RLR MSport was once again on course for outright and class podiums but wound up out of position in the lower reaches of the JS P4 and JS2 R classifications at the end of the drama-filled 2023 Ligier European Series Le Mans Heat (Sunday 4 June).  

Simon Butler and Maximus Mayer got into a groove quickly, as they sealed the JS2 R pole position with the latter’s first Qualifying effort of 4m22.453s – a time that was some two seconds faster than the opposition – after the Pro-Am pairing set the pace in the sole Free Practice session of the weekend.

Poleman Mayer duly began drawing out a healthy advantage over the second-placed #53 MRacing car in the race proper, but a Safety Car negated the Spain-domiciled driver’s efforts, keeping the field tightly bunched for the remainder of the opening stint.

Frustratingly, a gear-selection issue for Butler and a congested pit lane cost RLR MSport almost 40 seconds in the compulsory driver-change and meant the #10 entry tumbled to 11th in class.

However, despite spinning, the ‘Racing Reverend’ managed to breach the top ten and ultimately secure a ninth-place finish in JS2 R and second in the Pro-Am classification.

“It was a very hot and frustrating day at Le Mans for RLR MSport, Max (Mayer) and I,” said Butler. “Max performed brilliantly for us; he set a scorching pole position time that was around two seconds faster than everybody else, then built up a lead until a Safety Car nullified his advantage. We pitted under the Safety Car, I struggled to select neutral and we were boxed in, losing 40-odd seconds and emerging at the back of the train. I managed to pass a couple of cars at the restart but had a spin a couple of laps later and ultimately took the chequered flag in the lower half of the top ten.

“Of course, it’s always a pleasure to race at Le Mans, and, while it’s disappointing to finish ninth when we know we could have stood on the podium had things fallen differently for us, to be able to compete at Circuit de la Sarthe is a blessing in itself.”

Mayer said: “Racing at this mythical track in support of 24 Hours of Le Mans Testing has been really special for me. To wind up first with two seconds over the rest of the field after just a single lap in Qualifying was very pleasing and confidence-inspiring for the race. Simon (Butler) warmed up in Free Practice really well, improving all the time, and we both knew what we had to do to convert pole position into a good race result.

“My role was to break the tow and build a big enough gap to ensure Simon emerged from the driver-change still in P1, but a Safety Car thwarted that plan. Overall, I think I’ve improved with the Ligier JS2 R because we were significantly faster than the opposition, despite limited time in the car. We had a problem in the pit stop but are still learning, so all of our focus is now on the Le Castellet Heat, where I expect us to be even more competitive.”

RLR MSport’s JS P4 duo, Haytham Qarajouli and Ian Aguilera, were solidly in the mid-field throughout the yellow flag-affected Free Practice and ended Qualifying in P7, but both drivers made progress in their respective race stints on Sunday (4 June) afternoon.

Kuwait’s Qarajouli took the start of the one-hour Le Mans Heat and initially moved forward from seventh to fifth, but the pack shuffled incessantly and contact from a class rival resulted in a quick spin.

The order only stabilised when the Safety Car intervened, and the #75 prototype circulated on the edge of the top six until the compulsory driver-changes, after which Aguilera breached the podium places on the last tour of the 13.6km Circuit de la Sarthe.

Sadly, the pair were denied a chance to step onto the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans podium when they were served with a post-race 30-second time penalty that demoted them from third to eighth in the definitive JS P4 classification.

Reflecting on his Le Mans experience, Aguilera said: “Mine was a very tricky race stint because I spent much of it behind the Safety Car, but the laps I did complete under green flag conditions were good fun and, even though we didn’t get the podium result we wanted and were capable of after earning a penalty, I have still enjoyed my time at Le Mans.”

Qarajouli added: “There wasn’t really much we could do with setup in Free Practice because I only had one clear lap between yellow flags, but I still had confidence in the JS P4 and Circuit de la Sarthe, having raced at the track in last year’s Ligier European Series Le Mans Heat. I took on Qualifying and secured seventh on the grid, and I also took the start of the race; it was a clean getaway and I managed to jump up to fifth in the opening sector, but contact from another JS P4 resulted in a quick spin prior to a Safety Car, which extended into Ian’s (Aguilera) stint and prevented him from progressing early on.

“He was eventually able to move forward to third, although a 30-second penalty dropped us down the finishing order. It’s unfortunate because the car felt great, and we had the pace for a podium and were up there fighting. Of course, we still come away with points and more experience of Le Mans, and it has been a great honour to race a prototype as part of the centenary of the 24 Hours. It’s now onwards and upwards to the Le Castellet Heat with a lot of confidence.”