RLR MSport opened its 2020 account with a podium in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Le Castellet (17-19 July).
ELMS rookies Malthe Jakobsen and Ryan Harper-Ellam, and rapid Canadian Am James Dayson proved to be a potent trio, each contributing quick, yet controlled stints to take RLR MSport to third in the LMP3 order at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The Motul-powered team found an excellent balance that all three drivers were satisfied with during two days of Official Testing in Le Castellet (14-15 July), and RLR MSport hinted at its potential by ending Wednesday morning’s session as the second fastest LMP3 runner.
Pleased with its progress, RLR gave the final afternoon segment over to late arrival and LMP3 debutant Harper-Ellam, who used the time to get acquainted with the #15 Ligier JSP320 and reach a pace that was comparable to his teammates, despite being wedged into an ill-fitting seat.
Come the first ELMS free practice session on Friday (17 July) afternoon, all three RLR MSport drivers were in good shape but continued pushing the envelope.
Jakobsen was sent straight out into the 90-minute session and delivered more improvements during a short six-lap run, nailing RLR to third position with a 1m48.437s, while Harper-Ellam found pace and confidence, particularly on the brakes.
Dayson, meanwhile, had the #15 Ligier all to himself in the Bronze Collective Test, and the Canadian put in a solid and consistent stint to go fourth in LMP3 and sixth overall, confirming his growth and progression as a driver during the extended off-season.
Having been blisteringly fast in testing, Jakobsen was elected to qualify the #15 Ligier, and he consistently upped the pace to get within 0.142s of pole with a 1m48.457s, although the Danish teenager was on course for an even faster time when yellow flags forced him to abort his third and final flying lap.
Nevertheless, Jakobsen stormed into second position on the opening lap of Sunday’s four-hour race, slotting in behind the #2 United Autosports car of Tom Gamble, who used his experience in traffic to edge out an advantage over the RLR MSport driver.
A quick turnaround in the pits meant Jakobsen headed the class entering the second hour, and a timely Full Course Yellow (FCY) prompted RLR MSport to shorten the Danish teen’s stint and conduct the first of two compulsory 2m30s stops; a late rule-change required all LMP3 teams to complete a minimum of four pit stops, two at 40 seconds and another two with a minimum time of 2m30s.
At the resumption of racing, Dayson had a significant 47-second buffer to the second-placed runner, but a Safety Car reduced his advantage to less than ten seconds and he was ultimately powerless to defend when the hard-charging #2 car arrived on the scene.
Dayson kept a tight grip on second for the remainder of a rock-solid stint, before Harper-Ellam stepped up for his first ever ELMS race run during the fourth and final hour.
The young Brit emerged from the driver-change in fifth but found a quick, yet comfortable rhythm and cycled back up into the podium places to secure some silverware for himself and teammates Jakobsen and Dayson.
“I’m very pleased with this third-place result, and I don’t think we could have expected much more with two rookies in the car,” said Jakobsen. “My stint was strong, and I was delighted to deliver the car to James (Dayson) at the front of the field. Coming straight from F4, my lack of experience with traffic management cost me a lot of time in the race – it isn’t really something you can practice in testing – and we also lost out under the Safety Car, which was unfortunate, but the whole team did an amazing job and to reach the podium as a rookie is really exciting!”
Dayson added: “It feels surreal! To achieve a podium at this level you need everything to work perfectly and for everyone to be on point, and RLR MSport did a fantastic job. The #15 Ligier JSP320 has been awesome all weekend, and having been really smart in testing, we came with a fantastic baseline setup that we knew would be strong on high fuel and old tyres. I was the only one to double-stint the tyres and the car was fantastic for the most part. I just focused on driving smart, not making any risky passes. Today’s performance bodes well for the rest of the season and I’m feeling very confident.”
Harper-Ellam said: “If someone had told me at the start of the week that I would be on the European Le Mans Series podium today, I’d have accused them of being crazy. I’m chuffed with my performance. When I was handed the car, it was a case of running to a pace and staying on the black stuff. A lack of seat time hurt me, as it was only midway through my race stint that I found a rhythm. Having said that, it’s good to know there’s so much more to come when we’ve just achieved a third-place result. I certainly jumped in at the deep end, because LMP3 is completely different to everything I’ve ever driven, but it has been a fantastic experience.”