RLR MSport recovered unlikely fourth and sixth-place results from a turbulent and tumultuous European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Imola (13-15 May), which was blighted by contact, a trip into the gravel and a mechanical issue.
RLR MSport’s #15 and #5 crews qualified out of position in seventh and eighth respectively, but moved forward in the race, in spite of on-track incidents and mechanical maladies.
Nick Adcock in the #5 Ligier JSP320 initially dropped to the edge of the top ten but soon made headway to sixth, and RLR MSport’s decision not to box during the first Full Course Yellow (FCY) helped lift him to third just before he gave way to Michael Jensen.
However, Jensen found himself in the gravel, struck by a GTE car while negotiating Tamburello shortly after exiting the pits at the beginning of his stint.
Three laps and several positions were lost to the class leaders, but Jensen manhandled the wounded prototype up the leaderboard, before the Silver-graded Alex Kapadia pressed on to an unlikely fourth-place result that keeps RLR MSport in third in the LMP3 points.
“I predicted we would finish fourth the night before the race,” said Adcock. “We struggled for ultimate pace because other teams appeared to master the Imola setup, and starting eighth wasn’t ideal. However, we knew it would be a race of attrition and the key would be to stay out of trouble and be consistent. Everything was fine until I made a mistake at Turn 9, going over the kerbing and losing three places. I was incredibly cross with myself and made it my ambition to make up the lost ground before the end of my stint – I ultimately moved up from tenth to sixth but boxed from third, which was really satisfying.
“Unfortunately, we were disadvantaged strategically and lost three laps after contact from a GTE Porsche, but the fourth place we achieved shows how important it is to simply keep plugging away. It was all about damage limitation and sometimes races come to you as others sustain damage, suffer technical issues or miscue their pit stops. Our car never skipped a beat, which is a testament to RLR MSport’s high standards of preparation, and the team’s pit work was spot on.”
Adcock added: “I think we’ll be much stronger and will take a step forward in competitiveness in the next round at Monza, because RLR MSport has a good base setup and Alex (Kapadia) works so well with the team’s engineers. In fact, Alex has been a great choice as our Silver driver; he’s such a good coach, he’s very patient with us and understands our issues, and he talks us through everything continuously. I’ve made little, incremental improvements since the start of the season and I feel he has added a lot of value to my driving and confidence, which is quite amazing after more than 20 years of racing.”
Jensen said: “It was very unfortunate that I was struck by a Porsche GTE at Turn 2, just after coming out of the pits to start my stint. It was a big impact that sent me through 360 degrees and we were concerned the car was too damaged to continue because the contact occurred where the radiator is. Thankfully, we were able to carry on, but the car wasn’t 100 per cent and I struggled through my stint – it was exhausting!
“We discovered the left-rear wheel had buckled in the collision. I felt lucky to have avoided a puncture. While my time in the car was difficult, I felt I managed the traffic really well and made of the best of what I had. I don’t think we could have hoped for anything more than fourth under the circumstances. You’re never completely happy when you reflect on races, always feeling fourth should have been third, third should have been second or second should have been a win, but we can be very satisfied with the outcome of the ELMS 4 Hours of Imola.”
The #15 crew also pulled off a masterful recovery; in a dogged opening stint, Austin McCusker climbed from seventh to fourth, before dispatching the #4 DKR Engineering machine and towing up to the rear of the #17 Cool Racing entry in second place.
The American completed the opening hour at the head of LMP3, but a faulty starter motor necessitated an unscheduled repair stop that demoted the team to tenth, some 15 laps adrift of the class leaders.
A mighty effort to repair the car enabled Horst Jr Felbermayr and Valentino Catalano to race, and both drivers pushed on to the chequered flag and a highly respectable sixth-place result.
“I started the race in seventh but made it up to fourth on the opening lap, which I was happy about,” said McCusker. “I slowly picked my way through the pack and the main achievement was getting into the lead, especially with so many Safety Cars and Full Course Yellows, and considering it’s so difficult to pass at Imola, even with a pace advantage over the Bronze drivers.
“We were looking good for a solid finish towards the end of my stint, but we had a starter failure and were in the box for around 30 minutes. I have to give a lot of credit to RLR MSport, as the mechanics worked their butts off to get the car back out on-track.”
McCusker continued: “We were sat in tenth, some 15 laps down, and that’s where we expected to finish. However, we slowly made our way up the leaderboard as others retired and came home in sixth. Incredibly, it’s an improvement on our starting position and we bagged some championship points. I’m now looking forward to putting a clean race together and seeing what we can get out of the 4 Hours of Monza.”