finish and the team’s podium charge came to an abrupt end when it was struck by a terminal starter motor failure in the pits, just ten minutes from the chequered flag.
“My race pace was really strong, I pulled off some good overtakes and I may have had the best averages in LMP3, so I’m not too disappointed to have missed out on the podium,” said Jakobsen. “For me, this was a learning year because I came into the European Le Mans Series with very little car racing experience, and I’ve certainly gained a lot of knowledge that will put me in a much stronger position going forward. Even though it’s always nice to get trophies, I was never too concerned about results, but our performances have been great and I’m happy with the way the season has gone.”
Dayson added: “Lorenzo (Veglia), Malthe (Jakobsen) and I all drove really well and RLR MSport gave us everything we needed to achieve a great result. We were quick, we were clean, and we were unquestionably on our way to third position, the cards just didn’t fall our way. Malthe and I did a lot of fuel-saving just to get a bit closer to the end, and while we did a good job, we were a little short of the target. Looking back, we had opportunities to take silverware from at least three races this year and it sucks that we didn’t get the podium we deserved in Portimao. RLR MSport gave us a fighting chance every weekend, but we just lacked luck. Our performances bode well for the future.”
Veglia said: “I’m so disappointed to have missed out on my first European Le Mans Series podium, but mechanical failures happen in motorsport and there’s nothing anybody could have done to prevent it. While it’s painful, I am happy with my own performance, because the weekend was quite difficult for me. I worked hard to understand the car and the way RLR MSport operates – it was all quite different to what I experienced before – to make sure I was as competitive as possible, and I succeeded. It helped that I really enjoyed working with RLR MSport, as everybody was nice but serious and precise, and I believe Malthe (Jakobsen), James (Dayson) and I were a strong combination.”