02 August, 2009
British racing driver Rob Bell celebrated a long awaited victory this weekend in the third round of the Le Mans Series, held at the new Algarve circuit in Portimao, Portugal. The Newcastle born driver racing in the JMW Motorsport Ferrari F430, driving alongside regular team mate Gianmaria Bruni in the GT2 category of the LMS, endured a challenging six hour race, crossing the finish line just five seconds ahead of the second placed IMSA Porsche team.
Bell ran strongly throughout the practice sessions and was consistently towards the top of the times as the team prepared for the endurance event. Bell, with previous testing experience of the venue, used the time to refine the car set up before the qualifying session to set the grid for the race. Bruni posted second fastest qualifying lap, narrowly missing out to Team Felbermayr Porsche for the pole position.
On Saturday afternoon at dusk, the green flag flew for the start of the 1000km endurance race, with Bell taking the start for the JMW team. A chaotic opening lap saw Bell move into the lead and then back to third. A few laps later he was involved in an incident with the second placed Felbermayr Porsche, leaving him with flat spotted tyres and 45 seconds adrift of the lead with a damaged car. He said of the start, “I had a good start, going round the outside of the Porsche to take the lead, but through the next few corners the pack bunched up and I was blocked in, dropping back to third. I then had a Porsche ahead going off line and spearing back on to the track into me which spun me round and flat spotted the tyres. We lost 45 seconds to the leader in that incident.”
As the end of the first hour approached the team were running in third position behind the Team Modena Ferrari and the Felbermayr Porsche. During the second and third hours the JMW Motorsport team were consistently quick and made up considerable ground on the leaders. As the race reached half way the JMW car was running in second place just 20 seconds off the leading Team Modena Ferrari. As the darkness drew in Bell and the team took the lead and started to edge out a small advantage. In the closing stages of the race JMW were being hunted by the second placed GT2 team, Imsa Matmut with its Porsche entry, while Team Modena had dropped back to third position. After six hours, the JMW car had maintained the lead, taking the chequered flag just five seconds ahead of the Porsche, giving Bell and the team their first victory of the season.
Bell commented after the race, “We’re thrilled to have finally taken victory this season, we have been so close and this is well deserved for the whole team. It was a really hard race, as the track has so many blind corners, so when the fastest cars are around you have to be very aware of them. It’s very easy to make mistakes too, as you have to move off line for these cars and it’s a very technical track.
“The Porsche was catching us and if there had been three or four more laps we might have started worrying. Ultimately, because it was such a hard race it made winning even more satisfying.”
Bell and Bruni now lead the GT2 drivers Championship with the JMW Motorsport team leading the LMS GT2 team’s Championship with two rounds still to run.