RLR MSport returned to winning ways in the final round of the Michelin Le Mans Cup at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve with LMP3 debutant Rob Wheldon and the returning Alex Kapadia (25-27 October).
Despite initially losing track position as the Le Mans Cup field fanned out on the approach to Turn 1, Wheldon kept a cool head and surged from third on the grid to second position before the end of the first sector.
After a lurid moment, RLR MSport’s LMP3 debutant entered a management phase where the focus was on keeping first place within view and third place at arm’s length, although consecutive Full Course Yellows presented an opportunity to regroup and mount an attack for the lead.
The DKR Engineering driver in P1 ultimately succumbed to the pressure, spinning down the order and opening the door to Wheldon, who pressed on and extended RLR MSport’s advantage to 24 seconds on the run to the compulsory driver-changes.
A calm, well-drilled stop ensured RLR MSport maintained a healthy lead into the second hour and Kapadia had the relatively simple task of staying on the black stuff and managing the gap to Lanan Racing and DKR in second and third.
Kapadia matched the chasing pack for pace, but the pressure was lifted when his nearest rivals tangled, and the Brit was able to take a controlled and consistent approach to the end, to return RLR MSport to the top step of the winners’ rostrum.
“It’s amazing to get up onto the top step of the podium on my return to the Michelin Le Mans Cup with RLR MSport,” said Kapadia. “Rob (Wheldon) did a superb job to get up to second place at the start, so my role was to simply stay ahead of the pack, and it worked out. It’s a super strong grid that’s also big in numbers, and Rob commented on just how tough it is. We’ve raced together in various different categories, but you can really see the quality when you enter the series. Because it’s so competitive, the races are real sprints, and the team nailed it.”
Wheldon added: “I had a brilliant start and managed to get up into second position early on, but my pace wasn’t quite as strong as I had hoped. I wasn’t able to close down the lead DKR Engineering car, but the Full Course Yellows gave me a chance to apply some pressure and force my rival into a mistake. From there, it was about bringing the car back to Alex (Kapadia) with a reasonable gap.
“It’s fantastic to have stood on the top step of the podium on my Michelin Le Mans Cup debut. We came here thinking we could have a good go at it, but this is my first time in an LMP3 car and it was a learning experience for me. I wanted to be faster, but that will always be the case and I’m sure I’d get quicker with more time and experience. I have enjoyed every minute of working with RLR MSport, and I can’t thank the team enough for the opportunity.”
In the ELMS 4 Hours of Portimao, RLR MSport was yet again struck by misfortune.
The team’s LMP2 and LMP3 cars emerged unscathed from a dramatic opening lap that claimed several high-profile scalps and resulted in a protracted 55-minute red flag stoppage.
John Farano, who took the start, was switched for Bruno Senna when the race resumed behind the Safety Car, but a broken wishbone necessitated a lengthy repair stop that ultimately resigned the team to 15th in the definitive LMP2 classification.
RLR MSport’s LMP3 line-up fared a little better. Olsen went from 11th to fourth before breaching the podium places with a brave passing manoeuvre on the #2 United Autosports machine just prior to the first driver-change.
Unfortunately, Martin Rich was tagged into a spin shortly after stepping into the #15 Ligier JSP3, and having lost a lap to the class leaders, the British Am and teammate Martin Vedel Mortensen were unable to improve on tenth.
RLR MSport Director of Motorsport Operations, Nick Reynolds, said: “The Michelin Le Mans Cup victory in Portimao demonstrates that RLR MSport has always had the ability and equipment to win races and championship titles. Alex (Kapadia) is known to be a class act and a very reliable driver, and we had a lot of faith in Rob (Wheldon) too, although it’s fair to say he exceeded expectations. We provided a quick, reliable car and both drivers had pace straight out of the blocks in free practice. Their race performance was impeccable, and the RLR MSport pit crew were flawless. It has been a tough and unlucky season, so it’s nice to end with a truly representative result.”