26 April, 2016
McLaren GT factory driver, Rob Bell, celebrated on the top step of the podium this weekend, with an impressive drive to victory for the Garage 59 team’s McLaren GT3. Piloted by Rob, Shane Van Gisbergen and Come Ledogar in the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Series held at Monza, the trio put in outstanding drives to take the honours in the first of the five round championship.
With a grid of 57 cars and 11 manufacturers represented in the field, it was a highly competitive weekend of racing. Rob and his team mates used the first practice session and pre-qualifying to develop the car set-up, but a very busy track thwarted their attempt to bag a good lap in qualifying. Rob put in the fastest lap of the three drivers, but encountering traffic throughout the lap, it was 16th fastest time by the end of the session. With 31 cars all within a second of the pole-sitter, it was a highly competitive field, with the Garage 59 McLaren just 0.4 seconds off the leader. However, with a three hour race ahead the team were undaunted and prepared for the challenge of the Blancpain Endurance Series opener.
Rob was behind the wheel for the start of the race and he put in a mature performance to thread his way through the melee of the first corner. Monza’s first corner is renowned for creating first lap incidents and this race was no different, however Rob was able to make a clean start and avoid the numerous incidents around him, making the right decisions and able to pick his way through, making up five positions by the middle of the opening lap.
Over the course of his one-hour stint Rob continued to make up ground, with a well-balanced car that showed good pace throughout. He handed over to Come from third place for the second stint and his team mate was able to jump both of the front-runners in the pits, Extending his advantage through his track time, the Frenchman pulled out a ten second lead, before handing over to Shane. With the experienced Maxi Buhk at the wheel of the chasing AMG Mercedes, Shane had his work cut out to keep the lead, with the final half hour producing extremely close racing. Despite numerous attempts by Maxi, Shane was able to hold off his rival, taking the chequered flag just 0.341 seconds ahead.
Rob said of the weekend, “What a fantastic race. It was exciting for me in the first stint, particularly at the start when there was so much going on around me, but it was even more nerve-racking watching Shane’s stint and his fight to keep the lead from the fast-charging Maxi Buhk. The great result really reflects the efforts of the team, with everything working together for us – excellent pitstops, a good pace, managing our tyres and great preparation from the Garage 59 crew. We really maximised everything we had and were rewarded with the first Blancpain Endurance Series win for Garage 59 on their debut, a great result.”
Rob now turns his attention to his British GT campaign, rejoining Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse for the second round of the championship, being held at Rockingham Motor Speedway this coming weekend.