RLR MSport achieved a dominant win on its Asian Le Mans Series debut at the Shanghai International Circuit in China (22-24 November).
RLR MSport topped the charts in private testing and maintained a significant advantage over its LMP2 Am rivals in free practice to go into qualifying as the favourite for pole position.
However, a string of track limits infringements prompted stewards to delete the team’s best qualification times, and a 1m57.841s, set by Maini on a cautious banker lap, resigned the squad to second in class.
From the front row of the LMP2 Am grid, Maini made a clean start and quickly relieved the #4 ARC Bratislava entry of the lead.
The young Indian racer made good on his escape, consistently lapping between two and four seconds quicker than his nearest rival to build a massive advantage and break ranks by getting in among the LMP2 Pro runners.
Having risen to third place overall during an extraordinary 50-minute stint, Maini gave way to Farano in the first round of scheduled stops.
The Canadian Am managed the race well and breached the 2m05s barrier during a fault-free stint to keep RLR MSport at the top, but the team’s 40-second lead turned into a 40-second deficit after the second round of driver-changes.
RLR MSport switched Farano for Higgins under green-flag conditions shortly before a protracted Full Course Yellow-Safety Car period, which presented ARC Bratislava with an opportunity to minimise its time in the pits and take the lead.
In an attempt to recover the lost ground, RLR MSport reinstalled Maini and fitted the #59 ORECA 05 with fresh tyres, only for the #4 car to grind to a halt with one hour remaining.
From there, the team had a clear run at the top step of the podium; Maini and Higgins drove consistently during outstanding stints to finish seventh overall and take a dominant LMP2 Am victory on RLR MSport’s maiden outing in the burgeoning Asian Le Mans Series.
“I’m very satisfied with the victory, as it was a tricky race with a few unexpected challenges,” said Higgins. “Compared to free practice, I struggled to get my head around tyre and fuel management and that wasn’t helped by radio problems that effected a lot of teams up and down the pit lane. Nevertheless, it was a pretty good performance from me, RLR MSport did an amazing job and John (Farano) and Arjun (Maini) drove impeccably well. My aim was simply to not make mistakes and I achieved that, staying consistent to bring the car home in one piece and wrap up the win. Overall, it has been an amazing experience, although I have work to do before the next round in Australia.”
Maini added: “I’m quite happy with the result and my performance, although the victory came harder than expected. We were unlucky with the timing of the first Full Course Yellow, but I was actually disappointed that ARC Bratislava retired – I wanted to pass them on-track, because we were in a strong position to do so with our pace and strategy. However, it was a good fight, Andy (Higgins) did a great job in his maiden LMP2 race and John (Farano) performed brilliantly in his first competitive outing with the ORECA 05, and it’s comforting to know that we can make more progress with the car next time out in Australia.”
Farano said: “It was a lot of fun, as it’s my first time in Shanghai and my first race with the ORECA 05. I’ve had to learn both the car and the track this weekend, and I’m really happy with my performance, especially as it has been so difficult to reach this point. I felt I managed the race quite well and Arjun (Maini) and Andy (Higgins) did a great job.”