13 July, 2014
The only foreign round of the 2014 British GT Championship didn’t produce a change in luck for Matt Bell and his United Autosports team-mate Mark Patterson. The duo took a hard-earned fifth place in race one at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium yesterday but could only manage a lowly 22nd in race two after some avoidable contact.
After a great turn of pace in Friday’s free practice sessions, Matt was hopeful of a top qualifying position in the No.23 Audi R8 LMS ultra. Unfortunately the track conditions changed and he found himself with no grip, only qualifying in 13th place for race two. With Mark also qualifying in 13th place for the first race they knew they would have a busy race day ahead of them on Saturday.
A steady drizzle greeted the competitors arriving at Spa for race day. This finally stopped 10 minutes before the cars headed out to the grid, leaving everyone in a bit of a quandary. Slicks or wets?
Everyone went to the grid on wets but it became apparent on the lap to the grid that the track was drying fast. With tyre changes disallowed on the grid the United Autosports squad decided to take a risk and return to the pits for slicks, forfeiting their grid position and starting the race from the pit lane.
The organisers then called for two formation laps so this gave Mark, who was starting race one, the opportunity to close on the back of the pack before the race went green. Half the field dived into the pits for slicks as soon as the race started so Mark was catapulted into the top 10. Then he got hit.
A spinning Ferrari almost collected Mark going into turn one but luckily he hit Mark’s wheel square on so he could recover, albeit right down the order again in 20th place. Mark fought his way up to 13th before the pit stops and, after a great stop, Matt joined the race and hauled the Audi all the way up to fifth place. He was the fastest man on track for most of his run but by this time the gaps to the leaders were just too great to overcome.
With fresh hopes for race two, Matt started from 13th and got up to eighth by the top of Eau Rouge on the first lap. He was then back down to 13th by the end of the Kemmel Straight!
“Straight line speed isn’t our strong point and this become very apparent when everyone drove past me,” said Matt. “There was a train of cars from third to 15th, all battling but every time I got a run on someone I couldn’t make the move. Luckily for us the safety car came out before we pitted so that bunched everyone up again.”
“Unluckily though, on the lap the safety car was coming in, a bunch of us were going into the final chicane together,” continued Matt. “Everyone got it right apart from the guy behind me who drove straight into me so I crossed the line in a smoking car and then my tyre exploded as I went up Eau Rouge. This wasn’t a moment in my life that I would like to repeat. The guy got a fine and penalty points for his driving and I got a big scare!”
Matt had to crawl all the way back to the pits to get a new tyre and hand the car over to Mark, who then joined the race dead last. Another lengthy safety car period followed, leaving Mark with only eight minutes of green flag racing, during which he finished in 22nd, despite setting the fastest lap of the non-professional drivers.
“Yet again we have the overall pace but no luck,” concluded Matt. “I want to say a big thanks to Aldermore who came all the way to Belgium to support me this weekend. We were able to give them a good show in race one at least! Another big thanks goes to United Autosports for pulling another blinder in the pit stops in race one. We always gain places in the pits thanks to their great work.”
The next round of the British GT Championship takes place at Brands Hatch at the end of August.