16 April, 2012
Leading sportscar driver, Rob Bell, endured monsoon-like conditions in the opening round of the 2012 Blancpain Endurance Series. Making his race debut with Gulf Racing UK, Bell was driving with Mike Wainwright in one of the team's two McLaren MP4-12C GT3 cars, both of which are running in the iconic Gulf Oil International colours. The Bell/Wainwright No.9 entry completed all but the last five minutes of the race, with Wainwright unable to re-start the car after an off track excursion close to the end of the Monza opener.
McLaren GT works driver and double Le Mans Series GT Champion, Bell, was the fourth quickest of the ten McLaren MP4-12C GT3s lining up on the grid 34th overall for the season opener at the historic, high-speed Monza circuit, after a hectic qualifying session interrupted by numerous red flag stoppages.
After qualifying Bell reflected, "It was frustrating to have all the red flags and it disrupts your flow, but realistically we probably ended up getting as much as we could out of the session, and at this stage, where we're still learning about the car and having had limited pre-season test running, it's a starting point to work from in the coming weeks and months."
The race started in torrential rain, with conditions so bad that race organisers opted for the 55-strong pack of GT3 cars to take the green flag behind the safety car. With heavy rain continuing, it was over 30 minutes before the field was released to go racing at full speed. The prolonged stint behind the safety car stretched the fuel consumption, with starting driver of the No.9 car, Mike Wainwright, enjoying a stint of more than 90 minutes before handing over the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 to Bell.
Bell put in a strong stint of 30 minutes, with the Gulf Racing team minimising pit stop time after the prolonged safety car period. With a two-driver entry instead of three, the regulations state that the Pro-category driver may only complete a maximum of 70 minutes out of the three hours of racing, and two pit stops must take place.
Suffering from a malfunctioning wiper blade and gearshift problems during his 30-minute stint, Bell remained upbeat after the race, saying. "It hasn't been the easiest of weekends, but we've got through it and put plenty of miles on the new car, as well as having the chance to gel together as a team. The weather really didn't help us either, especially when the wiper wasn't working too well – but you just have to get on with it and make the best you can out of a situation.
"Although we haven't had the sort of results I'd like to have seen, I've really enjoyed working closely with the Gulf Racing crew and it's the team work which is so important when things are running as smoothly as you'd like. It's a great bunch of people and I'm looking forward to getting back on track again in Silverstone, I'd just like a dry weekend next time!"
The second round of the 2012 Blancpain Endurance Series take place at Silverstone, Northants on 2nd June.