RLR MSport intends to end the 2019 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) with a flourish in Portimao (25-27 October), but the British team is also aiming for the Michelin Le Mans Cup podium with LMP3 debutant Rob Wheldon and the returning Alex Kapadia.
Since returning to the LMP2 grid with a sole ORECA 07 at the start of the year, RLR MSport and drivers Bruno Senna, Arjun Maini and John Farano have set the pace in free practice, qualified at the sharp end and led a race outright.
Understandably, there’s a feeling within the team that it is due a strong points finish, and it remains confident that it will feature highly in the 18-strong LMP2 field in the concluding part of the 2019 ELMS at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve.
“It has been a trying season for us, but it’s always difficult for a new team to enter LMP2, which is very competitive,” said Senna. “We’ve had very good pace in most races, but bad luck, incidents or tricky conditions have prevented us from going forward. Having said that, RLR MSport has performed really well and I’m excited about ending the season on a high. I think Arjun (Maini) and John (Farano) will be very strong.
“Portimao is tough and very demanding on both the cars and the drivers. I first drove the track in wet conditions at night, which was quite tricky, but I’ve always been pretty decent there. It’s a big challenge to get everything dialled in, and while I expect the car to be well balanced from the outset, the focus will be on finding stability over the bumps.”
Maini added: “I raced in Portimao once before in 2015, but I don’t remember it that well and I’ll be using the first practice session to get reacquainted with the circuit. It’s the only track on the European Le Mans Series calendar that I don’t really know, but I have plenty of time to get my head around it and extract some speed from the car. All year we’ve had really good pace in the car, but the luck hasn’t run with us. Sometimes things don’t go to plan, but I’m hopeful that it will all come together in Portugal and I think we would be quite happy with a top six finish to end the season.”
Fate continued conspiring against RLR MSport’s LMP3 crew in last month’s ELMS 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, as contact from a GTE Ferrari necessitated a lengthy repair stop that cost Christian Olsen, Martin Rich and Martin Vedel Mortensen a strong points finish.
The trio has been more than capable of finishing in the upper reaches of the top ten all year and has one more opportunity to achieve a truly representative result in the season-ending Portuguese leg of the ELMS, on the undulating and technically demanding Portimao circuit.
However, RLR MSport’s hopes extend to the supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup, as it will field a sole Ligier JSP3 for LMP3 newcomer Rob Wheldon and the returning Alex Kapadia, who comes off a 12-month hiatus from competitive motorsport.
Wheldon is a stalwart of sports-prototype racing who has sporadic appearances in the International GT Open and podium-yielding performances in the Ginetta GT4 Supercup to his name.
Runner-up in the Radical UK Cup’s Supersport division for two years running in 2010 and 2011, he has since finished second in the 2012 Radical European Masters and become a serial race winner in the burgeoning Sports Prototype Cup.
Wheldon will be teamed with RLR MSport-returnee Kapadia in the 2019 Le Mans Cup finale and expects his grounding in sports-prototypes and his knowledge of the Portimao circuit to smooth his transition to LMP3 machinery.
“LMP3 is brand new to me, but I don’t think it will be too alien,” said Wheldon. “I wouldn’t consider entering the Michelin Le Mans Cup if I didn’t believe Alex (Kapadia) and I have a decent chance of challenging for a podium. I’ve raced and tested in Portimao quite a few times now, so that removes some of the unknown from the equation, and because there’s a reasonable amount of testing during a Le Mans Cup weekend, Alex and I should be in fairly good shape come raceday. Alex and I go back a long way and there has never been much between us on the track. Of course, because Alex has experience in P3, he has a head start over me, but we’ve always got on well and pushed each other on.”