RLR MSport resolutely pushed on through a troubled week in the 24 Hours of Le Mans-supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup ‘Road to Le Mans’ races at the iconic Circuit de la Sarthe (14-16 June).
The first Le Mans Cup free practice session, held on a beautifully warm and sunny Wednesday (13 June) evening, yielded mixed results for RLR MSport, as another strong showing from Job van Uitert and John Farano was contrasted by misfortune for series newcomers Josh Burdon and Neric Wei.
Van Uitert’s first flying lap – 3m56.506s – briefly launched RLR MSport to the top of the leaderboard, but the times tumbled quickly in the cooling evening temperatures and his best effort of 3m55.674s was ultimately good enough for eighth in the final classification.
Farano backed up his young Dutch teammate’s performance by steadily reducing his lap times throughout free practice, finally dipping into the 4m03s, but he and Van Uitert would qualify out of position in 13th during the two-part Qualifying Practice session, disrupted by slow zones, stoppages and traffic (Thursday 14 June).
In the sister #59 car, a recurrent braking issue sidelined Burdon and Wei for the duration of free practice and, with no experience of the 13.6km Circuit de la Sarthe, they ended the red flag-affected qualifying session in 22nd.
Despite a turbulent start to race week, both RLR MSport driver crews were confident they could make some headway in the 55-minute races, the first of which was held on Thursday afternoon as a precursor to the final 24 Hours of Le Mans qualifying segments.
Both Van Uitert and Burdon aced their starts; the former in the #14 Ligier JSP3 scythed his way up the order from 13th to seventh on the first tour of Circuit de la Sarthe, before picking off the sixth-placed #16 M Racing – YMR entry, while the latter sensationally rose 12 places from 22nd to tenth in a single lap.
Sadly, terminal mechanical troubles struck both RLR MSport cars in sync, Van Uitert suffering a driveshaft failure and shuddering to a halt out on track and Burdon touring back to the pits to retire the ailing #59 car, after sustaining debilitating front-end damage in a high-speed collision with a bollard.
RLR MSport went the distance in the Road to Le Mans Feature Race, held immediately prior to the headlining 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Van Uitert and Wei moved forward from 15th and 38th respectively, but a protracted Safety Car intervention restricted their green flag running to just two laps and that was particularly costly for the #14 crew, which lost track position in the compulsory driver changes.
Farano took the reins of the #14 Ligier JSP3 for the final 25 minutes and the Canadian gentleman driver reached the end of the Road to Le Mans in 21st overall, while Burdon climbed the leaderboard at a vast rate, progressing from 28th to 19th on the run to the chequered flag.
Van Uitert said: “It’s a real shame, but we didn’t have the luck this week,” said van Uitert. “We couldn’t maximise our pace in qualifying because of traffic and then the session was red-flagged, but I felt good about the races and I was right to be confident, because we were moving forward very quickly until a driveshaft failure forced us into retirement. In the Feature Race, a Safety Car and slow zones ruined our strategy, but that’s the way it is and we can’t change the outcome. Nevertheless, Le Mans has been cool and it has been a pleasure to drive at Circuit de la Sarthe. It has made me even more determined to race in the 24 Hours.”
The European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring and the next instalment of the 2018 Michelin Le Mans Cup in Austria’s Styrian Alps will be held on 20-22 July.