RLR MSport’s LMP3 trio, Christian Olsen, Martin Rich and Martin Vedel Mortensen, achieved a top ten finish in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Silverstone (30-31 August), but it was a race the Bolton team also led with its burgeoning LMP2 effort.
Olsen was ninth in class at the end of the red flag-affected FP1 session, although he was buoyed by the fact his theoretical best would put him fourth, and by his ability to pull out fast times on tyres that had completed more than a stint-length in the elongated FP2 session.
The Dane’s practice pace meant he was called up to the plate for LMP3 qualifying on Saturday morning but, unsettled by a lastminute setup change, he could only secure tenth on the ELMS 4 Hours of Silverstone starting grid.
All eyes were on the sky as dark clouds loomed over the Northamptonshire countryside during the final build-up to the race.
The track was declared wet during the formation laps and a heavy downpour followed, saturating Silverstone as the field streamed away towards Turn 1 on the opening lap of the 240-minute enduro.
Conditions went from dry-to-wet and then wet-to-dry in no time at all and, after a solid start and two reactive tyre stops, Olsen was running competitively in tenth, just six seconds off the #8 Nielsen Racing car.
However, the #15 RLR MSport Ligier JSP3 cycled through to third in class during the second hour, and the team’s plan appeared to be coming together until a starter motor issue caused a significant delay in the first driver-change when Olsen gave way to Rich.
Some determined driving enabled Rich to climb from outside the top ten to seventh and protracted Safety Car interventions put him on terms with the sixth-placed M Racing car, which he duly dispatched at the resumption of racing.
Vedel Mortensen was installed during the fourth and final hour, but the young Dane had very little time to make an impression and ultimately received the chequered flag in a respectable tenth place.
“Christian (Olsen) drove a fantastic opening stint and I felt mine was also good,” said Rich. “My times were very consistent and I think the pace was ok, although it was very, very hard to know where I was with it being such a messy, eventful race, and that’s off-putting as a driver.
“I had some good battles and made up places to get back into the top ten, but a starter motor issue wrecked our chances of achieving a good result. It’s a little frustrating. Christian did a good job, I did too and Martin (Vedel) couldn’t really make an impact during such a short stint at the end. It’s another ‘nearly weekend’, but we’ve shown here and in the previous race in Barcelona that we have all the right components. We just need everything to come together and we will be in the fight for the podium.”
For RLR MSport’s LMP2 contingent, the pace was strong from the outset of free practice on Friday (30 August) and times in the mid-to-high 1m44s were enough to lead the Dunlop charge from inside the top three during the early stages of both sessions.
The Bolton team’s LMP2 trio ultimately ended the shortened, red flag-affected FP1 session in sixth and the lengthened FP2 session in tenth, but India’s Arjun Maini felt the Dunlop tyres had more to give.
FP2 was the first real opportunity for RLR MSport newcomer Matthieu Vaxiviere to get a feel for the #43 ORECA 07 Gibson.
The 24-year old Frenchman completed 11 laps of the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in race trim and was competitive straight out of the blocks, much like team regulars Maini and John Farano, who saw out the two-hour session.
Optimising long-run performance had been the priority, therefore RLR MSport felt it was somewhat out of position at the end of qualifying on Saturday morning, Maini having set a weekend-best 1m43.299s to claim ninth on the 4 Hours of Silverstone grid.
Vaxiviere made up three places away from the start and bagged fifth on lap two by going late on the brakes past Cool Racing’s Antonin Borga into Brooklands.
Slicks were exchanged for grooved tyres on lap three; it was the right call and Vaxiviere was able to deploy his supreme speed in changeable conditions, scythe his way up the order and establish a comfortable 26-second lead.
The wet weather passed and RLR MSport’s quick-thinking strategists made good use of a second Full Course Yellow (FCY) to switch back to slicks, extending the team’s advantage to more than half a minute, which Vaxiviere maintained through into the second hour.
After a sensational 39-lap stint, Vaxiviere gave way to Farano. The Canadian Am’s pace was good and he kept hold of the initiative until lap 47 when experienced Pros arrived on the scene.
Rather than defending, Farano ran his own race to minimise his time-loss, but was unceremoniously taken out of the race when an over-exuberant LMP2 rival made contact with a lapped LMP3 car, sending it spearing backwards into the #43 RLR MSport ORECA.
Farano did his best to take avoiding action, but the contact was severe and a thorough inspection of the car revealed a terminally damaged gearbox.
RLR MSport Director of Motorsport Operations, Nick Reynolds, said: “I think we deserved a lot more from the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Silverstone, having led the race overall and fought our way up into the podium places in LMP3. It’s a frustrating end to a very promising weekend, but it’s encouraging that we’re able to fight at the front in both classes. Once again, strategy was one of our strong suits, as we put the ORECA 07 LMP2 on the right tyres at the right time to draw out a big advantage, but each one of our drivers made a significant contribution.”