04 June, 2014
McLaren GT factory driver, Rob Bell, enjoyed a successful trip to Autopolis circuit in Japan, driving the Clearwater Racing’s McLaren MP4-12C to a win and a second, with team mate Hiroshi Hamaguchi.
The weekend began with two days of testing and practice sessions, which gave Rob and Hiroshi time to learn the circuit and start to develop the car set up. The pairing worked with the engineers to make changes and were able to improve the car over the course of the sessions.
Rob had a strong qualifying session in his group, finishing fourth quickest to start on the second row for the first of the two 50 minute races. Hiroshi also had a good session, with third fastest time. A grid penalty for an engine change on the second quickest car then moved the team up a place, giving them a front row slot for the second race.
Rob took the start for the first race and although he was quick off the line the lead the cars ahead were three abreast through the first corner, forcing Rob to hold station. Rob and the cars ahead started to pull clear of the rest of the field with little space between them. Rob pitted from third and having put in a string of quick laps just prior to his stop, Hiroshi was able to take over the wheel in second place.
The Japanese driver quickly began battling for the lead with the Clearwater team’s other entry, a Ferrari 458, being driven by Mok Weng Sun. Hiroshi was pushing hard to find a way past the Ferrari, and after a number of thwarted attempts made a small mistake which put him into a spin and off into the gravel. Fortunately Hiroshi was able to pick his way through the gravel and rejoin the race and with the lead cars having had a substantial gap to the rest of the field, he was lying third, a position he held until the chequered flag.
Hiroshi started the second race in the McLaren MP4-12C and charged down the outside of Anthony Liu’s Ferrari to take the lead on the exit of the first corner. The Japanese driver held the lead throughout his first stint, but shortly before the pit window the faster-paced Ferrari just squeezed back into the lead. In his efforts to stay with the leader Hiroshi made a small mistake and spun off track, losing around 16 seconds to the leaders.
Rob took over the McLaren for the final stint of the weekend and set off in pursuit of a podium spot. Richard Lyons, an Autopolis specialist with 10 years’ experience of the circuit, had dominated the weekend in an Aston Martin, and proved to be Rob’s biggest rival for the lead. As the race reached its closing stages Richard led with Rob on his tail and the duo chased round, dicing with traffic. Rob tried every move possible, but the faster Aston was able to stay ahead to take the win on the track. However, the Aston Martin team had been given a pit infringement drive through penalty during the race, which they did not serve, resulting in their disqualification from the race, promoting Rob and Hiroshi to victory. The Aston Martin team has appealed the decision so at the moment the win is provisional.
Rob said after the weekend, “It was a very enjoyable week in Autopolis with another two podiums to celebrate. Everyone in Clearwater Racing worked hard for these; it was a real team effort and very satisfying to bring home the trophies as a reward. It’s early days in the season, but with four podiums from four races and holding the lead in the team and driver championships, we’re looking very strong.
“We’re working hard at each round to develop the car, as we’re finding that it’s not ideally suited straight ‘out of the box’” adds Rob. “It’s a good challenge for me and it’s great to be able to share my experience with Hiroshi and the team to make the necessary improvements and be racing for wins. We’re knocking on the door of the top spot, but haven’t quite achieved the pace we need yet. We’ll keep working at it until we do.”
Rob returns to Japan for the next round of the GT Asia Series in early July.