15 June, 2010
The Le Mans 24 Hour race remains the ultimate challenge for Rob Bell, a leading British sportscar driver, who returned back to England today from the world-famous endurance race. Driving with JMW Motorsport in the GT2 Aston Martin Vantage, the team of Bell, Bryce Miller and Tim Sugden completed just under a third distance, but a heavy impact into the barriers during Miller’s stint prematurely ended their race.
Bell enjoyed his fourth outing to the highlight of the sportscar racing calendar despite only having a few hours in the car for the big race. He explains, “Le Mans is so much more than just a 24 hour race, it’s a week long endurance event for the team and the car. The Le Mans Series events, at only six - eight hours long are a good build-up, but preparing for a 24 hour race brings completely different challenges.
“The practice sessions earlier in the week are the first opportunity to run the car at this track and for our team, it was the first time we had run with the Aston Martin here, so there was no historical data for us to work with and we had to use this practice time to understand our strengths and weaknesses. Reviewing the sessions we were aware our top speed wasn’t as good as others, but we could make up for this to some degree on the twistier sections. We all knew it was going to be a tough race, but it is a combination of reliability and speed which you need to beat your competitors at Le Mans, so we weren’t unduly concerned, we just focused on preparing the car to go the distance.”
“I started the race for the team and although I was suffering with brake issues which we’d been fighting all week, I was able to pass a couple of cars and get into a good rhythm. The car was handling well and our Dunlops were standing up to the test. In my second stint I picked up a puncture, like many teams at this year’s race, but was able to limp back to the pits. I was back out again and settling into the stint when I was faced with an experience I’d never encountered before.
“A power steering failure threw oil onto my windscreen and I was left unsighted. I had to unbuckle myself and lean over to see out of the only clear spot on the screen, trying to get myself back to the pits. With an 11 mile lap and LMP1 cars racing past at 190 mph, it wasn’t easy. I did, eventually, get the car back and the crew quickly made the repairs, so that we could continue on.”
The team retired later in the race after Miller’s incident and Bell’s fourth Le Mans became the shortest of his attempts to conquer the mighty endurance spectacle. He reflects, “I love this race, as it is just so unique and really is the ultimate sportscar racing test. From the carnival atmosphere at the track to the welcome we’re given during the drivers parade in the town of Le Mans, there’s a buzz that is unmatchable.
“Of course I’m disappointed that we didn’t reach the end, but that wasn’t through a lack of effort in the JMW Motorsport team, it is just the huge challenge of the race and as we saw we were just one of many who didn’t complete the distance. The GT2 class this year was particularly competitive as well, so it was very enjoyable to be out there, flying the flag for Britain with the Aston and pitting ourselves against the best in our class. I hope I’ll have the chance to come back next year and give it another crack.”
Bell returns to sportscar racing action early next month, competing with JMW Motorsport in the third round of the Le Mans Series at the Algarve circuit in mid-July.