16 December, 2014
McLaren GT works driver Rob Bell enjoyed a strong Gulf 12 Hours race last weekend at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, with the race debut of the McLaren 650S GT3 producing an impressive pole position and third place finish.
Rob, driving alongside Kevin Estre and Alvaro Parente in the No.59 650S GT3, was making his third appearance at the popular end-of-season endurance race, a unique event with the distance split into two six hour races.
The weekend began well for Rob, with the Lancashire-based driver topping the timesheets in the first qualifying session and with this, the fastest time set in the No.59 car. Strong performances from his co-driversensure that the aggregated times put the McLaren 650S GT3 car on pole for the start of the race.
Rob was behind the wheel on the grid for the start of the first half of the 12 Hour race and although he was off the line quickly, a hard-charging Jeroen Bleekemolen in a Mercedes SLS slid down the inside at the first corner and streaked away. Rob kept his composure, well aware of the grueling challenge of the 12 Hour race distance and settled into the race, staying in touch with the lead car while conserving tyres.
As the race unfolded the McLaren 650S ran out of position, putting it in to the lead for some parts of the race and then dropping back after pit stops. After all three drivers had completed a stint Rob was back in the car. The accomplished sportscar professional kept the pace up, remained in touch with the lead cars and by the end of the first half of the race the car was lying in third place.
The second part of the race began with Bell taking the start once again. The lead pack was tight knit with the leaders trading places over the course of the six hours. The No. 59 McLaren 650S continued to stand up well to the challenge of its first endurance race, running error free and with a strong pace from all three drivers from lights to flag. After 315 laps the car crossed the line in third place, just eight seconds behind the winning car, a fine performance for the debut of this stunning sportscar racer.
Rob said of the race, “It was a great result for us in Abu Dhabi, proving what a great car the McLaren 650S GT3 is and showing just how much potential it has. The race was part of the planned test programme for this car, so although it had done over 10,000 km in testing, it hadn’t been put through its paces in a race. Heading into it, we knew we had a good car and so the race proved. It ran reliably throughout and it was a solid performance, especially for the first outing.”
“We’ve laid the foundations for next year,” adds Rob. “Although the 650S GT3 is an evolution of the MP4-12C there have been so many fundamental changes – gearbox, geometry, aerodynamics, tyres and so on – so it is a real step forward and I’m sure this is just the start, with many more podiums to come, as well as race wins.”
Rob is now taking a well-earned seasonal break and expects to be back out on track early next year.