RLR MSport kept its title hopes alive by taking two cars to top eight finishes in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Barcelona (26-28 August), Michael Jensen, Nick Adcock and Alex Kapadia coming home in sixth, and Horst Jr Felbermayr, Austin McCusker and Valentino Catalano eighth.
A day of testing at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya during the long two-month summer break placed RLR MSport’s championship-contending #5 trio of Jensen, Adcock and Kapadia on the front foot, as they topped official testing times on Thursday (25 August) morning and remained inside the top three in the afternoon.
The unfortunate #15 crew of Felbermayr, Catalano and McCusker, meanwhile, were disrupted by an engine issue but still classified inside the top eight on Thursday and again in FP1 on Friday.
Saturday’s programme began with Kapadia leaping to the top of the FP2 times on a 1m43.333s, further extending the #5 crew’s class-leading testing form, but ill-judged setup tweaks resulted in a significant dip in performance that resigned RLR MSport to eighth and 12th in LMP3 Qualifying.
However, it was a clean start to the ELMS 4 Hours of Barcelona for RLR MSport, and both the #15 and #5 Ligier JSP320s ran nose-to-tail when the Safety Car neutralised proceedings at the end of lap one, during which Felbermayr was demoted from eighth to ninth and Jensen progressed from 12th to tenth.
Felbermayr soon came back at the #4 DKR Engineering car for P8, but, despite the Austrian Am’s best efforts to get on terms with the #10 Eurointernational machine, DKR held his attention for much of the first hour.
RLR MSport stretched the envelope with the #15 entry, which went almost 90 minutes before boxing for fuel, and Felbermayr subsequently ran as high as fourth before completing his minimum drive-time and passing the reins to McCusker on lap 54.
Jensen, meanwhile, ran at his own pace and was ninth when he gave way to Adcock during the first round of pit stops, after which the South Africa-based driver methodically worked his way up the leaderboard from tenth to fifth with a car that had a tendency to oversteer.
Kapadia was inserted into the #5 Ligier at mid-distance and quickly engaged the #2 United Autosports car in a battle for eighth, which he won to then home in on and clear McCusker in the #15 machine, which carried light front-end damage.
Sixth after the final round of pit stops, Kapadia held track position to the chequered flag, and, while Catalano did all he could to find a way around the seventh-placed #11 Eurointernational machine during the final hour, the young German came home in eighth.
The Barcelona result widens the gaps in the ELMS LMP3 Teams’ and Drivers’ Championships, but, while RLR MSport’s Jensen, Adcock and Kapadia have been demoted to third, they remain only 12 points adrift of the leaders.
Jensen said: “Testing and free practice looked very promising but, unfortunately, we struggled in qualifying. Barcelona was boiling hot all weekend and we knew it would be a tough race from the back of the LMP3 field, and we were a bit unlucky to pit just two laps before a Full Course Yellow when Nick (Adcock) handed the car over to Alex (Kapadia). Nevertheless, we finished sixth. It isn’t what we wanted, but it was the best we could have hoped for under the circumstances.”
Adcock added: “After heading up both Thursday morning testing and FP2 on Friday, we believed we were looking good for a podium finish. However, that was undone by a “tweak too far” before qualifying, which resulted in the RLR MSport Ligier JSP320 losing its edge. Alex (Kapadia) was very disappointed in P12.
“We chose to save tyres in practice as we believed degradation would be high, but we felt we had a good strategy with plenty of new Michelins at our disposal. I took the middle stint and Michael (Jensen) started, pitting from ninth place. Cockpit temperatures were incredibly high all weekend but peaked in the race, and with track temperatures so high, it was very challenging to maintain a good lap time. I soldiered on and pitted from fifth after an hour. We were quite unlucky that a Full Course Yellow fell just after I pitted, because that gave our rivals a big advantage. As usual, Alex drove brilliantly and, having qualified last, sixth is the best we could have done. It keeps us in the championship hunt, but we do need a very good showing next time out at Spa.”
Kapadia added: “The European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Barcelona went pretty well for us, although we did have a little bit of bad luck because pitting just before a Full Course Yellow came out was probably the biggest deciding factor in our race. Michael (Jensen) drove one of the best stints I’ve seen from him and the same can be said of Nick (Adcock). Both were at the top of their game, which is great.
“We had slightly too much oversteer in the car and that was another limiting factor, but I’m pleased with my own stint because, while we weren’t the quickest, we were right up there. Physically, it was the hardest stint I’ve ever done in a race car; doing 2h10m in a car and having the drinks bottle run out with around 40 minutes to go in such heat was very tough. In fact, it was a hard race to get sixth from, but we’re still third in the championship and we’ll keep pushing to rack up the points and get that title.”
Catalano added: “Firstly, I’m very happy that we managed to finish the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Barcelona without being penalised or crashing. In the beginning, our car was in a good position, but Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya evolved and we began to struggle a lot with traction and tyre degradation. I could still catch the cars ahead but I was unlucky in traffic and couldn’t find a way through. Eighth is still a good result and I’m confident we will continue improving.”