16 July, 2014
Rob Bell returned from Japan yesterday with another trophy to add to his silverware collection. Competing in the GT Asia Series with Clearwater Racing, the Lancashire-based driver, sharing a McLaren MP4-12C with Hiroshi Hamaguchi, finished second in the first race and sixth in the second to maintain the lead in the Driver and Team Championships.
The drama on the opening day of the event at Fuji Speedway last Thursday was overhead rather than on the track, with Rob witnessing Typhoon Neoguri and the highest wins and heaviest rain that the Brit had ever seen. Only half the field ventured onto the circuit, with Rob and Hiroshi opting to stay dry, waiting until Friday to get out on track.
The centre of Typhoon Noeguri passed through the region during Thursday night and Rob was relieved to wake to a dry day for official practice. It was the first visit to Fuji circuit for the McLaren factory driver so the first task was to learn the circuit. After a few laps of the 4.5 km track Rob was up to speed and by the end of the first session had posted fourth quickest time. The team continued to prepare for Saturday qualifying, with 11th fastest lap in the afternoon practice session.
Saturday morning qualifying comprised two 15 minute sessions, one for each driver, ahead of the opening 50 minute race. Rob qualified the car in second place behind the sister car of Clearwater Racing, a Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Keita Sawa. Hiroshi set the pole time during the second qualifier session reserved for Amateurs.
Rob took the start for the first race with Keita taking the lead into turn one. However contact further back down the field forced an early safety car period. Keita drove defensively to hold off Rob at the restart. Hiroshi took over the driving for the second half of the race, maintaining position behind the Clearwater Racing Ferrari and finally crossing the line two and a half second behind in second place.
The rain of Typhoon Neoguri returned for the final day of the Fuji round of the GT Asia Series with Hiroshi lining up in pole for the start amid treacherous conditions. He led the 32-car field off the line. He stayed ahead of his rivals as they swopped positions, dicing with other cars and a very wet track, with many of the field succumbing to the tricky conditions. Meanwhile, the big mover in the field was Vutthikorn Inthrapuvasak, a Thai driver - rated as one of the best in his home country – who set a stunning pace in the Singha AAS Motorsport Porsche GT3-R to move through the field from his seventh-placed starting position to challenge the leaders and ultimately move to the front just before Hiroshi pitted from second place.
Rob took over the driving seat for the second half of the race, taking the lead after the pitstop and building a 20 second gap to Keita in the other Clearwater Racing entry. The Japanese driver was able to lead when Rob was forced to make an unscheduled pitstop, dropping him down the order. He drove on the limit to try and reach a podium spot, but time ran out and he crossed the line in sixth place.
Rob said after the weekend, “What an experience. I loved the track, but I’m not a big fan of typhoons or earthquakes – we felt one on early Friday morning, just after the typhoon had been through! It was very rough in the rain on the circuit. I’m disappointed we couldn’t maintain our record of a podium in every race, but I’m happy that we’ve retained our lead in the championship. We’ve been on the pace throughout the weekend and had good runs in the races, with great work from the Clearwater Racing crew, so I look forward to the next outing with the team in Malaysia next month.”
Rob returns to racing action this coming weekend with an ELMS outing at Red Bull Ring, followed by a trip to Belgium for the Spa 24 Hours race.