RLR MSport achieved a remarkable one-three result on its debut in the Ligier European Series at Circuit Paul Ricard (15-16 April) with Haytham Qarajouli and Horst Felix Felbermayr.
The Motul-powered team then classified third in the Michelin Le Mans Cup Le Castellet Round with the #53 Ligier JSP320 of Tommy Foster and Martin Rich, to complete a hugely successful Saturday.
Kuwait’s Qarajouli – the first Arab to contest the Ligier European Series – was imperious during the first one-hour race of the 2022 season in Le Castellet, leading away from pole position and pulling out a significant advantage over the rest of the JS2 R field.
However, the teenager lost track position in the pits, having had to serve a mandatory 20-second pit stop penalty for being a solitary driver with an FIA Silver grading.
Unperturbed, he set purple sectors to retake the initiative and re-establish an unassailable advantage at the chequered flag, securing a dominant victory on his and RLR MSport’s debut outing in the burgeoning Ligier European Series.
Felbermayr also made headway from sixth on the starting grid, breaching the podium places during the opening exchanges, and, despite being shuffled back to fifth, the young Austrian executed a brave, high-speed overtake for fourth and ultimately finished his maiden car race on the third step of the winners’ rostrum.
In race two, Qarajouli got the better of COOL Racing’s polesitter Cedric Oltramare as Felbermayr vaulted from sixth to fourth before the Safety Car intervened.
The neutralisation prevented Qarajouli from making a break, and, while he and Felbermayr both enjoyed a clear track by boxing late in the pit window, the Kuwait youngster was third and some ten seconds adrift of the top two after the stops.
In a hard charge punctuated by a Full Course Yellow (FCY), Qarajouli threaded the #75 RLR MSport JS2 R past Laurent Millara but, despite lighting up the timing screens, couldn’t quite bridge the gap to eventual race victor, Nicolas Beraud.
“Free practice was good, giving us a lot of useful information and ensuring I went into qualifying with confidence in the Ligier JS2 R,” said Qarajouli. “I was very happy to secure pole position in my first ever Ligier European Series outing, but to then convert pole into a maiden race win on mine and RLR MSport’s debut felt incredible. It was a relatively straightforward and controlled race and I’m mega happy to have taken the fastest lap, too.
“I hoped to produce a repeat performance in race two. I got the jump away from the rolling start, but a Full Course Yellow prevented me from compensating for the 20-second pit stop penalty for Silver-graded drivers.Nevertheless, I’m happy to have recovered to P2 and to be leading the championship at this early stage, and I’m incredibly thankful to RLR MSport, which provided a fantastic car. ”
Felbermayr, meanwhile, ended up sixth in a nail-biting photo finish with the #29 Pegasus Racing car, and he said: “My first car races were very enjoyable and I’m proud of the way we performed as a team. The opening Ligier European Series race stands out for me because it featured some amazing battles as I climbed from sixth. I’m pleased to be fourth in the championship after two races. I would love to be in the top three at the end of the season and I’m looking forward to the next round at Imola, where we will get a real idea of where we stand. I’ll certainly have a better feeling for the Ligier JS2 R, which was completely new to me this weekend.”
The start to the Michelin Le Mans Cup Le Castellet Round was a crowded affair as the 31-strong LMP3 field barreled towards the first braking zone, but Rich kept his nose clean and edged his way up from tenth on the starting grid to seventh during his stint, which was punctuated by a FCY.
The British Am’s pace was comparable to that of the LMP3 leaders’ and he gradually reduced the deficit to the sixth-placed #57 Graff Racing machine on the run to the driver-change on lap 23, almost 50 minutes into the race.
Foster, though, recorded multiple fastest laps to vault up to sixth position at the close of the pit window, but a failed attempt to pass an uncooperative lapped car resulted in a collision and a spin.
Mercifully, the #53 RLR MSport Ligier JSP320 was undamaged. Foster regrouped and, sensing a podium, he was easily the fastest driver inside the top ten, getting the better of the #37 CD Sport and #11 WTM Racing entries, and finishing right under the rear wing of the #17 IDEC Sport car in P3.
However, the #17 entry was served with a 16-second post-race penalty for overtaking during the FCY procedure, dropping it to fifth place and promoting the #53 RLR MSport car of Rich and Foster to third in the definitive classification.
“The promotion to third place was a nice little surprise because I was gutted to miss out on the podium,” said Foster. “My stint felt good, as it included some nice battles and so many overtakes. We deserved second place but got tipped into a spin, and you can do a lot worse than third. I believe we can maintain this form for the rest of the season because there was no luck involved. We were there on pure pace.”
Rich said: “The end result is a very good one. RLR MSport put together a great car, working superbly on car development. I’m really pleased with my driving, too. I really managed to hone my lap times while working with Tommy (Foster) and Alex (Kapadia), and I finally got qualifying right. Historically, I haven’t been great at, but I managed to put my fastest lap of the week together and I also think my race performance was one of my best.
“The pace was spot on, there were no mistakes and I ended my stint seventh, on the tail of the sixth-placed car and near enough to the leaders that Tommy had an opportunity to move forward. He did incredibly well and was unfortunate to get tagged by a backmarker. It gave him more to do but no damage was done and he did brilliantly to cross the line on the tail of P3. It was frustrating to be that close to the podium, so it was satisfying to get promoted to third. Without the spin, P2 was possible. In the end, P3 is a very good outcome and it completes a strong weekend for RLR MSport across all three categories on the European Le Mans package.”