RLR MSport ran competitively in both LMP2 and LMP3, but the team’s run of misfortune continued in the 2019 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Spa (20-22 September).
This approach meant RLR MSport’s sole LMP3 entry was side-lined for the duration of FP2 and only emerged from the Spa pit lane for Saturday’s cut-and-thrust Qualifying session, when Christian Olsen recorded a 2m14.482s to seal a ninth-place starting position for the 4 Hours of Spa.
Denmark’s Olsen duly started the 240-minute race on Sunday (22 September) afternoon; he steadily progressed to seventh during a truncated stint, cut short by an early Safety Car.
Martin Rich followed with a double stint. The Brit entered the fray on the outskirts of the top ten and, as the fourth of the Safety Car stoppers, looked on for a respectable result until contact from a GTE Ferrari damaged a legality panel, forcing him to return to the pits for an unscheduled repair stop.
The #15 Ligier was stationary for more than eight minutes and, despite Rich and Martin Vedel’s best efforts, RLR MSport was resigned to 11th in the final LMP3 classification.
“The car wasn’t handling as we wanted, but the general pace seems to suggest everybody was finding it difficult, so I think the track conditions were the problem,” said Rich. “I wanted to go quicker when in the car, but I was actually on the pace and then received an avoidable shunt from a GTE Ferrari at the Bus Stop chicane. That was a decent result, possibly a top six, gone, and it was all down to the impetuousness of another driver. I did everything I could to stay out of his way, but it isn’t the first time we’ve been hit this season. This is another one that got away.”
For RLR MSport’s LMP2 crew, Friday’s running was frustrated by a mysterious handling issue that first manifested as a loose rear-end in Wednesday’s test and continued impacting drivers’ pace and confidence during FP1 and the Bronze Collective Test.
Inspections of the car and its setup revealed no anomalies, but RLR MSport’s mechanics put in a late shift on Friday night to strip down and rebuild the #43 ORECA 07 in an attempt identify the root cause of the problem.
A replacement gearbox and differential were installed, and there was a notable improvement in FP2 on Saturday (21 September) morning.
Arjun Maini recorded a time in the 2m04s to go 13th fastest and RLR MSport’s fuel-corrected pace was far more competitive, but the car’s setup was still suboptimal, and work was neededto address a lack of traction out of slow corners.
Following his sterling practice performance, Maini was put on qualifying detail and the young Indian driver was significantly closer to the pace; knowledge gained during FP2 helped RLR MSport choose a setup path and Maini recorded a 2m02.381s to secure sixth on the grid with a car that he said was “back in the window”.
Former Formula 1 racer Bruno Senna was elected to start the ELMS 4 Hours of Spa for RLR MSport.
The Brazilian rose to fourth, forcing G-Drive Racing’s Roman Rusinov into an error, but was soon back in sixth with the #28 IDEC Sport entry bearing down on him.
Unfortunately, a lunge by the IDEC car at Campus prompted Senna to take avoiding action and run offline onto the marbles, which caused him to skate off across the gravel and into the wall.
The car was recovered from the gravel by the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps marshals under a Safety Car and toured back to the pits, where it received more than 11 minutes of attention for a replacement nose and wishbone.
Seven laps down, RLR MSport and its LMP2 drivers, Senna, Maini and John Farano, treated the rest of the race as a test session but moved up the leaderboard as others faltered to ultimately receive the chequered flag 12th in class.
RLR MSport Director of Motorsport Operations, Nick Reynolds, said: “The European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Spa was another ‘nearly weekend’. Once again, we looked to be in good shape, but the luck didn’t run with us. We had a lot of speed in LMP2 after a challenging start to the weekend and should have achieved a strong points haul, but a simple misjudgement took us out of the equation early and we used the remaining laps as a test. In LMP3, we were also targeting a top six finish, and that’s what we would have achieved if we hadn’t been shunted. The rear light cluster, which is a legality panel, was damaged in the collision and the regulations state that it must be intact, but it’s such a tricky, finnicky job and we lost eight minutes fixing it. Only one round remains in Portimao and I really hope we end with a flourish to show what we’ve been capable of all year.”