‘Racing Reverend’, Simon Butler: “I’ve now had a couple of weeks to digest my maiden Michelin Le Mans Cup race weekend at the historic and evocative Autodromo Nazionale Monza (1-2 July), and I have only positive feelings about what I and RLR MSport achieved in what was certainly a baptism of fire.
Known as the ‘Temple of Speed’, the Monza circuit is the beating heart of Italian motorsport and has been a place of pilgrimage for race fans since it opened in 1922.
Steeped in history and with parts of the original track still visible, the circuit is one of the fastest in Europe and poses a unique challenge to drivers.
Without the benefit of much testing, I tried hard to keep my expectations in check prior to the event, reminding myself that because I’d only had an hour of running in the car and had never driven Monza, I could only realistically hope to usethe weekend as an extended test session, to get comfortable in the Ligier JSP320 LMP3.
Despite my limited running, I quickly got to grips with both the car and circuit, making consistent progress over the first two days of running.
Qualifying was a frantic affair with only 15 minutes to set a fast, representative lap time and the session ended with the #53 RLR MSport-entered car 29th on the grid.
For me, P29 was about the best we could have hoped for on my LMP3 debut; having only raced historic cars for the last 15 years it takes time to adjust to modern high-downforce machinery, and circuits like Monza reward confidence.
In the two-hour race on Saturday (2 July), my professional teammate Valentino (Catalano) lifted the #53 Ligier up the leaderboard from 29th to fifth overall before handing the car to me at around mid-distance.
In baking hot conditions with ambient temperatures reaching 37 Celsius, the car was refuelled and fitted with new tyres for my first ever Le Mans Cup race stint.
I left the pit lane with the clear target of holding onto as high a position as possible and, happily, I quickly got up-to-speed.
I held fifth for several laps, but vastly more experienced pro drivers soon arrived on the scene and began working their way past me and, five minutes from the chequered flag, I was in a highly respectable 16th place.
That was until I became beached in the gravel. I was perhaps just a little too racy, carried too much speed into Variante Ascari, where the #53 Ligier JSP320 swapped ends.
Nevertheless, my enthusiasm is undiminished by the excursion. It was always going to be a baptism of fire as the only rookie amateur on the track in the final stint, but it was a great learning experience.
I felt more and more comfortable in the car and began to understand how it responds across a race distance, and to have run inside the top ten and been on course for a 16th-place finish in my maiden Le Mans Cup race is satisfying.
I had been trying to carry more speed through Ascari all weekend and with three laps to go I knew I had to keep pushing my limits.
Unfortunately, I pushed a little too hard on worn tyres, but it’s all part of the learning and it was a strong debut performance that inspires confidence for the next round of the championship at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, which I know well.”
I have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. (Revelation 2:3)