RLR MSport takes top ten result from dramatic ‘Road to Le Mans’ with Aguilera and Walden

15 June 2024 | adminleveridge

RLR MSport’s Ian Aguilera and Garth Walden took a highly respectable top ten result away from the dramatic, incident-filled 2024 Michelin Le Mans Cup ‘Road to Le Mans’ (12-15 June).

The Silverstone-based team classified ninth in the first 24 Hours of Le Mans support race, severely truncated by Safety Cars, slow zones and a red flag, but a mechanical issue prevented it from replicating that performance in the second contest.

As in previous years, the Ligier European Series supported official Le Mans testing (Sunday 9 June), and it served as an opportunity for Aguilera to get his eye in around Circuit de la Sarthe prior to the ‘Road to Le Mans’.

Australia’s Walden answered a lastminute call and flew halfway around the world from Sydney to Le Mans to partner RLR Msport’s Ligier European Series regular Aguilera.

The founder of the GWR Australia race team, Walden has over 25 years of motorsport experience as a manager, mechanic and competitor in categories like V8 Supercars, Fanatec GT World Challenge Australia and the Asian Le Mans Series.

However, he got his first ever look at Le Mans when he took the #5 Ligier JSP320 LMP3 out into Free Practice 1 on Wednesday (12 June), two hour-long tests and 20 minutes of Qualifying providing very little time to adapt to both the car and track.

The opening ‘Road to Le Mans’ race commenced after an extra formation lap and, having survived a busy and fraught start, Walden made an instant impact by rising from 14th to ninth on his first and only green-flag tour of Circuit de la Sarthe.

RLR MSport was one of many teams to perform its mandatory pit stop during a Safety Car, switching Walden for Aguilera, who was 13th in the queue but steamed by four cars into P9 before the race was red-flagged once and for all.

Part two of the ‘Road to Le Mans’ served as a precursor to the 92nd 24 Hours of Le Mans (Saturday 15 June) and was therefore witnessed by 325,000-plus expectant trackside spectators.

Most teams started their Bronze drivers, but RLR MSport placed Silver-graded Aguilera aboard the #5 in a bid to make early progress up the leaderboard.

From 19th on the grid, the young Mexican picked off four rivals in the first sector of the opening lap and made further gains into seventh position overall between Safety Car interventions, which limited his impact.

The majority of driver changes took place during the second neutralisation, and Walden found himself in among a mass of LMP3 cars in tenth overall when up to full racing speed.

The Aussie initially threaded his way through the traffic into eighth, and he stood his ground against the Silver drivers and Le Mans Cup regulars who come with prior experience of Circuit de la Sarthe.

However, the #5 Ligier had a brush with the wall and developed a mechanical issue on the left-rear, creating an instability that saw Walden plummet to 17th at the finish line.

“Racing with RLR MSport in the Michelin Le Mans Cup ‘Road to Le Mans’ has been a great experience,” said Walden. “To compete at Le Mans is a big tick off the bucket list for all racing drivers, but especially us Australians because we’re so far away.

“Of course, it was always going to be an uphill struggle; there were only 24 hours between answering RLR MSport’s call and boarding the flight from Sydney to France, and my only preparation was watching video. However, I still didn’t anticipate it being so challenging. I haven’t driven an LMP3 in four years, so adapting to the car and a new circuit was tough. I was surprised at how much speed you carry around the lap and it’s clear that track knowledge is absolutely key at a place like Circuit de la Sarthe.”

Walden continued: “Under the circumstances, I feel Ian (Aguilera) and I did a reasonable job to move forward to a highly respectable top ten result in race one. In the second race, Ian once again performed well and made progress up into the top ten, but we took on damage in a brush with the wall and something started to break on the left-rear.

“We were on for another top ten finish until then, but the car was moving around more and more and I could only limp home to the chequered flag. Despite that, I’ve loved every minute of my time here at Le Mans and I’m thankful to RLR MSport for the opportunity.”