RLR MSport finished within reach of the LMP3 podium after getting in among the top three with Horst Jr Felbermayr, Mateusz Kaprzyk and Gael Julien in the 2023 European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Le Castellet (14-16 July).
Starting drivers Felbermayr and James Dayson were ninth and 12th respectively once the pack stabilised; the former’s pace was comparable to many of those at the top end of the leaderboard and he lifted the #15 RLR MSport Ligier JSP320 to seventh, but the latter was severely delayed and became detached from the main LMP3 pack in a chaotic opening lap.
However, RLR MSport made big gains in the first cycle of pit stops, as swift work enabled it to breach the top six with the #15 prototype of Felbermayr and rise three positions to ninth with the #5 of Dayson.
The Bolton, England-based squad then benefited from issues that befell the #7 Nielsen Racing car and held onto fifth and eighth positions until a Safety Car bunched up the entire field as the 4 Hours of Le Castellet approached mid-distance.
As soon as racing resumed and the pit lane re-opened, Felbermayr gave way to Kaprzyk and Dayson to Eriksen for the middle phase of the race.
From there, Poland’s Kaprzyk had a lot of forward motion, as he registered personal best lap times and reeled in the third-placed #17 COOL Racing car, with the #4 DKR Engineering machine hot on his heels.
An entertaining and long-lasting three-way fight ensued and Kaprzyk came out on top, boxing from P3 to pass the #15 Ligier to Julien, who emerged from the final round of scheduled pit stops in fourth with the sister #5 car still in the lower reaches of the top ten.
The field had spread and negligible pace differentials between all of the LMP3 contenders made progress difficult, but Julien drove a solid final stint at his home circuit to seal a highly respectable P4 result for his RLR MSport team, with Eriksen and Manchester locked in to ninth.
“I think RLR MSport can be proud of what has been achieved in the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Le Castellet,” said Julien. “Last time out in Barcelona, we had a strong race car but the luck went against us, so fourth here is definitely more representative of our pace. I’m confident this result will motivate everyone to push even further forward in the remaining rounds.
“As for my race stint, I knew there was quite a big gap to the cars in front, so I did my best to close it down but found we were just a touch too far away. The #15 Ligier JSP320 LMP3 was both fast and reliable, though, so there are plenty of positives to take away from Circuit Paul Ricard. Onwards and upwards!”
Kaprzyk said: “It has been a difficult but very exciting European Le Mans Series weekend in Le Castellet. The conditions during the race were very demanding and the car was sliding quite a lot on the hot asphalt, but I had a great time and RLR MSport did an amazing job.
“We had some problems in practice but worked very well all weekend. After a good qualifying performance, we knew we had what it takes to fight for the podium. A top three finish was within reach, but fourth is still my best result in the ELMS and I can be satisfied with that. I’m sure we will fight at the front in the coming races and I am already looking forward to the next round at MotorLand Aragon, which is completely new to me.”
Dayson said: “Overall, I feel like we had a better opportunity. Qualifying 12th hurt us and the race start was a bit chaotic because I ended up losing positions and getting stuck in among the GTs, a spinning car slowing me down a little. The first ten or 15 minutes was about getting through the GT traffic, by which point I was detached from the LMP3 field.
“The car felt really good and the tyres stood up well – we had a great balance – and I managed to gain back three positions. It sucks that we have come away in ninth because we had the tools to achieve a better result, but we have some things we can improve in testing at MotorLand Aragon in the coming weeks.”
Eriksen added: “All-in-all, we had a tough time in Le Castellet, but lessons have been learned. Qualifying wasn’t representative of our pace and we had some tyre-related issues that we need to fix for the next round of the season at MotorLand Aragon. However, I’m very happy with my race performance. We are now heading into two days of testing at Aragon, and we will be ready to redeem ourselves next time out.”
Manchester said: “It was a slightly bittersweet weekend in Le Castellet for us because the luck didn’t go our way and that resulted in a lower return than we possibly deserved. The chaos at the start of the race didn’t help because we were immediately playing catch-up, but James (Dayson) and Valdemar (Eriksen) both drove great stints and I’m pleased enough with how I brought the car home, even though most of my stint was spent in fairly severe discomfort due to an issue with my seat.
“We have learned a huge amount from the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Le Castellet and have a lot of data to take away for analysis ahead of Round 3 of the season at MotorLand Aragon, which could be another scorcher. The focus is now on physical preparation as well as some testing at Aragon in the interim. Fingers crossed we put in another clean race and the luck rolls with us next time.”