After starting the 2011 Le Mans Series season with back-to-back top five finishes, Team RLR's run of form wilted in the heat of Imola as the small British team recorded a disappointing DNF.
The weekend – the third LMS meeting of the year after Paul Ricard and Spa-Francorchamps – started well enough for the team of drivers Rob Garofall, Simon Phillips and Barry Gates with a productive test day on the storied track.
However, just two laps into the race problems struck. Garofall, travelling at over 100mph, had the steering of the MG Lola EX265 lock up. Fortunately, the problem cured itself before any accident, and to allow the driver to coax the car back to the pits, but the team lost a full hour in the pits as they replaced the entire steering rack.
Garofall explained; “I got a good start and went to change direction going into the chicane and the steering just locked, which was a bit worrying as I was carrying a fair bit of speed. Thankfully it started working again and I caught it, but it felt all wrong. We decided to bring it in and fix it rather than risk damaging the car even more if it went again at the wrong place. We had four or five hours of clean running in practice and qualifying this weekend with no problems, so it's not easy when you then get an issue on lap two of the race.”
While the repair was completed, and the car was able to re-enter the race, any chance of keeping up their string finishing record was gone, so the decision was made to use the race to give drivers more track time in the car ahead of the second half of the season.
Phillips was the first man in the repaired car, alternating stints with Gates either side of a 20 minute delay for an alternator problem. The final problems, and the decision to officially retire from the race came with less than half an hour of the race remaining when a niggling gearbox problem appeared.
“I felt we had a great chance to secure a big result here coming into the weekend,” summed up team principal Nick Reynolds. “Unfortunately that was put beyond our reach very early in the race. On the plus side the guys did feel the benefit of the improvements we have made to the car recently. Simon and Barry both took a lot from their time on track today so it's certainly not been a wasted journey. The more miles we do the more we all learn, and I'm very confident we can successfully work through the issues we had here today.”