RLR MSport made significant progress in Round 2 of the 2019 European Le Mans Series and Michelin Le Mans Cup at Autodromo Nazionale Monza (10-12 May), although results were not forthcoming during a weekend plagued by misfortune.
The Bolton team completed FP1 just inside the top eight but took huge strides forward from there, John Farano going third fastest in the Bronze Collective Test before India’s Arjun Maini finished runner-up in FP2.
Because of his free practice performances, Maini was elected to qualify for the 4 Hours of Monza, but while RLR MSport’s LMP2 drivers were unanimously satisfied with the ORECA in race trim, their qualifying setup wasn’t as effective and Maini was unable to string together three quick sectors.
Nevertheless, the Bangalore racer’s best effort was ultimately enough for sixth – that became fifth when a rival was disqualified from the result – and a spot on the third row of the grid would give RLR MSport a very real shot at achieving a desired top-five result.
Bruno Senna took the start and pushed the leading quintet hard for most of his double stint, until an electrical glitch necessitated a full system reset that demoted him to the outskirts of the top ten for the remainder of his slightly truncated run.
A Full Course Yellow prompted RLR MSport to switch Senna for Farano earlier than planned, and the Canadian held tenth until an ill-timed pit stop that coincided with a Safety Car plunged him down to 14th position.
Now off the lead lap with unbridgeable gaps to those ahead, Farano and Maini ran lonely stints in 14th; their pace was comparable to the leaders and they held position until a collision brought RLR MSport’s race to a premature conclusion on the penultimate lap.
“We had decent pace throughout the weekend and the RLR MSport ORECA feels very strong,” said Senna. “In the race, my charge was frustrated by traffic, but we were then a little unlucky; an electrical issue caused a huge time-loss and it was a cascade effect from there, because Safety Cars and cautions punish you when you’re further back than you should be. It’s quite a sad day for us in one sense, but we’re all very happy that the car has moved forward so much.”
Farano added: “We had really good pace, but the race was riddled with small mistakes and problems. On the whole, the ORECA felt great, our lap times were very reasonable, and we can draw positives from the errors, because you learn from those too.”
Maini said: “We got a little unlucky and a lot of things didn’t go our way, but Bruno (Senna) was right in the game until the power steering problem and we’ve shown that we all have really good pace. When everything falls into place, we’re going to be very competitive. In fact, we will be in good shape for the 24 Hours of Le Mans if we can fix the little glitches that held us back at Monza.”
Having been blighted by an ill-handling, unpredictable car in Le Castellet, it was clear from the outset of testing that RLR MSport’s LMP3 trio hadmade great progress at Monza.
A fettled version of the reigning LMP3 Teams’ Champion’s winning 2018 setup gave Christian Olsen, Martin Vedel and Martin Rich the stability they desired, therefore points and finishing as the highest-placed Ligier were the core objectives.
Frustratingly, damaged transmission led to an early retirement during the first hour of the headlining ELMS 4 Hours of Monza on Sunday afternoon, which was preceded by an ill-fated Le Mans Cup outing.
In the Michelin-backed LMC race on Saturday (11 May), a rear-end collision would destroy RLR MSport’s race. Christian Olsen scythed from 28th to 19th overall on lap one of the two-hour contest but sustained debilitating damage when he was struck by a wayward GT3 car.
Undeterred, the resilient Dane set purple sector times to climb as high as 17th before RLR MSport was ordered to conduct running repairs on flailing bodywork; the team’s perseverance during two lengthy stops resulted in a fix and ensured Tom Olsen got his chance behind the wheel, but there was no hope of improving on 27th position while nine laps down on the race leaders.