09 May, 2011
Rob Bell, leading British sportscar driver with JMW Motorsport in the Le Mans Series, was buoyed by the strong pace of the team's Ferrari 458 GT contender at this weekend's Spa 1000km race. Bell and team mate James Walker took the fight to the AF Corse Ferraris for class honours, taking the lead after 19 laps. On lap 70 a rare mistake by Bell with an excursion through the gravel and a clipping of the tyre wall left them behind the two rival Ferraris, but radiator damage cost the team a lengthy pitstop and put them out of podium contention. The JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458 finally crossed the finish line seventh in the LM GTE Pro class.
The weekend began with test sessions for all the competitors in the Spa 1000kms Le Mans Series race and Bell hoped that this would provide valuable mileage for the new-for-2011 Ferrari 458 GT2 race car campaigned by JMW Motorsport this season, however a spate of red flags compromised the team's running for Bell and team mate James Walker.
Bell piloted the car for qualifying, finishing the session second quickest in class. He said afterwards, "We didn't get the amount of running we needed with the new car in the practice sessions, but the tyres had worked well and we had a good base set up, so we were able to put up a fight in qualifying, only a tenth off the class pole, which gave us plenty of confidence for the race."
Bell took the wheel for the start of the Spa race and, as always, with the different classes and performance differentials, he had to battle hard, picking his way past Formula Le Mans cars to chase down the lead car of Melo. Before the end of his stint, Bell grasped the lead, handing the car over to Walker.
Bell said of the race pace, "The Michelin-shod Ferraris tended to have the edge over us for the first five laps but the Dunlops would then come into their own for the next ten laps, so having kept the lead car in our sights, we were able to reel them in as the Dunlops came in and had the better longevity."
With new tyres, Walker took the second stint, briefly losing the class lead but regaining it when the Dunlops outperformed the Michelins. Bell took over for his next stint, with Melo having regained the lead in the pits. The JMW Motorsport driver, sandwiched between the AF Corse Ferraris of Melo and Fisichella, battled hard to wrest back the lead, but when he clipped the kerb at Les Combes, the car bounced into the gravel, just catching the tyre wall. Although no damage was immediately apparent, Bell was forced to limp back to the pits with a burst radiator a few laps later.
The crew worked tirelessly to repair the car and 30 minutes later, they were able to get the car back on track. Bell proved the car hadn't lost any of its competitiveness as he turned some of the quickest laps in the race, but with so much time lost, a strong finish was out of the team's grasp.
Bell rues, "It's hard to swallow the result from this weekend, when we were running so strongly and looking on course for our second podium of the season. For the last five years I've pushed hard each lap of each race and haven't shunted, then I clip a kerb and end up damaging the car, putting us out of contention. On the positive side, I know the car is quick and the Dunlop tyres are awesome, so with Le Mans 24 Hours in sight, I have plenty of confidence for a strong performance there."
After two rounds of the 2011 Le Mans Series, Bell lies joint third in the LM GTE Pro Drivers' Championship and JMW Motorsport is third in the LM GTE Pro Teams Championship.