Sixth position in the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Silverstone (17-18 August) has bolstered RLR MSport’s position at the head of the LMP3 Teams’ and Drivers’ standings.
The Bolton-based team went into the British leg of the ELMS with the aim of consolidating its slender 10.5-point advantage over Eurointernational, and it will head into the penultimate round of the 2018 season at Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (21-23 September) with an extended 12-point buffer, thanks to a solid sixth-place result achieved on home soil at Silverstone.
John Farano did the bulk of the driving in free practice on Friday (17 August) and the Canadian Am ended FP1 as the sixth fastest driver with a time of 1m56.877s, but confidently predicted that the RLR MSport-prepared Ligier JSP3 would give up far more pace once fresh tyres were fitted for qualifying and the race.
On Saturday, Job van Uitert was elected to qualify the #15 Ligier and, crucially, the 19-year old’s efforts placed RLR MSport ahead of its main rivals for the LMP3 title – the #11 Eurointernational entry of Kay van Berlo and Giorgio Mondini – for the start of the 4 Hours of Silverstone.
Van Uitert’s best time of 1m56.195s was enough for a position on the third row of the grid, but the young Dutchman progressed quickly from sixth to fourth after a trip across the run-off area at the exit of the first corner, Abbey.
Although he fell away from the top three during the opening exchanges, Van Uitert kept AT Racing’s Yann Clairey at arm’s length until the first round of stops, when he missed his marks and RLR MSport’s re-fueller was unable to connect the fuel hose.
Approximately 13 seconds were lost during the ‘splash-and-dash’, but the team was still in podium contention when Van Uitert relinquished the Watches of Lancashire-backed Ligier after 64 laps, Farano emerging from the driver-change in third position.
The Canadian gent defended admirably against Ecurie Ecosse’s Alex Kapadia and 360 Racing’s Terrance Woodward, but ultimately conceded the positions.
Thereafter, he remained in Woodward’s wheeltracks to not only maintain fifth position, but successfully extend his advantage over Andrea Dromendari in sixth during his hour-long stint behind the wheel.
The order shuffled incessantly as strategies unfolded and RLR MSport’s Rob Garofall found himself embroiled in a fraught three-way fight for fourth during the final 60 minutes of the race.
After executing a well-timed lunge on the #6 360 Racing machine of James Swift at Stowe, Garofall and his rival remained locked together as they dipped through the Vale and into the Club chicane, where contact was made.
Swift was sent into a spin and Garofall continued on his way after a brief trip across the grass, only to be slapped with a drive-through penalty that resigned RLR MSport to a sixth-place result.
“It’s frustrating, because while we wouldn’t have won, we would have finished fourth and I gave two places away,” said Garofall. “It’s annoying, it was unnecessary and I’m cross with myself, to be honest. However, the aim for this weekend was to consolidate and the result is still great for the championship because we’ve moved clear of Eurointernational. Of course, our lead could have been even larger.”
Farano added: “The aim this weekend was to consolidate our championship lead and achieve points. We’re obviously disappointed with the overall result because we were hoping for a little more coming into the event, but we’ve extended our lead and it’s positive going to Spa, where I expect we will be much stronger. Collecting points will be the approach for the remaining two rounds of the season at Spa and in Portimao. To get two wins from the first three races in the European Le Mans Series is quite good and we decided after our most recent victory at the Red Bull Ring to focus on finishing in the points, rather than taking risks. If we get a third or fourth at Spa, we will be right there for the season finale.”
Van Uitert concluded: “I wanted more from this weekend. Sixth isn’t bad, but I would rather finish higher and we definitely had an opportunity to take fourth, but some mistakes were made by me and Rob (Garofall) and they caused us to lose out. I try not to look at where our rivals finish, instead focusing on where we can maximise our own potential and we didn’t get the most from today’s race. Having said that, it’s difficult to have a run of endurance races where absolutely everything goes to plan and today could have been far worse.”
The European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will take place on 21-23 September.