RLR MSport will challenge for the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 title and an invitation to the 89th 24 Hours of Le Mans with a sole Ligier JSP320 for Danish teenager Malthe Jakobsen, American racer Max Hanratty and the Dubai-based Bashar Mardini.
The compressed Asian Le Mans season begins with two consecutive four-hour contests at Dubai Autodrome on 13-14 February, and it concludes with back-to-back races at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi one week later on 19-20 February.
For RLR MSport, the series’ short duration and location presented opportunities to welcome new drivers, but also build on its existing relationship with Jakobsen, who will remain within the fold for the duration of the 2021.
In 2020, Jakobsen from Sennels, Denmark marked himself out as a future star by contributing remarkably quick and mature qualifying and race performances throughout the European Le Mans Series (ELMS).
Highlights included a podium finish in the 4 Hours of Le Castellet and combative performances in the 24 Hours of Le Mans-supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup ‘Road to Le Mans’ races, but the 17-year-old remains humble and is simply looking forward to continuing his learning curve in the Asian Le Mans Series.
“Taking part in the Asian Le Mans Series with RLR MSport is a really great opportunity for me,” said Jakobsen. “I am happy to be racing together with two new teammates, Max (Hanratty) and Bashar (Mardini). I have only heard good things about both of them, so I think we are going to have a great time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“I have never raced at the Dubai Autodrome or Yas Marina Circuit before, but I also lacked knowledge and experience of the tracks on the 2020 European Le Mans calendar and I now know what I need to do. RLR MSport is always well prepared, so there isn’t really much to worry about. It’s just a matter of getting out there and doing my absolute best.”
Hanratty, aged 27, is a long-standing competitor in the top flights of American sportscar racing who, like many, began his career in junior single-seaters.
Between 2012 and 2016, the New York-domiciled driver entered an array of open-wheel categories, stepping onto the ‘Road to Indy’ in the USF2000 and Pro Mazda Championships before successfully phasing into endurance sportscar racing.
He first appeared on the IMSA package in Prototype Lites but has since featured in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s LMPC class and become a fixture of the IMSA Prototype Challenge.
However, Hanratty has raced beyond his native America, firstly in the 2017 and 2018 ELMS and, earlier this month, in the 2021 CREVENTIC 24H Dubai and 6H Abu Dhabi in an Audi RS3 LMS TCR.
His familiarity with Ligier LMP3 machinery and the Dubai and Yas Marina circuits makes him an asset to RLR MSport, and the American is sure his experience will enable him to get off to a flying start in the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series.
“I’m really pleased to have had opportunities to run both Dubai Autodrome and Yas Marina Circuit before the start of the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series, as those experiences definitely add value,” said Hanratty. “I learned all the intricacies and a few little tricks to maximise the laps, which gives me full confidence when stepping into RLR MSport’s Ligier JSP320.
“RLR MSport is a great, top-tier team that I’ve followed for some time and I have complete faith in its ability to provide a race-winning car. My teammates are also very talented and, if we focus on maximising the package, getting our heads down and minimising mistakes, I believe we have a real shout at a successful season. Unsurprisingly, the entry consists of strong teams who all want that 24 Hours of Le Mans invitation, so it isn’t going to be a cakewalk. We will have to bring our ‘A’ game and execute perfectly if we’re going to win.”
Mardini, meanwhile, is an LMP3 debutant with a strong background in GTs, as his résumé features outings in the Blancpain Endurance Series, Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe and Nurburgring 24 Hours.
However, the 39-year-old is most closely associated with Porsche, having spent the majority of his career racing Porsche GT3 Cup machinery, and his accolades include double championship victories in domestic Porsche Carrera Cups and class wins in the 24H Dubai.
“I honestly never expected to be entering the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series until very recently, and the opportunity to race in such a prestigious category is something I couldn’t pass up,” said Mardini. “The Asian Le Mans Series carries the Le Mans name well and it accommodates Bronze drivers in a way that enables them to be competitive, which makes it a very attractive proposition. Every driver has to do their bit if a team is to be successful, and that’s very exciting.
“I’m managing my own expectations because LMP3 is new to me and there will be a lot to learn quickly. Having said that, there is quite a lot of testing time to get up to speed, and I’m basically living on my simulator to get a sense of what Le Mans Prototypes are like before hitting the track.”