RLR MSport was once again the victim of poor driving standards in the 2021 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, a rear-end collision resulting in significant, race-ending damage.
The #15 crew of Mike Benham, Alex Kapadia and Malthe Jakobsen qualified fifth and were running well inside the top ten in LMP3 when, as in previous rounds, they were the recipient of an avoidable shove that took them out of the race.
In free practice, RLR MSport continued the good work conducted in mid-week testing, honing its long-run performance.
The Motul-powered team edged into the top ten with British Am driver Benham in Bronze Collective Testing and continued on an upward trajectory on Saturday, when it went sixth fastest in FP2 and fifth in LMP3 Qualifying.
In the race proper on Sunday (19 September), Benham lost four positions in a chaotic start, but, having successfully negotiated collisions and spinning cars at the La Source hairpin, he quickly recovered to seventh after a Safety Car restart.
He held his own until lap 19, when contact from an LMP2 car forced him to limp back to the pits, where RLR MSport discovered significant damage to the #15 Ligier JSP320’s diffuser, engine cover and suspension.
The team was forced to withdraw from the ELMS 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, and Benham reacted to the DNF by saying: “The way the Spa race ended is beyond a joke, and quite a few conversations were had with Race Direction during and after the event. A lot of people feel the driving standards have deteriorated to an unacceptable level, and it needs to be addressed. So much damage was done and so many races were compromised due to poor driving, and what happened to us was disgraceful. The offender has received a grid-drop and points on his license, but I feel the penalty should be harsher.
“It gets to a point where you doubt your own sanity, wondering why you even bother going racing. We now haven’t finished two races through no fault of our own, and a third was destroyed because of another avoidable incident. I accept that it is part of motorsport, but there’s far too much poor driving for it to be dismissed as ‘just racing’.”
Benham continued: “We struggled with our car to begin with. Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps has done a great job to keep the venue open following the horrendous summer flooding, but track repairs gave Eau Rouge significantly different characteristics. I was still learning the car and getting a feel for the circuit in my first race stint but knew I had pace in my pocket, which I was deploying when the collision happened. Once again, it’s a shame because we were ahead on strategy and a podium was achievable. I was keeping in touch with those ahead of me and Alex (Kapadia) and Malthe (Jakobsen) certainly had the pace to move forward, so it’s another missed opportunity.”
Kapadia said: “I don’t know where to start. We did everything right this weekend. In FP1, we discovered the car was bottoming out quite a lot at Eau Rouge, but RLR MSport worked on a solution that not only solved that problem, but was actually very effective the whole way round the lap.
“We had just made our first mandatory pit stop under a Full Course Yellow when we were hit by somebody who was clearly driving beyond their ability. It’s so annoying because Mike (Benham) was driving a fantastic stint, RLR MSport was executing an excellent strategy and the car was the best it has been all year long, so we were looking at a podium at the very least.”
Jakobsen added: “I’m very disappointed, although I’m starting to get used to this because it isn’t the first time we’ve been taken out of an ELMS race this year. We were looking really strong up until the crash and Mike (Benham) was driving well, and while it’s hard to say for sure, I believe Alex (Kapadia) and I would have been capable of pushing forward to a podium result.
“We’ve had more than our fair share of bad luck this year and I have to believe our fortunes will take a turn for the better in Portimao, but there’s nothing you can do when other people make such stupid mistakes.”