27 June, 2016
McLaren GT factory driver, Rob Bell, celebrated on the top step of the podium at Paul Ricard this weekend, taking a hard fought victory in the fifth round of the Blancpain GT Series, a six hour race at the French track. Racing with Garage 59 in the McLaren 650S GT3 and sharing driving duties with Come Ledogar and Shane Van Gisbergen, the win has put Rob 20 points clear of his nearest rival in the Drivers Championship standings.
The race build up started on Friday afternoon with a practice and pre-qualifying session with the #58 car putting in seventh quickest lap of the day. On Saturday morning the trio of drivers were out in qualifying, with fifth quickest lap putting the Garage 59 McLaren 650S on the third row of the grid.
Rob was behind the wheel for the start of the race and quickly showed his intentions, moving up to third place as the field left the grid with a duo of Bentleys ahead of him. A fast-paced Ferrari managed to pass Rob for third after 11 laps, with the two drivers duelling over the position through the lap. An on track incident a few laps later caused a yellow flag caution period and the Garage 59 team opted to take this opportunity to pit Rob, with the car handed over to Come for the next stint of the race, with the car running in third.
Come piloted the car through two caution periods, making a green flag stop for fuel on the way. With teams opting for different strategies, the #58 car dropped to eighth at the two hour mark, but were back up to third after half distance. Rob was back behind the wheel again, with the experienced driver putting the car into second shortly after the start of his stint. As darkness started to fall Rob maintained second place, keeping the car safely ahead of a chasing Ferrari.
As they raced into the final two hours of running it was Shane’s turn at the wheel with the New Zealander keen to take the fight to the leading Bentley. However, the third place Ferrari quickly caught Shane and he was demoted to third. With one hour left to go, the race changed shape dramatically. A pitlane flash fire for the Bentley delayed the lead car and dropped it well down the order. Shane made his final pitstop for fuel at the last possible moment, under a yellow flag caution period. The Ferrari that had been ahead of Shane pitted later under green, which dropped him behind Shane, and put the McLaren in the lead, which the team held until the chequered flag.
Rob said of the race, “We didn’t have the outright pace of the Bentleys and Ferraris, but with great pitwork from the Garage 59 crew and a strong race strategy, we were able to beat our rivals and take the win. It was hard fought and there was possibly a little bit of luck for us today, but a win’s a win and we took it today.“
Garage 59’s success has put the team at the top of the Teams Championship point standings, two points ahead of HTP Motorsport. Rob lies at the head of the Drivers Championship table.
Rob will be back out racing next weekend in the Nurburgring round of the Blancpain Sprint Series.