RLR MSport is chasing podium success upon the European Le Mans Series and Michelin Le Mans Cup’s return to the historic and evocative Autodromo Nazionale Monza (9-11 July).
The Motul-powered squad lies third in both the ELMS LMP3 Teams’ and Drivers’ standings at the mid-point of the six-round season, in spite of a non-score at the Red Bull Ring in May.
Drivers Malthe Jakobsen, Alex Kapadia and Mike Benham raced to a podium in the Barcelona curtain-raiser and salvaged a fourth-place result from a challenging weekend in Le Castellet last month, and there’s confidence they will rediscover their podium form on the ELMS’s pilgrimage to Italy’s ‘Temple of Speed’, Monza.
“I’m looking forward to returning to Monza because we performed really well last year and we will go into the weekend with a strong base setup,” said Jakobsen. “Having experience of the track will make getting up to speed much easier and I would say a podium is our minimum objective because, even though we didn’t have a perfect weekend in Le Castellet, we still finished fourth. My teammates and I are gelling well – we’re just getting better and better as a team – and if we maximise our qualifying performance, we will have a much better chance of winning.”
Kapadia said: “We’ve proven that we have the pace to win on numerous occasions now, and I just want to have a clean race and get a win to reignite our championship charge. We’re third in the Teams’ points but came in to win it, so let’s see what we can do at Monza. I’m very much expecting to start with a good baseline because RLR MSport was quick there last year, but things move on in a space of a year so we will have to try to improve on that. Also, it could be hot, so managing the heat could be important.”
RLR MSport continues in the Michelin Le Mans Cup with race-winning pairing Benham and Tommy Foster, who backed up their Barcelona victory with a fourth-place finish at Circuit Paul Ricard last month.
The two-hour Monza Round, which precedes the 24 Hours of Le Mans-supporting ‘Road to Le Mans’ event, has attracted a bumper grid of 33 cars, but it’s significant because of the introduction of a new pit stop handicap system for Bronze-graded amateur drivers.
The Le Mans Cup is reserved for LMP3 prototypes and GT3-spec sportscars and centres around Bronze category ‘gentleman’ drivers, and the penalty system designed to rein in the fastest amateurs has created much debate and uncertainty.
From Monza onwards, Bronze racers who lap within their Silver teammates’ performance range will be assigned a Bronze+ categorisation and penalised according to their relative pace.
Time penalties will be added to each car’s mandatory pit stop, and Bronze+ drivers lapping in the top quarter of the Silver range will receive a 120-second pit stop penalty, with those in the next quarter getting 80 seconds.
Handicaps of 50 seconds and 20 seconds will be applied to drivers lapping in the third and fourth quarters, but Bronzes who do not exceed the pace of the slowest Silver driver will escape penalties.
“We have a really good chance of repeating out Barcelona victory in the Michelin Le Mans Cup Monza Round, especially as we are the first pairing to avoid a penalty under the new handicap system for Bronze drivers,” said Benham. “A win will be great but I’m not supportive of the changes because those amateur drivers who are new to motorsport but have some natural ability and put a lot of effort in to becoming super-quick will ultimately be prevented from progressing. In my opinion, it’s likely to ruin the enjoyment for everyone, and victories will feel hollow.
“Of course, my main focus is the European Le Mans Series and I believe we have a good chance of success there too. RLR MSport and Malthe (Jakobsen) performed well at Monza last year so we will have a good base configuration to work with, and it’s also a better circuit for me personally. We struggled to nail the setup but still managed a fourth-place finish in Le Castellet, but Monza is a little more straightforward and I expect to be among the top LMP3 entries once again.”
Foster added: “Monza is iconic and I can’t wait to get the weekend underway, especially as RLR MSport has gone well there in the past. Mike (Benham) is also confident, so I’m going there to win. I did a few days of Formula Renault testing at Monza three years ago so I know my way around the track but I’ll still have to adjust to the different techniques and learn how to maximise the corners in the Ligier JSP320. We pulled together a decent result last time out in Le Castellet, despite picking up damage at the start and losing time in the pits, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the Michelin Le Mans Cup’s new penalty system will affect the race.”