Murphy Prototypes impresses at Imola
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.