RLR MSport returned to the top step of the podium in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring (21-22 July).
Job van Uitert, John Farano and Rob Garofall overcame stiff opposition and unstable weather to record the Bolton-based team’s second victory of 2018 and assume the LMP3 championship lead at the mid-point of the season.
As in the previous rounds, dry free practice running was limited to conserve tyres for Sunday’s 240-minute race, although RLR MSport’s ELMS trio had ample time to sample the Red Bull Ring in wet conditions during FP2 on Saturday, in preparation for what was predicted to be a wet race.
All three RLR MSport drivers adapted well and heaped praise on team’s engineers for providing a well-balanced, driveable car in all weathers, and when it came to the dry qualifying session, van Uitert produced one purple sector after another to secure third in the final classification.
However, the 19-year old from the Netherlands was dissatisfied with the result and wasted no time in taking the initiative in Sunday’s four-hour race; a sensationally ballsy start ensured he surged from P3 to P1 on the 300-metre dash to Turn 1.
Thereafter, it was nip-and-tuck between van Uitert and AT Racing’s Mikkel Jensen in second, but the former kept a cool head under unrelenting pressure and only briefly relinquished the lead before concluding a stunning double stint with a 40-second advantage.
A timely Safety Car intervention saw RLR MSport’s lead increase to 1m17s and Farano lapped comfortably in the 1m32s during what he described as a “cautious stint”, as localised rain showers reduced grip in the first sector of the 4.32km lap.
Conditions became increasingly treacherous when Garofall took over for the final hour, but the slick-shod Brit got through the worst of the weather and managed the gap to the second-placed Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen Racing car perfectly to seal RLR MSport’s second victory of 2018.
“This win is more satisfying than the first in Le Castellet,” said Garofall. “This one was tougher because the field was stronger and the weather conditions made it very tricky, with some parts of the track wet and others bone dry. In addition to that, the Red Bull Ring is a relatively short circuit and it feels like there are twice as many cars to lap or be lapped by. I feel this is a better win that the first and we lead the championship heading into the 4 Hours of Silverstone, which I think will be a great race for us.”
Van Uitert, who encouraged his fellow RLR MSport to apply pink nail polish to their pinky fingers at the Red Bull Ring, said: “It’s amazing to be back on the top step of the podium. The first two stints were pretty good and I had a nice fight with Mikkel Jensen, but I was pleased to get a 40-second lead during the second hour. I know the Red Bull Ring well – it’s like a second home – and I was happy with my speed throughout the weekend, but particularly in the race, as the level of the European Le Mans Series is high and it isn’t easy to lead or win. I do believe painting our fingernails pink was the key to victory and we should carry it over to Silverstone next month!”
Farano added: “It’s just great to win again after missing out at Monza. My stint was tricky, although I’m glad I wasn’t in the car during the final hour, because Rob’s run was definitely more difficult. I think I was a little too cautious, but Job (van Uitert) did such a good job and gave me such a big lead that I took advantage of that. I didn’t go as fast as I should have and I perhaps made Rob’s job harder, but my priority was to keep the car safe and manage traffic, which was particularly difficult here at the Red Bull Ring.”
In the Michelin Le Mans Cup, Alex Kapadia and Ross Warburton overcame variable weather and track conditions to finish 13th on their comeback to the series at the Red Bull Ring (Saturday 21 July).
A short, sharp thunderstorm prompted organisers to start the two-hour race behind the Safety Car, but Kapadia surged from 19th to second once the field was released, before switching to slicks mid-stint.
Significantly faster than his wet-shod rivals, Kapadia picked off several cars prior to the compulsory driver-changes, which were brought forward in an attempt to coincide with a Full Course Yellow.
Warburton picked up the baton and circulated consistently to finish 15th overall, while Farano and Van Uitert in the sister #14 car retired from the race shortly after the put stops.
“It was a bit of a shame that we started behind the Safety Car, because we lost about ten minutes of time that could have been spent making up places, but I still managed to get up to second place while engaged in a debate with RLR MSport’s engineers over whether or not to pit for slicks,” said Kapadia. “We lost a lot of time in the pits, but worked out that we would be some five seconds per lap faster and capable of getting back into P2 before the end of my stint, when Ross (Warburton) would then have the benefit of hot tyres, rather than cold stickers. The strategy would have worked, except a Full Course Yellow just before the pit window prompted us to box early, which cost us about 20 seconds. I did my utmost, Ross’s average over the course of his stint was significantly quicker than last year and I think 13th place is all we could ask for on our comeback to the Michelin Le Mans Cup, although I believe a top ten will be possible next time out at Silverstone.”
The European Le Mans Series moves on to RLR MSport’s home circuit, Silverstone on 17-18 August.