Magnificent victory for RLR MSport in European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Le Castellet

06 May 2024 | adminleveridge

RLR MSport converted pole position into a superlative victory in the 2024 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) 4 Hours of Le Castellet (3-5 May).

Race-winning pace and a neatly-executed strategy enabled Michael Jensen, Nick Adcock and Gael Julien to recover a P1 finish from a race not without incident, as James Dayson, Daniel Ali and Bailey Voisin rounded out the top eight finishers.

Franco-Malagasy driver Julien was one of only two drivers to break the 1m48s barrier in a fast-moving LMP3 Qualifying session, registering multiple improvements to lock in a stunning pole position for Round 2 of the 2024 ELMS at Circuit Paul Ricard.

Unfortunately, a gear-shift issue meant Jensen got swallowed up by the pack away from the start of the 4 Hours of Le Castellet, tumbling from first to eighth during his initial racing laps in the #15 Ligier JSP320.

Bronze-rated Jensen briefly gained seventh position over Racing Spirit of Lemans, but a spin in the final sector of the 25th lap reversed the order once again.

Unfazed, the Danish Am found a comfortable pace and chased the #31 car hard until the completion of his one-hour stint, when RLR MSport chose to burn a compulsory 1m45s stop.

South Africa-domiciled Adcock picked up the baton and, although he was locked in P9 for much of his shift, he was one of the quickest LMP3 drivers on the circuit and successfully reduced the shortfall to the top eight.

In fact, his efforts went some way to negating the impact of a ten-second pit stop penalty for contravening the regulations by “having wheels in the air at the five-minute board” on the starting grid.

Julien swiftly picked off the #88 Inter Europol Competition for eighth before a Safety Car condensed the entire field and presented an opportunity to re-ascend the leaderboard in the final 80 minutes.

Some teams chose to pit their cars and conduct mandatory timed stops during the neutralisation, but RLR MSport stayed on-strategy and Julien subsequently took the restart in third position, approximately ten seconds off the lead.

The podium was some way off after the final round of scheduled stops, but those who pitted out of sequence during the earlier Safety Car required splashes of fuel to reach the finish and the lead COOL Racing car returned to pit lane for a late driver-change to satisfy the ELMS’s minimum drive-time regulations.

Having kept its nerve and stuck to its original, more conventional plan, RLR MSport cycled back up into first position, Julien keeping the pursuing #4 DKR Engineering at arm’s length while fuel-saving on double-stinted tyres to claim a magnificent victory for himself, Jensen and Adcock.

The triumph vaults RLR MSport to the top of the ELMS LMP3 Championship with a tally of 38 points, putting it seven clear of the opposition after two rounds in Barcelona and Le Castellet.

“It’s unbelievable to have won the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Le Castellet, and the success is down to a combination of pace, consistency and a masterful strategy,” said Jensen. “The continuity we have with the car and engineers is a very important factor, as there’s familiarity and we all work well together with a strong team spirit. Gael (Julien) has slotted in well, he’s enjoying the atmosphere and growing in confidence. This victory reflects that, and I don’t see why we can’t build on this result in the remaining rounds.”

Adcock said: “To win the European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Le Castellet in the way we did is surreal. It looked very unlikely for a long time, but we won because we were clean, consistent and RLR MSport’s strategy was excellent. The mechanics on the #15 car are incredibly diligent, so it was fast from the outset and didn’t need much work. Gael (Julien) had the pace to put us on pole position, but Michael (Jensen) lost a lot of places due to a gear-shift issue at the start and ultimately dropped to eighth during green-flag running.

“My first priority was to stay on the lead lap, preventing the class-leading WTM by Rinaldi car from passing me, and I’m pleased to have been the second-fastest driver on-track at the time. The Safety Car really helped us, because some chose to refuel and we knew those teams would need to stop again, releasing us onto the podium. However, a win was unexpected and the last ten minutes in the garage felt like ten hours. In fact, the joy that erupted when Gael crossed the line was unprecedented. From here, there’s nothing to stop us getting more success.”

Julien said: “It’s unreal that we can call ourselves European Le Mans Series race winners. To achieve a victory at this level is an incredible achievement, but, while it wasn’t a clear win, we’ve had the pace to do it. RLR MSport did a super job setting up the #15 Ligier JSP320, because the car was quick from the get-go. My pole lap was really good and that boosted everybody’s confidence.

“In the race, Michael (Jensen) critically held onto the lead lap, Nick (Adcock) had a lot of pace, and my only task was to push. I hammered in fast laps and a decision to save time by not changing tyres in the final stop paid off, because we won by a small margin. To win feels awesome!”

Dayson, meanwhile, made early progress from tenth to ninth but was tipped into a spin as he was lapped by a car from the headlining LMP2 class at Turn 13.

Repairs were required to the #5 Ligier’s engine cover and right-rear bullet – a regulation part – while RLR MSport conducted one of two compulsory timed stops and, off the lead lap, Dayson was still ninth when he completed his Bronze drive-time.

Detached from the main LMP3 pack, there was little Ali and Voisin could do to progress in their respective stints, and they took the #5 car to the chequered flag in a frustrating P8.

“It wasn’t the weekend we were looking for,” said Dayson. “Our race was pretty much ruined when I was struck by an LMP2 car, because repairs to the rear bullet meant we lost a lap and were never really able to recover. I wasn’t overly happy with my pace – I could have driven better – but I’m looking forward to getting rolling and collecting more points at Imola, because we’re definitely much better than our current position in the championship standings suggests.”

Ali said: “It was definitely a challenging race for us, having missed out on a lot of valuable track time prior to my stint. It was also difficult to work around the traffic while being passed by the LMP2s. Regardless, I’m happy with the progress that we made throughout the race, and I’m happy to have finally secured some championship points.”

Voisin said: “It was another tough race and we struggled. It was a shame James (Dayson) picked up damage early on because the repairs ultimately cost us two laps, which severely hampered progress. RLR MSport did a good job, we persevered and tried to gain back some time, but it didn’t work out.

“It’s frustrating because we know we have what it takes to be up at the front or even winning races. We just need a bit more luck and to have a clean race like the sister #15 crew, who took a well-deserved victory in Le Castellet. Looking ahead, Imola is a track I really enjoy. We simply all have to do our bit and keep our heads up.”