RLR MSport caps off Champion Ligier European Series year with one-two win in Portimao

16 October 2022 | adminleveridge

The 2022 Ligier European Series reached its conclusion at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve (14-15 October) and RLR MSport rounded out the season with a one-two result, Horst Felix Felbermayr achieving a maiden race win ahead of the team’s newly-crowned Champion Haytham Qarajouli and Am co-driver Martin Rich.

Seventeen-year-old Felbermayr achieved a fourth podium of 2022 in part one of the Portimao Heat but went on to convert his first ever Ligier European Series pole position into victory in race two, in which Qarajouli completed an RLR MSport one-two.

Felbermayr went straight to the top of the times in first practice and also held the initiative for much of FP2, but Qarajouli crept up the timing screens and ultimately snatched first place with the #75 machine he shared with Bronze-graded Rich in the Algarve.

It was a pole apiece for Qarajouli and Felbermayr in qualifying at the Portimao circuit, the former setting a 1m53.162s to secure his seventh P1 start of the season, before Felbermayr replicated his free practice performances by registering a 1.52.805s to net a maiden Ligier European Series pole.

It was subsequently an all-RLR MSport front row in race one, but, while Qarajouli led the JS2 R field away from the rolling start, Felbermayr was shuffled back to fifth on the first lap.

The Austrian teenager quickly recovered lost ground, clearing the #69 M Racing and #11 TM Evolution entries to breach the podium places once again, but he and class leader Qarajouli were both under pressure.

Kuwait racer Qarajouli lit up the timing screens but couldn’t shake off the #96 CTF Performance car of Francois Delaplace, and Felbermayr was shadowed closely by the #11 machine throughout the opening stint.

Unfortunately, Champion Qarajouli was struck by a race-ending fuel pump problem on his in-lap to the pits, but Felbermayr continued apace and, third at the close of the pit window, quickly dispatched the #11 machine for second position and relentlessly reduced his deficit to the lead JS2 R from 24 to 1.6 seconds at the finish.

In race two, poleman Felbermayr lost out to the #4 Cool Racing car on the opening lap, but the third-generation racer retaliated the next time around the 4.6km Algarve circuit and eventually made good his escape.

Felbermayr pitted from the lead of JS2 R on lap 16 and, having built a significant advantage during the first stint, he still had more than 13 seconds over his nearest challenger once all stops had been completed.

Frustratingly, a Safety Car negated all of his hard work, but the Austrian managed to re-establish a healthy lead and was some seven seconds up the road when teammate Qarajouli made a move for second position.

Purple sectors were frequent and Felbermayr maintained a seven-second advantage to convert his first ever pole into a maiden race win at the completion of his rookie season of car racing.

Meanwhile, Rich started the #75 car and held firm in fourth position until the driver-change on lap 15, but Qarajouli was third with a clear view of the lead two when a Safety Car neutralised the race and he got the better of the #96 CTF Performance entry for P2 at the restart to complete an RLR MSport one-two result.

In the end, Qarajouli and RLR MSport rounded out the 2022 season on 185 points with a 39-point lead in the JS2 R Drivers’ Championship, while Felbermayr finished fourth on 111 points.

Felbermayr said : “Race two was pretty good. I had a good battle for the first two or three laps but I managed to pull ahead and have a good race once I got back into the lead. The car felt well and I did too, even though I was really hot in the cockpit. A race win was a key objective for the year and the Portimao Heat is definitely my best weekend of the season, having taken pole position, a second place result and race win. We’ve had good pace throughout and I feel great.”

Qarajouli added: “The first race was going really well because I had managed to pull a big gap over the rest of the Ligier JS2 R field, but towards the end of the first stint we started to experience fuel pressure problems. I brought the car back to the pits, we lost a lot of time, but, while Martin (Rich) went out, we had to retire the car.

“However, we still had an opportunity to achieve a result in race two and Martin drove pretty much perfectly during the opening stint, keeping us in the fight until I got in the car. I did my utmost but couldn’t catch my RLR MSport teammate Horst Felix (Felbermayr), who has driven amazingly all weekend.”

Rich said: “To take a podium in my first ever Ligier European Series race isn’t bad at all. The Ligier JS2 R is a great car, but it took some getting used to because it’s all about mechanical grip and it has very little downforce compared to the LMP3 cars I’m used to. It’s a very competitive grid and my objective was to stay as close as possible to the Silver-graded drivers. I knew Horst Felix (Felbermayr) would be quick but felt I could manage the gaps to the two between me and him. My start was a little messy but my experience enabled me to pick my way through the field to fourth and I pitted immediately behind P3.

“I knew then that Haytham (Qarajouli) would get us onto the podium. It’s a great way to end the season. The Algarve in the autumn is always lovely and it’s nice to finish on the podium. A massive thanks to Haytham and his family for allowing me this opportunity.”