RLR MSport has suffered a blow to its title hopes, having retired from the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring (15-16 May) after being struck by a careless LMP3 rival.
The Motul-powered team kept its cards close to its chest throughout free practice and Bronze Testing, only hinting at its true potential in FP2 on Saturday morning when it made a fleeting appearance towards the top end of the tightly bunched LMP3 times.
A short, sharp downpour struck the Red Bull Ring moments before LMP3 Qualifying, making tyre selection a complete lottery, and sending the entire field into disarray.
RLR MSport took the sensible decision to immediately box for wet weather tyres, but as the rain abated, a drying line appeared and the balance swung back in favour of those who gambled on slicks, the team floundered on the edge of the top ten.
Mercifully, Sunday’s race started under sunny skies and Mike Benham climbed four places to sixth during a tentative opening lap of the undulating Austrian circuit, before being promoted to fourth in class when both Inter Europol cars were pinged for constantly abusing track limits.
However, RLR MSport’s race ended abruptly when the #15 Ligier JSP320 was turned around and damaged by the #9 Graff car, the severity of the wounds causing enough of a time loss that the team was left with no option but to withdraw from the 4 Hours of the Red Bull Ring.
“It’s such a shame because everyone within RLR MSport made such an effort to be there and improve the car ahead of the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Red Bull Ring following a strong start to the season in Barcelona,” said Benham. “People say it’s just racing, but it’s isn’t. It’s stupidity and incidents like that should be considered unacceptable on every level. The DNF obviously makes our championship a little harder but we’re not out of it and we showed as a crew that we’ve got good pace. My stint was probably my best as an LMP3 driver from a traffic management perspective, and I improved on our starting position.
“In fact, there are a lot of positives to take away, and while we’ll never know how our race would have panned out, I have faith that RLR MSport would have made good decisions in response to the changeable conditions that came later. There’s no doubt we will be in the mix for podiums in every round and, with a lot of racing to come between now and the end of the season, I’m sure we can drag ourselves back into the title fight.”
Malthe Jakobsen said: “Things looked really positive for us going into the race, because our pace in FP2 was very strong. In qualifying we were really unlucky that our tyre choices didn’t pay off. If it had rained a little longer, we would have been up there, but it could have been a lot worse because a few fast drivers ended up at the back of the grid and we were among the quickest wet-shod cars.
“I was confident we could move forward from tenth; Mike (Benham) showed we had a lot of potential by running comfortably inside the top six, and I believe Alex (Kapadia) and I would have been able to build on Mike’s good work and challenge for a podium, or even the race win.”
Alex Kapadia added: “It’s a frustrating way to end what could and should have been a good weekend. Mike (Benham) was doing an amazing job, getting up from tenth to as high as fourth, and he had everything under control. To be spun out in a very desperate move is hard to take, especially as it was completely unnecessary because we were approaching the LMP3 pit window and things were likely to change then anyway.
“A lot of effort went into the race, but we can carry a lot of what we learnt in testing at the Red Bull Ring forward to the next round in Le Castellet and pull back our deficit in the championship. We’ll give it everything, and we can take solace from the fact we showed we can be in the mix for second or higher even when qualifying doesn’t go our way.”