25 November, 2013
McLaren factory driver, Rob Bell, was out in his penultimate race weekend of the 2013 season, with two third-placed podiums an excellent result for the Lancashire resident at the final round of the FIA GT Series, a street racing event in Baku, Azerbaijan. Driving with Hexis Racing in the team’s final race weekend, Rob and his team mate Kevin Estre were only beaten by the Audis on track, showing the strength and outright pace of the McLaren MP4 12C GT race car.
The weekend began later than hoped after work on the Baku street circuit was still to be completed when the first practice session was due to take place. The delays impacted on the qualifying sessions, with just one 20 minute session for each driver allocated to set a lap time to determine the grid position for the first of the two races, the qualifying race.
In the first practice session the duo were third quickest and lead McLaren after running 22 laps of the temporary street circuit around the Azerbaijan city. In the second session the No.27 Hexis Racing car was sixth quickest and second fastest of the McLaren GTs competing in the event.
Rob qualified the McLaren in fifth place in the first qualifying session, with Kevin setting eighth fastest time in the second qualifying session. The pairing’s efforts placed them eighth, on the fourth row of the grid for the first of the two races.
In the first race the duo battled hard throughout the race to climb up the order, helped by an excellent pitstop from the Hexis Racing crew, the best stop by around two and a half seconds. As the race passed mid-distance and headed to its conclusion a safety car period brought the field together, but just a few minutes after the restart another accident forced the organisers to stop the race for track repairs and removal of an Audi. With just over 15 minutes left the race was restarted and with Rob lying in third place, he was pushing to take second away from the Audi of Stefan Ortelli whilst defending from a charging Alex Sims. Rob was unable to make the pass on the Audi, finally crossing the finish line in a well-deserved third place and the lead McLaren of the seven cars fielded in Baku.
The final race was equally as chaotic, with the start producing a number of incidents, with three cars out by the end of the first lap and Rob limping to the pits with a puncture after being caught up in the fighting between the two lead Audis. Having dropped back to 22nd position and stuck in a blocked pitlane due to a car stopped at the entry, delaying him by around 15 seconds, the masterful Lancastrian soon showed how it’s done, with a great drive back through the field.
Over the course of the race numerous incidents, debris on the track and loose bolts all created safety car periods, but Rob kept his cool and handed the car over to team mate with a podium still in sight. The 24 year old Frenchman was quickly on the pace and by the chequered flag was second to cross the line. However, a 10 second penalty applied after the race for Kevin for his part in a three-car incident dropped the No.20 Hexis Racing McLaren GT to third place.
Rob said after the races, “What a weekend! Two really good results, but neither came easily. It was a very difficult track. You had to keep your wits about you all the time and stay away from the kerbs, walls, barriers, debris, as well as the other 27 cars. The car performed really well and proved how nimble it is as well as having the outright pace to take to the fight to the Audi on this type of track. It was a good result given all that happened, but we were disappointed not to win.”
The race was possibly the last one for Hexis Racing as the team has is planning to withdraw from sportscar racing after this season. Rob says, “It was a suitably high note to finish the season on for Hexis, so I’m very pleased to have played a part in this success. It’s been a very chaotic weekend both on and off the track, but it was a real pleasure to be racing with Hexis; they’re a great team and I hope that we’ll see them back in the paddock before too long.”
Rob will continue with his development work for McLaren GT as the winter Breitling Avenger Bandit Replica sets in, as well as contesting his final race of the season, the Abu Dhabi 12 Hours next month.