06 June, 2011
"It doesn't seem like a year ago that I was here in Le Mans for the 24 hour race," says Rob Bell, returning to the holy grail of sportscar endurance racing, '24 heures du Mans'. The Newcastle-born racer is making his fifth appearance at Le Mans, driving this year with the JMW Motorsport team and piloting the No.66 Ferrari 458 Italia in the GTE Pro class, with team mates Tim Sugden and Xavier Maasen.
It will be the first appearance at Le Mans 24 Hours for the Ferrari 458 and Bell has high expectations for a strong run, saying, "Our package has all the ingredients you need for a good showing this weekend. We should have the speed, the Dunlop tyres have been excellent all year, we have the experience of racing here previously and we have always had the right strategy. It's a good starting point.
"I think we also have a few challenges too. We haven't done as much testing as we wanted to do, so we'll need to make good use of all the sessions available to us this week. And the competition we have in the GTE pro class is very strong, with two works Corvettes, two works BMWs and quite a few Porsches with pro drivers, not to mention the five other Ferrari 458s competing against us.
"We have a strong driver line-up with myself, Tim and Xavier, and we have all had Le Mans experience and this will be an advantage for us. However, neither of the other two drivers have driven the 458 yet so I am sure they will be looking to put the miles on in the sessions ahead of the race."
Bell is quietly optimistic for the race ahead and reckons the team is seen as the 'dark horse'. He's comfortable with this, saying, "We don't have the pressure that the works BMWs and Corvettes have and we're not in the spotlight like some other teams, so we can about our business and prepare as well as we can for the race. I'm looking forward to reaching 3pm Sunday with our car out on track. I hope there's no rain as that's uncharted territory for us with this car and the less we see the car in the pitlane the better; it needs to be out on circuit as much as possible and racing to the chequered flag."
The Le Mans 24 Hour race may only be 24 hours of racing, but the build-up to the event is a week-long affair. Bell arrived yesterday and today the teams have been scrutineered in the town centre. This is itself a spectator event, attracting huge crowds for the first showing of all the teams and cars competing in the historic event. Preparations continue with a drivers' autograph session tomorrow, followed by practice and qualifying sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. A pit walk and drivers' parade on Friday precede the 3pm (local time) green flag for the start of the 79th 24 Heures du Mans.