Team RLR battled to a sensational fifth place finish in the LMP2 class at the 6 Hours of Silverstone today (Saturday, September 11) - despite being forced to change an engine four times in a dramatic build up to the penultimate race of the 2011 Le Mans Series season.
Having started from the pit lane and a lap down on the rest of the field following a last-gasp engine change between warm up and qualifying, a determined drive from Warren Hughes, Barry Gates and Rob Garofall saw the MG Motor UK backed team fight back to claim 14th overall from 48 starters at the home of British motor racing.
The Lancashire-based outfit had arrived at the Northamptonshire circuit after a promising close season, believing the MG Lola EX265 was in top condition and a strong result was within its grasp.
However, after completing Friday’s opening practice sessions a major issue with what was a brand-new engine was detected, and another new unit had to be installed late in the evening.
Saturday also saw the team complete morning practice without incident, but the afternoon’s qualifying session was disrupted by a misfire that meant not only did the squad fail to record a time but incredibly another new engine had to be fitted by the tireless pit crew in the Team RLR garage.
Having spent the two previous evenings working into the small hours the team was stunned to have a third engine fail in the race warm up, and had to set about replacing it with less than two hours to the green flag and race start.
Nick Reynolds’ crew rose to the challenge and managed to fit what was the fourth engine of the weekend in record time, allowing driver Warren Hughes to join the race albeit from the pit lane.
Hughes was only just getting into his stride after a few laps however when he was shown the black and orange flag by the marshals and forced to return to the pits to check on an oil leak. What turned out to be a relatively minor issue saw the MG Lola EX265 return to the fray quickly, but having lost another few laps to the team’s LMP2 class rivals. The experienced endurance racer pushed hard to make up the lost time, so much so he blistered his hands on the steering wheel, before handing over to Barry Gates two hours in.
Gates continued the consistent form he has displayed all season and made good headway through congested traffic in the race’s middle section, and despite a small spin quickly recovered, enjoyed a largely trouble-free run to steer the MG Lola EX265 into sixth in class and 16th overall.
The comeback was well and truly on for Team RLR as Rob Garofall took over from team-mate Gates. With engine number four performing well the former Silverstone instructor took advantage of a slip from a rival car to take fifth in class and 15th overall.
However, a heart-stopping moment ensued when what at first seemed to be a puncture resulted in the front right wheel deting and he was forced to nurse the MG Lola EX265 back to the pits.
That unnerving incident cost him one place, but the Leighton Buzzard resident fought back with a series of quick times to regain it and then open up a gap big enough to ease through the final half hour and secure an outstanding comeback after 171 hard fought laps for the determined Team RLR.
The squad’s attention will now focus on ending the 2011 le Mans Series season on a high at the final round, which will take place at the Estoril circuit, Portugal, on September 23-25.
Nick Reynolds, Team RLR team principal, said:
“I just want to thank all the boys in the garage for working their socks off this weekend, they have put in an amazing amount of hard graft. I genuinely don’t think any other team could have done what they did and changed an engine between the warm up and the race and put out a car that not only went the distance, but pulled off a great result. I think we were hard done to with the pit lights not letting Warren out at the right time at the start and a couple of other incidents, but really pleased to get to the end and delighted with the effort of the whole team. With three engine changes this weekend the boys have only had about nine hours sleep over last four days, so what they’ve achieved is phenomenal really. It’s not long until the next race so we’ll have a very hard look at what the issue with the engines was and come up with a plan for the final round in Estoril.”
Warren Hughes, Team RLR driver, said:
“It’s been an incredible effort by the team to achieve this result. I’ve never experienced anything like the engine problems we’ve had at this race in 20 years of racing. To use four in one weekend is unheard of really and unbelievable bad luck, so to come through that and get fifth is a superb result. The guys in the garage have just put in a huge amount of effort, so to come back from effectively three laps down just makes it that more amazing. It just shows you should never give up in endurance racing and it seems ingrained in this team, it’s a fantastic attitude to have and to be working with them. It would be nice to go to Estoril now and have a trouble free weekend and see what we can do.”
Barry Gates, Team RLR driver, said:
“To finish fifth in our class from where we started is fantastic. Not only did we have to start from the pit lane, but also a further lap behind the rest of the field. Then we were called in after three laps for an oil leak check which cost us another lap, and we lost a wheel near the end which forced another pit stop on us. Apart from that it was a really good run! We were aiming for a podium but to come fifth even after all those dramas is a strong performance. We’re still aiming higher though, we just need a trouble free weekend.”
Rob Garofall, Team RLR driver, said:
“When you go through what we have this weekend and then get back into the garage after driving the final few hours it’s actually hard to believe we managed to finish fifth in our class. We had a whole season’s worth of problems in one day and still came away with a decent result. For the drivers it’s satisfying but this is really a testament to the team and their effort totally deserved it. There would have been no justice if they didn’t get a reward for the amount of sheer hard work they have put in this weekend in our garage. Late in the race I hit the brakes going into a corner and the front right locked up and there was a bit of smoke, so I thought I had a puncture. I was cruising back to pits when suddenly I saw a wheel roll off into the distance, I didn’t realise it was mine at first! Silverstone is such a fast track it was very hard mentally and physically in the closing stages, but I’m just really pleased for the team that we made it to the end, full credit goes to them.”
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