An impressive second place in round two of the European Le Mans Series at Imola today (Sunday 17th May), was exactly what the Murphy Prototypes team was looking for to kick start its chase for the 2015 championship title. A great all-round effort witnessed outstanding performances from all three drivers: Mark Patterson, Michael Lyons and Nathanaël Berthon, who collectively delivered the team’s first podium result of the season.
Following the disappointment of a DNF at Silverstone, the team was determined to come back with a vengeance for the four-hour race at Imola, especially as the circuit’s layout of long straights, technical corners and elevations was expected to suit its three experienced drivers and Nissan-powered Oreca 03R LMP2 prototype sportscar. Consequently, the team used Saturday’s two 90-minute Free Practice sessions in changeable weather conditions to evaluate tyre choice and set-ups.
Sunday – race day – dawned dry and bright and the team’s work following round one were clearly revealed when Berthon qualified P2, which meant a front-row start for Patterson who was nominated as the first driver. Whilst the 63-year old RSA-born American businessman has 18-years of racing experience under his belt and a reputation of being one of the quickest grandfathers in the sport, he knew he would now be going head-to-head with many of the leading professional ELMS drivers.
Un-phased by the situation, Patterson rose to the challenge superbly and a perfect start saw him slot cleanly into second place – a position he continued to hold for the next 10-laps. Eventually, two of the cars battling behind him squeezed their way past, but he showed that he was more than able to hold his own in fourth place for the reminder of his 50-minute stint.
After an impressive run, he came into the pits for fuel, a change of tyres and to swap with Lyons. Unfortunately the car had to be repositioned onto its marks before work could begin and a few seconds were lost, which meant Lyons joined the race in 10th place. However, the pace of the car was such that a fight-back to a podium position was more than achievable.
Lyons set about the task ahead of him with steely determination and proceeded to catch and pass cars with impressive regularity during the first half of his double-stint. Almost exactly as the clock ticked over the halfway mark, Lyons put the car into a podium position. He then provided a masterly display of defence to hold the place for the next half-hour before returning to the pits to let Berthon take the wheel.
For the final hour-and-a-half, it was Berthon’s opportunity to augment his two team mate’s efforts and he proceeded to show why he is one of the leading drivers in the ELMS and other international championship’s by setting consistently fast times throughout his stint. He also took advantage of pit stops and problems encountered by rival competitors to hold onto a strong second place and even close on the eventual winners: Thiriet by TDS Racing and their Oreca 05 Nissan.
For the Brackley-based Murphy Prototypes team, the pace, reliability and result achieved in Italy could not have come at a better time, as the next race in the calendar is ultimate automotive endurance test of all: the 24-hours of Le Mans, which takes place on 13th & 14th June.
For further details and to find the latest news on the Murphy Prototypes team, plus images and videos, visit the team’s Facebook page and website: www.murphyprototypes.com
Mark Patterson (RSA/New York, USA)
“When Nathanaël put us on the front row of the grid in qualifying and I knew I was first in the car, I thought to myself: this is going to be interesting, as I will be head-to-head against some of the top Pro drivers. In all my 18-years of racing I’ve never experienced anything quite so intense as that first lap. I had a really clean start, slotted into second place and was able to hold back the cars that were battling behind me for ten laps. I didn’t resist when they finally mustered enough speed to get past and was able to hang on to fourth before the pit stop. I’m delighted for the whole team we were able to get second place. ”
Michael Lyons (Bishops Stortford, England)
“When I got into the car I just got my head down and got on with the job. The car felt great, which meant I was able to catch and pass cars for the first half of my stint. I must admit I can’t remember passing that many cars for quite a while and sometimes I felt I was getting squeezed off the road as I went past. But it was great to be able to make so much progress through the field and I’m really pleased to have been able to score my first LMP2 podium.”
Nathanaël Berthon (Romagnat, France)
“At Silverstone I said we would come back stronger and that’s exactly what we have done. The car had great pace this weekend. It felt very good in qualifying and the race, so I must thank the team for that. Both Mark and Michael did an excellent job before I got into the car, so it made my job much easier. It is fantastic for the whole team that we finished on the podium.”
Greg Murphy, Team Principal (Dublin, Ireland)
“This is a great result for the team and for once, I feel all of our efforts have been rewarded. A podium is what we were aiming for – and that’s what we got. Everyone in the team has put in so much hard work for this weekend: it was a fantastic performance from all three drivers and the guys behind the scenes have done a great deal to make the car so competitive and reliable. It ran perfectly throughout the race. Our challenge for the championship starts here!”