RLR MSport achieved an outright Ligier European Series podium on its debut in the headlining JS P4 class with Mexican teenager Ian Aguilera and Kuwait’s Haytham Qarajouli in the season-opening Barcelona Heat (21-22 April).

The Bolton, England-based team collected silverware for a third-place result in the first of two European Le Mans Series support races at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and backed that up with further top six results, including one for JS2 R rookie pairing Maximus Mayer and ‘Racing Reverend’ Simon Butler.

In Heat 1, Mayer led away from the JS2 R pole position and proceeded to gap the chasing pack, while Qarajouli progressed from seventh to fifth in the JS P4 order on the first tour of the 2.89-mile Catalan racetrack.

Alicante-domiciled Mayer consistently lit up the timing screens in purple and, considerably quicker than his classmates, headed the main pack by more than 25 seconds prior to the compulsory driver-change, which came after 16 laps and 30 minutes of racing.

However, a longer minimum pit stop time resulted in a loss of track position and, while Butler was third at the beginning of his maiden race stint in the #10 RLR MSport machine, the ‘Racing Reverend’ ultimately received the chequered flag in sixth, but first in Pro-Am.

The JS P4 pack, meanwhile, split into two distinct groups and Qarajouli – the reigning JS2 R Champion – went with the leading quartet, biding his time and setting personal best sectors to edge towards the brawling #17 Pegasus Racing and #7 LR Motorsport cars in third and fourth respectively.

Despite valiant attempts to make further gains, Qarajouli completed his stint in fifth, but 16-year-old Aguilera made an instant impact upon taking control of the #75 prototype, going purple and scything his way up into third overall to secure a brilliant podium finish on debut.

In contrast to Heat 1, Aguilera and Butler were the starting drivers in the second Ligier European Series race at Catalunya.

Mexico’s Aguilera got a relatively sluggish start from third on the JS P4 grid but recovered well, surging around the outside of the second-placed #7 machine at Turn 2 before latching on to the rear of the pole-sitting #48 Team Virage entry.

The 16-year-old found himself in the thick of an entertaining three-car fight for the lead, which was briefly tempered by a Safety Car.

He persistently tried to force an error from the #48 by showing his nose at every opportunity, while also keeping one eye on the pursuing #60 car that loomed large in his rear-view mirrors.

However, the RLR MSport prototype re-emerged from the compulsory pit stops down in fifth and, although Qarajouli initially climbed to P4, the Kuwait driver was eventually shuffled back to sixth by the hard-charging #17 and #7 cars.

“Having had limited testing, I was keen to start free practice and get a feel for the car and Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, as I’ve never raced here before,” said Qarajouli. “Practice went relatively well, because I was only a short way off the pace and it was good to spend time getting to know my teammate, Ian (Aguilera). We are building a good rapport together.

“Unfortunately, traffic prevented me from achieving a clean qualifying lap and I secured seventh on the Heat 1 grid, but I was looking forward to getting stuck in. I made up a few places at the start while also being cautious, preserving the tyres for Ian’s stint later in the race. It was a great team effort and I’m really pleased to have finished third, as it feels good to thank my sponsors, family and supporters with another podium after a long time away from the Ligier European Series.”

Qarajouli continued: “In Heat 2, I took on the car with light damage to the front splitter. It handled quite differently to earlier in the day, but we managed to get the car home to secure points for sixth. As always, RLR MSport did a fantastic job and provided a great car, but there’s more work we can do to prepare for the next round, which I’m already looking forward to.”

Aguilera added: “I’m really happy with my first race weekend in the Ligier European Series. The RLR MSport team did a very good job and gave me and Haytham (Qarajouli) an incredibly strong race car. We finished third in Heat 1 and, while Heat 2 was slightly more difficult, we still collected some important points for the championship. We will keep working hard to develop the #75 Ligier JS P4 and prepare for the next race as best as possible.”

Butler, meanwhile, maintained sixth place in class until the end of his stint on lap 13, when Mayer launched into another exceptional run that saw him record multiple fastest laps, snatch fifth and then demolish a 25-second deficit to the #96 CTF Performance car in fourth.

Sadly, a mechanical failure on the right-rear corner of the #10 Ligier JS2 R speared Mayer into the gravel while executing a move for P4 in the final throes, but he said: “The entire weekend has been really positive from my side, and for my teammate Simon (Butler). Both of us have improved with every lap of Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in the Ligier JS2 R, despite the gearbox issue that side-lined us in FP2.

“I enjoyed two good race stints, although it’s a shame a mechanical failure took us out of Heat 2 when we were looking at a fourth-place result. Still, I’m taking many positives away from Barcelona and looking forward to the next round of the series at Le Mans. I’ll be doing a lot of preparation and we will give it our all to make sure we do our absolute best there.”

Butler said: “I had a really good time in the first round of the Ligier European Series at Barcelona. It was great racing alongside my teammate Max (Mayer), who demonstrated right from the start that he’s an extremely fast and gifted driver.

“I’m pretty happy with my own performance; I would have liked to have found another second or so in lap time, but I’ve never driven Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya before and we lost the entire second practice session to a gearbox issue, so I headed out into qualifying with about three laps under my belt. Nevertheless, I found chunks of time in each of my runs and got down to a pace that I’m reasonably pleased with, and I’m looking forward to building on this experience in testing between now and the next round at Le Mans.”