RLR MSport had its share of bad luck in the closing two chapters of the 2021 Asian Le Mans Series at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi (19-20 February).
The Motul-powered team led much of the first four-hour race on Friday (19 February) and seemed on course for a podium result until it received a penalty, and it also ran well in Saturday’s season finale, only to be struck down by a broken exhaust.
After qualifying on the front row for Race 3 of the 2021 season, Jakobsen went on to record a 2m03.781s to secure his and RLR MSport’s first ever pole position for Race 4, trading punches with United Autosports’ Wayne Boyd but ultimately taking the bragging rights with a slender margin of just 0.011s.
In Race 3 on Friday evening, Jakobsen got the jump on sparring partner Boyd and, although early attempts to make a break were thwarted by consecutive Safety Car interventions, the young Dane got in among the LMP2 Am field and built a 1m20s advantage during another exceptional hour-long stint.
For Mardini, the task was to defend the lead built by his teenage teammate, and he duly obliged, firstly extending RLR MSport’s advantage and then carefully managing his pace as day gave way to night.
However, RLR MSport was slapped with a stop/go penalty for its part in a collision with a GT3 car and entered the final hour down in fourth, having also lost time to teams who had been in a position to conduct their final scheduled stops during a late Full Course Yellow (FCY).
Having come tantalisingly close to a podium on Friday, the British team was determined to convert its maiden pole position into a top three result in the final race of the quickfire Asian Le Mans season the following evening (Saturday 20 February).
LMP3 poleman Jakobsen was once again away and clear at the start but cursed his luck when two consecutive Safety Cars severely compromised RLR MSport’s strategy, preventing the Danish racer from establishing a useful advantage.
That most teams across all four classes used the second neutralisation to pit resulted in a significant reshuffle and a broad mix of strategies.
RLR MSport took advantage by switching Jakobsen for Hanratty, who filtered out in second position and held his own against the championship-leading #23 United Autosports entry, before being summoned back to the pits for an earlier-than-planned fuel fill during a FCY.
A decision to short-stint Hanratty and install Mardini put RLR MSport out of sync and out of position in tenth at half-distance, but the Motul-powered team was seventh and cycling back up the LMP3 order when the #15 Ligier retired with a broken exhaust.
“The Asian Le Mans Series is over, and it has been a great pleasure to race with RLR MSport, which has done an incredible job throughout,” said Mardini. “The weekend in Abu Dhabi was pretty good, even if it did end with a whimper – during my stint, the car started behaving strangely, lagging under acceleration and braking, and making unusual sounds, and a broken exhaust ended our race.
“However, I definitely took a huge step forward from Dubai and I can finally see myself getting pretty decent in LMP3 cars, helping teams compete for wins. In Race 3 on Friday, we really did have a shot at a strong result; Malthe (Jakobsen) did an amazing job in his stint and I drove well, even though I misjudged a pass on a GT3 car and earned a penalty, but then a Full Course Yellow went against us. We’ve had an upward trajectory and I’ve really enjoyed racing with the team, and I hope to do it again in Europe once COVID-19 travel restrictions have been lifted.”
Hanratty added: “Once again, it was an amazing effort by RLR MSport. The #15 Ligier JSP320 LMP3 was quick right out of the gate and we were able to stay ahead of changing conditions. The team adapted the strategy well on the fly but, unfortunately, luck didn’t go our way. Our results aren’t an accurate representation of how strong this team is, but that’s racing, and I’m very proud to have been a part of this programme in the Asian Le Mans Series. I want to thank the entire RLR MSport crew and my teammates, Bashar (Mardini) and Malthe (Jakobsen), who both have very bright futures in prototype racing.”
Jakobsen said: “It’s very disappointing to have finished the Asian Le Mans season with a DNF, but it’s hard to say what we could have achieved in the races. Nevertheless, I’m really pleased to have secured mine and RLR MSport’s first ever LMP3 pole position, and I believe we showed what we can do together with our performances across the season in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The Asian Le Mans Series is very competitive, and I’m pleased to have achieved all of my personal goals. I’ll certainly take a lot of lessons away into the new European season.”