20 May, 2014
McLaren GT factory driver, Rob Bell, celebrated two second place finishes in the opening round of the 2014 GT Asia Series in Korea last weekend. Driving with Hiroshi Hamuguchi at Clearwater Racing, the experienced British sportscar racer and his team mate were behind the wheel of the team’s McLaren MP4-12C race car. They ran in the lead pack throughout the weekend and put in a strong performance to produce the two points scoring results.
The Korea International Circuit hosted the first two races of the GT Asia Series season, a new track for Rob to learn and master. He took little time to settle in with the team and get to grips with the circuit and in Thursday’s unofficial practice he provided valuable set up feedback to the team, with his extensive experience of racing the McLaren MP4-12C evident in the assistance he provided during the sessions.
Friday’s two practice sessions gave Rob and Hiroshi further opportunity to develop the car’s set up and with Rob’s input the duo finished third fastest after the two 45 minutes sessions. With the team running on Yokohama tyres, a different tyre to that used for McLaren GT development work, Rob helped the team to work on changing the car’s balance to suit this rubber.
Two 15 minutes qualifying sessions on Saturday morning were used to set the grid for the first of the two Korean races. Rob put in a sterling effort to produce third fastest lap to line up on the second row of the grid for the first race. Rob took the start for Clearwater Racing and with his racing expertise played a waiting game in the first two corners, watching on as the front two cars squabbled for position. When the opportunity arose at turn three Rob slipped into the lead with a superb move on the two front runners and soon took command of the race. Leading by around four seconds, Rob pitted at the end of the compulsory pitstop window, handing the car over to Hiroshi for the remainder of the race.
Hiroshi was back out on track after the mandatory 85 seconds pitstop to continue leading the race. Behind him the pack were fighting hard for position, with a number of incidents and a safety car period upsetting the order. With a Ferrari emerging in second place Hiroshi then had to start defending his position, with the Italian car pushing hard in the final lap. With just three corners to go Hiroshi, struggling with grip, spun the McLaren, letting the Ferrari through to take the win, but managing to recover to follow it over the line for second.
The second race of the weekend saw Hiroshi take the start and stayed out of trouble in the opening laps to settle into second place. He dropped to third and help position until the compulsory pitstop. This stop included a time penalty for the second place finish in the first race, and after emerging from the pits the McLaren was lying third, but 10 seconds adrift of the leaders. Rob took over the driving and put in a series of blistering laps to make up ground on the lead pair, hunting them down and wrestling the best possible laptimes from the McLaren. A problem for the second placed Audi put Rob in second place, now just 1.9 seconds behind the leader. However, the accomplished Brit ran out of laps and was forced to settle for second place.
Rob said after the weekend, “I’ve had a great time in Korea, really enjoying the track and racing with a very professional team. I was able to use my expertise and experience of the McLaren GT to positive effect, helping to improve the balance and pace of the car. Although we narrowly missed out on a win, two second places were a good reward for our efforts and scoring strong points puts us in a competitive position for the overall championship.”
“Overall, it’s been a good weekend,” adds Rob. ”There’s still work to do to make sure we can be on the pace and fighting it out at the front, but with the next race weekend in two week’s time we’ll have a chance to review the data and work on developments for the second round of the GT Asia Series.
The next round of the championship takes place in Autopolis in Japan, another circuit which will be new to Rob, presenting him with a welcome challenge to broaden his experience of the world’s leading race tracks.