17 May, 2016
Matt Bell came away from Imola in Italy last weekend with only a seventh place finish to show for his efforts during Round Two of the European Le Mans Series. Despite this the No.3 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan squad of Matt Bell, Mark Patterson and Wayne Boyd hold onto second place in the LMP3 driver’s championship.
As Bell qualified the car at Round 1, it was Wayne Boyd’s turn at Imola and the British racer put it on pole position, setting up a great race for the No.3 crew.
Due to contracted running in free practice, caused ultimately by a puncture, Bell lined up for the start of the four-hour race having done only two laps in the car all weekend.
“The start went really well and I managed to stay in first place, although the first few laps were a bit tricky as I tried to get my bearings whilst racing flat out!” said Bell. “I set off with Alex (Brundle) on my tail and we started to disappear from the rest of the field pretty quickly. Unfortunately for me I was run wide by an LMP2 car (on a recovery drive from the back after an incident on the first lap) at Turn One and I lost the lead.”
Fortunately the remainder of Bell’s stint was less dramatic. He continued to pull away from the third placed car quickly and when Brundle pitted from the lead Bell was only a second behind. A stunning pit stop by United Autosports and a fast in-lap for Bell meant that the No.3 Ligier-Nissan rejoined the race back in the lead!
Mark Patterson then followed up Matt’s drive with a smooth stint. As the bronze-rated driver it was expected that Patterson would drop a few places against pro drivers but the strategy was to put Boyd in for the final stint so he could make the positions up against the other team’s bronze-rated drivers.
“We saved Wayne (Boyd) for the final stint and I think a podium was very much achievable at that point but then it all went wrong,” continued Bell. “A thunderstorm arrived just at the end of Mark’s run but the rain was so hard the track flooded, bringing out a Full Course Yellow. We pitted and Wayne got in but the rain was still so hard some cars were spinning off at just at 80kph so the safety car was brought out until the end.”
The final part of the race was quite literally a wash out so Boyd never had the opportunity to move up from seventh place.
“It’s hard to accept seventh place when everyone has done such a good job and something completely beyond your control ruins your race,” explained Bell. “We’ll take the many positives from the weekend and move on. We obviously have a good base setup to be able to get pole position with such limited running and I think we could have actually improved the car even more for the race had we had time, so that bodes well for Red Bull Ring. The team was excellent in the pits again, highlighted by our lead after the first stop, so thanks to them for all their hard work. We’ll continue to look at what happened and see what more we can learn and improve on. Lets hope the next race in Austria brings better fortune!”
Round 3 of the European Le Mans Series takes place at the Red Bulll Ring in Austria on 17 July.