22 June, 2009
British sportscar driver Rob Bell finished sixth in this weekend’s FIA GT Championship race at Oschersleben, driving in the CRS Ferrari F430 alongside Andrew Kirkaldy. The duo ran as high as second in the GT2 class, but visibility issues with the front windscreen for much of the race forcing the team to make an unscheduled pit stop, hampered their podium chances.
Bell started the race in dry, mild conditions and moved up from their fourth place grid slot to third. However 30 minutes into the race showers came in and the track became difficult to negotiate. The rain became heavier but the team stayed out on track with slick tyres until the pit stop window and Bell coped well with the tricky conditions, making significant ground on the leaders. He finally pitted from second place and handed over to team mate Kirkaldy.
After the pit stop, with rain continuing to fall, the windscreen of the Ferrari steamed up due to a broken heating element and this caused a dangerous lack of visibility for Kirkaldy. Whilst running in second place, Bell’s team mate was forced to make an unscheduled pitstop to clear the screen, rejoining the track in sixth. During Bell’s final stint of the race, he also suffered the same visibility issues, struggling to stay on the track, as were many other cars, with the difficult weather conditions. The team were pleased to see the chequered flag, successfully retaining their sixth place.
Bell commented after the weekend, “In the first part of the race we were running really strong and the car was quick, but the Porsches still had an edge over us. The rain coming in helped us as we had opted to stay out on slicks until the weather was bad enough to change to wet tyres while other teams made a dry pitstop and then had to do another one. It wasn’t easy running on slicks in the wet, but was definitely the right strategy.
“We think that the windscreen heating membrane had been damaged by stones being flicked from a GT1 car going off track in the early part of the race. It was challenging to do so much of the race without full visibility, but at least we could still bring the car home. It is disappointing, which seems to be the story of our season this year.
“The qualifying sessions are our biggest challenge this season, as the ballast we’re carrying – as Andrew and I are both professional drivers – really affects the car’s performance, and most notably in qualifying. Neither of the lead Porsches is carrying extra weight and that advantage is evident, so within this scenario qualifying fifth is fairly good. However, it is putting us mid pack and away from the battle at the front, which gives us a lot of work to do in the races. The single specification tyre is proving difficult for us to get working properly on the car, but we were able to use it well in the wet conditions. We are certainly moving forward with the car, we know the Porsches have the edge still but we will keep pushing.”
Bell now has a well earned five week break before the next round of the FIA GT Championship which will take place at the Spa circuit in Belgium. The next race on the Le Mans Series calendar is at the new state of the art Algarve circuit in Portugal on the 1st/2nd August.