27 September, 2011
The final round of the 2011 Le Mans Series brought victory for Rob Bell and the JMW Motorsport team this weekend at Estoril circuit in Portugal. Bell and team mate James Walker drove the wheels of the JMW Motorsport Ferrari F458 Italia GT2 car to record their second win of the season, having opened the season with a class win at Paul Ricard circuit in France.
Bell and the JMW Motorsport team were on form from the outset, topping the time sheets in the opening practice session of the weekend and never looking back. Bell took the class pole, ahead of the AF Corse Ferrari and was set for one of the strongest races of his Le Mans Series season.
The start procedure for this race had been updated from previous rounds, creating havoc at the green flag, with a chaotic sprint to the first corner. Bell took a cautious approach, avoiding the melee and keeping himself clear of the dicing, emerging third in class after the first lap. It took him little time to regain control of GT2 and he was soon pulling out a lead over his opposition. Handing over to team mate Walker, the JMW Motorsport Ferrari stayed out in front, with Bell resuming driving duties with a healthy lead. Bell returned to the car and made a rare mistake when he bumped an Aston Martin, slowing his pace on that lap, and reducing the gap to the second placed car.
JMW Motorsport stayed on top throughout the remainder of the race, but the Ferrari F458 had to battle hard with the Porsche of Richard Lietz and Marc Lieb. In Walker's last stint Lieb had got himself ahead of the JMW driver, but a lightning pit stop by the JMW Motorsport crew for the final time put Bell out four seconds ahead of the Porsche and he was able to pull this out to seven seconds after only two laps, with less than an hour remaining. Bell and Leitz were evenly matched and with a similar pace there was little distance between them as the laps counted down to the chequered flag. With only ten minutes remaining, Lietz was on Bell's tail, but unable to make the pass. With just two corners to the finish Lietz was nearly side-by-side with Bell, but Bell showed his mastery with a sweep through the final corner to take the victory – after six hours of racing he took the chequered flag by just one tenth of a second.
Bell reflected on the superb win, "That was an amazing race, a true battle of the GTs. I don't think I've ever known such a close fight, for such a long time, as in this race. Lietz was on my bumper for about 45 mins in the final hour of racing and we were so evenly matched that I couldn't shake him, but he couldn't get past. At the end of the final lap we were both way out of shape and right on the edge, but I pulled it back and there was no way I wasn't going to take the win.
"It was a great effort by everyone at JMW Motorsport, with James driving superbly, the crew doing a mega job in the pitstops, particularly the final one, and everyone putting their all into this final event. We couldn't have asked for a better event to finish the season and such a fantastic race, just a shame it wasn't on TV!"
Bell now turns his attentions to Petit Le Mans, where he will join Extreme Speed Motorsports for the 10-hour challenge at Road Atlanta in the USA.