05 October, 2014
Matt Bell yesterday added his name to the winners list at his first ever Petit Le Mans. The event is one of the biggest and the best on the American racing calendar and takes place at the tricky Road Atlanta circuit so for a driver who hadn’t even seen the track this time last week, Matt’s achievement is all the more impressive.
Competing in the No.48 Audi R8 LMS of Paul Miller Racing, alongside regular drivers Christopher Haase and Bryce Miller, Matt knew they would have a fight on their hands from the word go.
“It became apparent to me almost immediately that the BOP (balance of performance) was too hard on the Audi,” he explained. “None of the Audis were competitive and this became clear when we qualified back in 13th place. I also had the job of learning the track, which is tricky when you can’t get a clear lap but I managed to get my head around it by race day and I have to say it’s an awesome place.”
It was Miller who took the start of the 10-hour Petit Le Mans on Saturday. He made a clean getaway and the team got down to business.
“The key to our race was the brilliant work done by the Paul Miller Racing team in the pits,” said Matt. “Bryce (Miller) started the race, then handed over to Christopher (Haase). As they went through their stints the team pulled out some incredible pit stops that meant for almost every car we passed on the track we passed another in the pits.”
As third driver, Matt was up next and he took the lead of the race during his first double-stint. Pitting under the safety car then dropped him to fourth and put the teams pit-stops out of sync with the competition so it was hard to know exactly what position they would be in at the end of the race.
During the final hours of the race the No.48 Audi yo-yoed around the top six, then with 40 minutes to go when all the pit stops had been completed, the Audi was back in the lead. But they would still have one more fight to win.
The second-placed Porsche was rapidly catching the Audi, which now had Haase behind the wheel. After some quick calculations it looked like the Porsche would only catch up by the final lap.
Then the safety car came out.
When the race went green again Haase went on the attack through traffic in order to build up a buffer between him and the Porsche. With three corners to go the Porsche made a lunge and hit the Audi but despite some damage to the car, Haase managed to hang on and cross the line as the GTD class winner!
“That was possible the most nervous I have ever been in my life,” said a relieved Matt after the race. “As you can imagine the celebrations from our pit box were pretty loud. I’m thrilled for the team as this is their first win of the year and the first win for the Audi in the US this year. The team also took joint second in the championship so we had the best possible outcome today.
“I really enjoyed my first Petit Le Mans,” he concluded. “It was amazing to compete here and even more amazing to win. I couldn’t have asked for a better team and co-drivers and I would love to come back next year!”