21 June, 2016
McLaren GT factory driver, Rob Bell, re-joined Singaporean team, Clearwater Racing, for this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours race and with team mates, Weng Sun Mok and Keita Sawa, the team put up a good fight to take fourth place in the GTE Am Class in the world’s most challenging endurance race.
Rob drove with Clearwater Racing over the winter in the Asian Le Mans Series, piloting one of the team’s McLaren 650S GT3s and was instrumental in the team’s success, taking the championship win at the final round in Sepang, Malaysia, earlier this year with Weng and Sawa. Their victory brought with it an invitation to compete at Le Mans 24 Hours and with the ineligibility of the McLaren 650S, the team moved to the Ferrari 458 Italia for the famed race.
Rob, with plenty of previous experience of the Ferrari quickly settled into a strong pace, having driven with the team at the test day two weeks ago. With Weng and Sawa making their first Le Mans 24 Hours starts the Asian duo were given the majority of the running to give them as much experience as possible of the track prior to the race. Rob drove in each of the sessions to help develop the car set up, putting the car in P1 in the first practice session.
A great effort from Rob in qualifying with a time more than four tenths ahead of the nearest rival put the #61 Ferrari 458 Italia on provisional class pole for the start of the race on Wednesday and with rain affecting the final qualifying sessions on Thursday Rob’s impressive lap time proved unbeatable, putting the team in the best possible position on the grid.
Rob took the start on Saturday afternoon and after three and a half hours of running was lying P3 and had set the fastest GTE Am class lap during his first stint. Rob was back in the car just after midnight handing over to Sawa after a two hour stint. Unfortunately an engine misfire cost valuable pace dropping the car to fourth by early morning. The problem was resolved by mid-morning and with Rob back in the car he was able to up the pace, although the #61 car was running a lap down on the third placed car. Despite the valiant efforts of Rob and his team mates they were unable to claw back the time, finally taking he chequered flag in fourth place.
Rob said of his eighth Le Mans 24 Hours, “It was great to go the distance at Le Mans this year and all credit must go to Clearwater Racing, Weng and Sawa, all rookies at this year’s race, so they did extremely well to be there at the end. It was definitely my longest Le Mans, with two triple stints and two doubles adding up to 11 hours behind the wheel, I’ve never done so much driving! Finishing fourth was a massive achievement and I’m proud to have been part of this success. For me, it was tinged with a little disappointment as we were so close to being on the podium, but as we saw with Toyota, Le Mans is just one tough challenge.
“It’s been a great week,” adds Rob. “The guys at Clearwater Racing are a pleasure to work with and Weng and Sawa have been great team mates. I hope they will be back at Le Mans for another crack at the podium, I’m sure they’ll all be addicted to conquering Le Mans 24 now!”
Rob returns to the driving seat next weekend, heading to Paul Ricard in Southern France for the next round of the Blancpain Endurance Series, driving the McLaren 650S GT3 with the Garage 59 team.