RLR MSport challenged for the podium but took points away from Rounds 1 and 2 of the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series at Dubai Autodrome (13-14 February) with Malthe Jakobsen, Max Hanratty and LMP3 debutant Bashar Mardini.

With four races across two consecutive weekends, the Asian Le Mans Series organisers altered the qualifying format so that the fastest times set by each car in the GT, LMP3 and LMP2 segments determined the starting order for race one on Saturday (13 February), and the second-best laps were used to form the grid for race two on Sunday (14 February).

Danish teenager Jakobsen put RLR MSport fourth on the LMP3 grid for the opening round of the 2021 Asian Le Mans season, but it was Hanratty who took the race-start and snatched third place on the opening lap of the 5.39km Dubai Autodrome.

The young American spent much of his stint playing a rear-guard action against the #4 Phoenix Racing and #9 Nielsen Racing cars but was fourth and within reach of the podium places when he gave way to Mardini, who also lapped competitively to keep RLR MSport inside the top five.

A Full Course Yellow (FCY) neutralised the race during the second LMP3 pit window at half-distance, and RLR MSport maximised the opportunity, unleashing Jakobsen in a bid to chase down a podium result.

Team-best lap times followed, RLR MSport’s 15-second deficit disappeared and Jakobsen rose from fifth to third, before catching and muscling his way past the second-placed Nielsen car in a bold move under braking for Turn 1.

However, one last driver-change reversed the positions, and an unfortunate spin for Mardini during the final stint put RLR MSport back in the pack, on the edge of the top six at the chequered flag.

In the second Asian Le Mans Series race on Sunday (14 February), RLR MSport altered its strategy by deploying Jakobsen in the opening stint.

From fifth on the grid, the young Dane surged to the top of the LMP3 leaderboard on lap one and immediately began stretching his legs, building a substantial lead during a sensational 33-lap run that was punctuated by two lengthy FCYs.

The neutralisations prevented RLR MSport from taking full advantage of Jakobsen’s high turn of speed, but his supreme pace and consistency still equated to a 41-second lead at the first driver-change.

Mardini was tasked with managing the gap, and while the Dubai-based racer did a stellar job as he continued his steep learning curve, he ended his double stint in sixth.

Unfortunately, RLR MSport lost heaps of time when it was served with two drive-through penalties for pit lane infringements, and Hanratty could do no more than bring the car home safely to an eventual seventh-place finish.

“RLR MSport has been fantastic, providing a really strong car and all the resources we could possibly need, but I struggled to get to grips with the Ligier JSP320 in what is an extremely competitive series, and I didn’t completely deliver on my potential,” said Hanratty. “My focus is on finding pace and adapting to the way the car’s handling reacts to temperature changes, ageing tyres and different fuel loads, to hopefully do better in the next two Asian Le Mans Series races in Abu Dhabi. It’s always difficult when you arrive at a new team with unfamiliar teammates because there are a lot of moving pieces, but we really set the groundwork for Abu Dhabi and things are beginning to flow.”

Mardini said: “It has been a huge, character-building process, as I have never driven a downforce car or a Le Mans Prototype, and the Asian Le Mans Series is new to me too. There was a lot to take in and my objective was to drive within myself and avoid mistakes. I found that LMP3 cars are not easy or intuitive to drive and there’s still a long way to go, but it was a decent start and I’m happy to have finished and scored points in both races. Of course, sixth and seventh isn’t where we want to be but I’ll continue taking one step at a time, to get comfortable with the car and focus on hitting all my marks in Abu Dhabi, in the hope that we come away with a stronger result.”

Jakobsen added: “We spent all of testing and free practice working on a good race car, and the effort paid off because that’s exactly what we had, which is why I was able to push so hard. If I reflect on my own performances, I’m happy – it would have been hard to do any better against such a high-quality LMP3 field. This being Bashar’s (Mardini) maiden LMP3 race weekend and Max’s (Hanratty) first outing in the Ligier JSP320, the goal was to come through cleanly and learn from the experience, and we have certainly done that. However, there’s still a way to go and the learning curve will continue in Abu Dhabi.”