The previous results and good fortune enjoyed by Murphy Prototypes at Paul Ricard were not to be repeated this weekend, when an incident halfway through the 4-hours of Le Castellet – round four of the European Le Mans Series – meant that the team’s chance of a podium finish ended abruptly in the barriers at turn nine. Michael Lyons, who was driving the car at the time, emerged relatively unscathed but was bitterly disappointed after running in third place shortly beforehand.
The Circuit Paul Ricard has been Murphy Prototypes’ most successful venue to date, the team achieving its first ELMS victory at the track in 2013 and then followed it up by setting fastest laps in various testing and qualifying sessions. But conditions for the start of this weekend were a little different than usual, with strong winds and cooler temperatures punctuating Saturday’s test sessions.
French driver Nathanaël Berthon – who had opted to drive for Murphy Prototypes in the fourth round of the ELMS this weekend rather than in the GP2 race supporting the Italian Grand Prix at Monza – qualified the team’s Oreca 03R in sixth place. Taking into account his usual pace around the Paul Ricard circuit, he admitted that the choice of hard compound tyres for qualifying had not worked. But in a four-hour endurance event, qualifying is not the most important factor and the team remained confident that its set up and strategy would come good in the race.
In keeping with the previous three rounds, Mark Patterson was first to drive and once again, the RSA born American held his own against the Pro drivers around him by gaining two places before the first corner. But his rivals closed ranks and, intent on keeping out of trouble, he ended his first lap in seventh place.
After 50-minutes and hardly putting a foot wrong, Mark came into the pits while in sixth place – the team’s original grid position – to swap with Michael. Using the first two laps to bed-in his tyres, the Anglo-Irish 24-year old soon started to close the gap ahead of him and was, at some points during his stint, the fastest man on the track.
The deployment of the safety car after 1-hour 10-minutes of the race further helped to reduce the deficit ahead of him and, when racing resumed 10-minutes later, Michael was in touch with the cars in front. The battle that ensued allowed him the opportunity to snatch third place and consequently, he found himself just four seconds off the leader and in a position to fight for a podium position.
A routine pit stop to change tyres went well. But then, two-hours into the race, as the Eurasia Motorsport car #33 clumsily went past on the outside of turn one to un-lap itself, the two cars touched – the impact causing Michael to spin and drop two places.
With only half the race completed, there was still time to fight back. But two laps later at the end of the main straight on the approach to turn nine, the Michael’s car went out of control, slid across the run-off area at speed and into the barriers on the outside of the track. Fortunately, he climbed out of what was left of the car with only a few bruises and stiff joints. Currently, he and the team are unsure as to why the incident happened and further investigation will be carried out when the car returns to the team’s UK headquarters.
It was a disappointing end to what had all the trappings of a highly successful weekend. The team will now use the next six weeks to assess the damage and rebuild its car in readiness for the fifth and final round of the European Le Mans Series: the 4-hours of Estoril, which takes place on 18th October.
Greg Murphy – Team Principal:
“Because of our previous results at Paul Ricard we were naturally hoping for a good result. It’s bitterly disappointing for the whole team that the race should end the way this one did, but we are all extremely pleased that Michael was able to walk away from the incident. The team will now look at the car to see what happened. But one things for sure, we never give up and we’ll be back fighting in Spain next month.”
“The first half of the race had gone well and I was pleased with my stint. I was able to make up two places into turn one, but got shut out by the Pro drivers around me, which pushed me back to seventh. It was so close I don’t think I drew breath until the second lap! I think we had an excellent chance of a podium today, but yet again, bad luck has denied us the opportunity of a top three place in the race and probably in the end-of-season rankings too. Michael drove well until his accident and of course, it’s a massive relief that he’s okay.”
“My double stint was go going really well and I was pleased to be able to set competitive lap times and make up positions. That’s until I got hit by another car and spun. I dropped a couple of places before I was able to get going again. But then, a few laps later, as I got to the end of the straight and went to turn in to the corner, the car snapped one way and then the other. I really don’t know what happened as I didn’t do anything differently than I had done on other laps. I tried to keep the car from hitting the barrier, but at the speed I was going there was little chance of stopping. I’m gutted we were out of the race, but after an incident like that it could have been worse. It’s a testament to the car I walked away from it after such a big impact.”
“Of course it’s disappointing not to race – especially at my home ELMS event – but I am just pleased Michael is alright after what looked like a bad crash. I did drive the qualifying session, but by using hard compound tyres I could not get them up to temperature, so we had to start from sixth. Taking into account previous performances at this track and looking at Michael’s pace before the incident, I think a podium was realistically possible today.”