04 April, 2011
Leading British sportscar driver, Rob Bell, celebrated a GTE Class win at Paul Ricard circuit in France this weekend, in the opening round of the 2011 Le Mans Series. Driving with newcomer to the team, James Walker, the duo piloted their brand new Ferrari 458 Italia GT2 car to the chequered flag in a hard fought six hours of racing.
JMW Motorsport had only taken delivery of their new race car a few days prior to the race weekend and had just managed to slot in a shakedown test at Adria before heading to Paul Ricard in the South of France for the first of the five Le Mans Series events. The team was pleased with the performance of the car from the outset, with Bell and Walker showing the car's potential with strong running in the practice sessions. Bell took to the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458 for qualifying, putting in third fastest lap in the GTE class to put the team in a competitive position for the start of the six hour endurance race.
The start of the race was marred by a multi-car accident off the line after drivers received mixed messages with yellow flags flying and green lights shown at the start. With the safety car deployed to allow strewn bodywork to be cleared from the track, the race finally got underway a few laps later. Bell settled into the race and with Ferrari 458's taking the top four places in the GTE Class, it was a closely fought battle. Bell was able to overtake the third placed Ferrari before the end of his first stint when he handed over the car to team mate Walker. Bell's young team mate was under pressure throughout his stint, but kept his cool to hand the Dunlop-shod Ferrari back to Bell for his second turn behind the wheel.
Bell is up to second by mid-distance, just 23 seconds behind the class leader, the AF Corse Ferrari 458. As the race heads into its second half, a safety car period is used to great benefit by JMW Motorsport, with the team stretching the fuel window and pitting at the end of this period, closing down the gap between the class leader and the JMW entry. With Walker returning to the cockpit for his next stint, the race is back up to full pace. A problem for the lead Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella forces the team to pit, putting the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458 in the lead, but the rival prancing horse is quickly back on track. Walker pushes on, handing the car back to Bell for the final hour of running and a very close battle with the rival Ferrari which, with a different pitstop sequence emerges ahead of Bell in the dying stages of the race. Bell is determined to go for victory and soon overtakes former F1 driver, Fisichelaa driving the 458, in a very smooth outbraking manoeuvre, to regain the lead. He holds position to take the class honours at the chequered flag.
Bell says of the victory, "What a great weekend for JMW Motorsport. It was a really tough race, turning into a battle of tyres in the end. The three top finishers were all 458s, but each of us was on a different tyre. Dunlop proved to be the best out there today and they were superb. Ferrari has produced another excellent race car and together with a great crew at JMW Motorsport, it all came together for us in a very short space of time.
"I'm expecting a season-long battle between the Ferraris, but I think we're also going to have tough competition from the Porsche entries, which didn't feature this weekend after the start line incident."
Bell adds, "Taking the first spoils is the best position we can be in, bring on Spa!"