RLR MSport will look to strengthen its status as a title contender in both the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) and Ligier European Series at Autodromo Nazionale Monza (1-3 July), where ‘Racing Reverend’ Simon Butler will make his LMP3 debut as teammate to Valentino Catalano in the Michelin Le Mans Cup.
In the headlining ELMS, RLR MSport lies third in the LMP3 points with the #5 crew of Michael Jensen, Nick Adcock and Alex Kapadia, who have so far secured a podium in the opening round of the season at Circuit Paul Ricard and an unexpected fourth-place result in a turbulent race at Imola.
At Monza, the objective is to rediscover the form they possessed in the Le Castellet curtain-raiser, and Jensen said: “I go to Monza having just completed my first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans so I’m certainly race-fit, and I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of my LMP3 car. All of the experiences and lessons learned at Le Mans will be taken forward into the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Monza because Nick (Adcock), Alex (Kapadia) and I are determined to get a good result and I have to play my part.
“Monza is one of the nicest circuits to drive and the relatively simple layout usually results in reduced gaps between the fastest and slowest drivers, which creates even closer racing and places more emphasis on accuracy to get a good lap time. It will be very competitive and while we achieved a good finish in the opening round at Circuit Paul Ricard, we were fortunate to be in the result at Imola and need to get back to that real form of Le Castellet.”
Jensen added: “Our approach is to simply take it one race at a time, get the best possible results and see where we are at the end of the year, but I personally feel more confident in this car with RLR MSport than ever before. The team has provided such a great package with which to produce results.”
Last time out at Imola, Austin McCusker, Horst Jr Felbermayr and Catalano also recovered points for a top six finish, but the #15 trio feel they’re due an upturn in fortune and hope for better in the second Italian leg of the 2022 ELMS.
“I’m really excited to get going at Monza,” said McCusker. “The track is mega and I love Italy so it’s always good to come back. It’s going to be a hot one so we’ll see how everyone copes. I expect RLR MSport to provide a very strong package once again. If we keep it clean and hit all our marks we should get a good result. I just hope everything goes smoothly because we deserve a break.”
RLR MSport holds a comfortable lead in the Ligier European Series with Haytham Qarajouli, who scored points in both 24 Hours of Le Mans support races earlier this month.
However, the Kuwait driver is looking to the top step of Monza’s iconic winners’ rostrum, and teammate Horst Felix Felbermayr is hoping to get his season back on track by adding to his podium tally following a character-building outing at Le Mans.
“I’m super excited about racing on another of the great tracks of Europe, Monza,” said Qarajouli. “I’m looking to replicate the success I’ve had in previous rounds to preserve or stretch our championship lead. I’ll keep my head down and try to run good races, and RLR MSport and I will give everything during the build-up to the races to maximise our package.”
Felbermayr said: “I hoped for much better from the Ligier European Series Le Mans Heat so I just want to be back on the podium and pushing for my maiden race win in the next round at Monza. I learnt a lot at Le Mans and those lessons will help me come back stronger at Monza, I’m sure.”
RLR MSport contested the first two rounds of the 2022 Michelin Le Mans Cup with British pairing Martin Rich and Tommy Foster, but the latter was replaced by Chile’s Nico Pino for the series’ blue riband ‘Road to Le Mans’ races.
However, the plan was always for ‘Racing Reverend’ Butler to pick up the baton from Rich at Monza, where he will be partnered by German teenager Catalano, who already competes for RLR MSport in the ELMS.
Butler – the only ordained priest racing driver – has competed in various disciplines over a period of 25 years, starting in karts in 1996 before progressing to single-seaters and then turning his attention to historic competition.
The British vicar has had great success in a host of sports and GT cars from the Fifties and Sixties, winning the RAC Woodcote Trophy in 2014 and participating in the Silverstone Classic, Goodwood Revival and Spa 6 Hours, to name but a few.
However, 2022 marks his comeback to contemporary machinery and, having commenced on-track testing earlier this month, he said: “I’m really looking forward to racing with RLR MSport and Valentino (Catalano). He’s a very quick and well respected young driver who has already proven to be extremely competitive in LMP3 in the European Le Mans Series. I will be drawing on his experience and, with his help, I’m confident I’ll steadily improve over the course of my debut Michelin Le Mans Cup weekend in Italy.
“I’m incredibly excited about joining the Le Mans Cup grid at Monza. There’s something quite fitting about me as the ‘Racing Reverend’ doing my first race at the ‘Temple of Speed’. I spent a day in the Ligier JSP320 LMP3 at Donington Park, learning the systems and readjusting to slicks and aero, and so I’m hoping that my pace will steadily rise as I get to grips with the car and grow in confidence. This weekend is all about familiarising myself with the car, team, tyres and the race weekend format. There won’t be any heroics, only steady progress.”
Sixteen-year-old Catalano, who learned his trade in karts and Formula 4 single-seaters, is carving out a future in endurance sportscar racing with RLR MSport and is eager to intensify his learning by dovetailing his ELMS duties with the Le Mans Cup at Monza, saying: “I’m really excited to announce that I’ll compete in the Michelin Le Mans Cup Monza Round with RLR MSport. It’s a good opportunity to prepare myself and the car for the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Monza that follows on Sunday. I’m always glad to spend more time on-track in the Ligier JSP320 LMP3 and I’m looking forward to meeting Simon (Butler). I’m sure it’s going to be an exciting weekend.”