15 June, 2015
McLaren GT factory driver and leading sportscar racer, Rob Bell, had his hopes of conquering the Le Mans 24 Hours race cruelly taken away after a third distance of this classic endurance race. An engine issue resulting from an earlier track incident forced retirement for the No.97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE race car.
The week-long celebration of sportscar racing which is the famed Le Mans 24 Hours began with scrutineering in Le Mans town square, followed by pit walks at the circuit and topped with the popular Drivers Parade in the town, before the real business of the track action on Wednesday. After the Wednesday and Thursday practice and qualifying sessions Rob and his team mates Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke, had fine tuned the setup of the No.97 car and with a third place class qualifying position, they were set for the challenge of the race.
The race may be 24 hours long, but the pace is frantic right from the start and Stefan Mucke, taking the green flag in the No.97 car was quickly in the thick of the action, ensuring he held position throughout his triple stint. He handed the car over to Darren Turner for his first stint and whilst the race continued, with numerous yellow flags flying throughout the first four hours, the No.97 kept lapping at a solid pace. Darren had a great restart after a lengthy safety car period, jumping up to second in class. Pushing hard to take the lead from the Corvette, Turner attempted to take advantage of a mistake from Milner, but had a small spin, which dropped him to fourth and lost him around 10 seconds. Darren spent the remainder of his time behind the wheel hammering through the laps to claw back the lost time, improving to third place and holding this until he pitted.
Darren handed over the No.97 Aston Martin Vantage to Rob after his triple stint and the Lancashire-based driver was pumped up for his turn behind the wheel. With excellent pit strategy and a strong pace, the car was lying third, with Rob settling into his stride. He caught and passed the No.99 Aston Martin to improve to second place. A safety car period negated the lead of the Corvette and at the restart Rob was right on its tail, but just as he reached Mulsanne Corner had to pull off the track with a smoking engine proving terminal for Rob, his team mates and the No.97 car.
Rob said of his short-lived time racing the No.97 car at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hour race, “I’m absolutely gutted. I hit a kerb and unfortunately this damaged the oll line feed, causing the engine to fail later in the lap. I still can’t believe how this small mistake ended with such a catastrophic outcome. We were running really well and with reliability, were in with a shout of a podium, but it wasn’t to be. It will take me a while to stop beating myself up about this, but I’ll have to put it behind me and move on. Hopefully I can be back next year for another crack at this amazing race.”
Adds Rob, “It’s been a great week and I’ve enjoyed working with such a professional team at Aston Martin Racing. I just wish that it could have been a happier finish after such a good start. My thanks go to everyone at AMR.”
Rob returns to his regular driving duties next weekend, racing with Von Ryan Racing in the Blancpain Endurance Series at Paul Ricard in France.