Team RLR, Le Mans Series 2011
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Team RLR, Le Mans Series 2011

Le Mans Series 2011
Team RLR Finish Fifth in Season Opener
Issued April 5th 2011

High Five for Team RLR at Le Castellet

Team RLR collected its best Le Mans Series result to date as the Lancashire-based outfit claimed fifth place in the LMP2 class at the Six Hours of Le Castellet today (Sunday).

Drivers Simon Phillips, Barry Gates and Rob Garofall enjoyed a superb run over 174 laps to steer the Judd-powered MG Lola EX265 to finish ninth overall from 34 starters at the Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France.

Team RLR travelled to the opening round of the 2011 Le Mans Series season confident it had a reliable car and driver package after constructive testing in pre-season.

However, with much talk in the paddock of the new 2011 regulations perhaps upsetting the balance of the field too much, it remained to be seen how much the performance breaks offered to the new cost-capped cars would affect the outcome of the race.

This was of particular concern to Team RLR as it fielded one of only three non ‘cost-capped’ cars in the LMP2 class, along with 2010 Le Mans 24hrs class winners Strakka Racing HPD and defending Le Mans Series LMP2 titleholders RML HPD.

Despite the concern about straight line speed, the first qualifying session of the 2011 season on Saturday saw Rob Garofall place the Dunlop shod MG Lola EX265 12th on the grid of 34 entries.

Making it into the top third of the field proved to be vital, as come the rolling start on Sunday confusion reigned and a number of GT class runners collided after seeing green lights when the safety car was still out at the head of the pack.

Fortunately Team RLR’s Simon Phillips, behind the wheel of the MG Lola for the start of an LMS race for the first time, was well ahead of the carnage and escaped unscathed.

Phillips enjoyed a solid first stint and showed good consistency, until his rhythm was disrupted near the end of his run when he lost the power steering on the MG Lola. Despite the strain of having to manhandle the prototype sports car around the high speed circuit for half a dozen laps he put in an outstanding shift to bring it back into the box for Barry Gates seventh in class and in ninth overall.

After the team reset the systems on the car during the driver change over the power steering problem was solved for Gates returning to the fray. However, he had only just hit the track and started settling into the MG Lola when the engine unexpectedly cut out, costing him precious time as he tried to fire it up. It did power up again though and Gates went on to turn in arguably his best performance in the MG Lola to date, posting a series of consistently quick times and guiding the car to sixth in class and eighth overall by the end of his stint.

Rob Garofall took on the responsibility for closing out the six hour race for Team RLR, and once again underlined his value to the team. As well as being on the pace from the off he also kept it tidy and managed traffic exceptionally well, climbing to fifth in class while enjoying swapping positions with RML’s Ben Collins (aka ‘The Stig’) either side of pit stops. LMP1 cars moving back up through the field after recovering from problems earlier in the race meant Garofall was moved back into ninth overall, but he ran to the end of the race on a very light fuel load to claim a superb fifth place in the LMP2 class in Team RLR’s first competitive outing at Le Castellet.

The result exceeded the pre-race expectations of the team, who had expected the long-straights of Circuit Paul Ricard to prove troublesome by highlighting the MG Lola’s relative lack of top end speed compared to the newer cost-capped cars.

However, the solid start to the 2011 Le Mans Series season is a major boost to Team RLR as it looks to establish itself as a respected presence in the world’s premier endurance racing series.

Team RLR, Paul Ricard, Le Mans Srries 2011. Photo: Marcus Potts

The next round of the championship takes place at the famous Spa Francorchamps circuit in Belgium on May 5-7.

Nick Reynolds, Team RLR team principal, said:
"I’m absolutely delighted with that result. We expected a tough start to the season but the whole team worked really well together and we pretty much had trouble free weekend. If we continue to make progress with developing the car’s setup and finding some more power we’ll be fine for the rest of the season.”

Barry Gates, Team RLR driver, said:
“I think everyone has done an excellent job this weekend. The car lacked a little bit of power compared to the some of the competition due to the regulations, which I believe will be changed after this race. However, fifth place in class and ninth overall from 34 starters is a good performance I think. We had a couple of small niggles but overall we had a very pleasing weekend and start to the season. This was the circuit that we expected to suit us least of all on the calendar, so we can hopefully use this result as a platform to build on as we go forward.”

Rob Garofall, Team RLR driver, said:
“It was great to be out there with such high quality opposition and come away with a good result which the whole team can be proud of. We were the second of the ‘old’ LMP2 cars after Strakka, who are a very experienced team, so it was a good job all round. It proves that all the hard work that began at the tail end of last season and what we did in testing over the winter break has been worth it and now we are really here on merit. To finish where we did gives us great reason for optimism for the rest of the championship.”

Simon Phillips, Team RLR driver, said:
"I really enjoyed that, even though it was hard work after the power steering went near the end of my stint! I didn’t really see what happened at the start as it was all behind me, I caught a glimpse of some dust and debris flying up into the air, but I was concentrating on making a good getaway myself. It’s a great circuit and the corners are very fluid so you can really build up a good flow between them. Everyone played their part in an excellent start to the season so now we can look forward to going to Spa with confidence.”

For high resolution images from the test, visit the Paul Ricard Race Weekend Gallery.

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