28 September, 2009
British racing driver Rob Bell had a stormy start to his LMP1 debut at the famous Petit Le Mans race at the Road Atlanta circuit in the USA last weekend. The Newcastle born racer made his prototype debut with the Drayson Racing team in the no.88 Judd Powered Lola alongside Paul Drayson and Jonny Cocker, but Bell completed only a handful of laps, after torrential rain flooded the track stopping the race early. The Drayson car ran as high as fourth in the race but was classified tenth in the LMP1 standings after 123 laps of laps of racing.
Bell, who had never raced at Road Atlanta or tested the Lola prototype prior to the weekend, quickly adapted his driving style to suit the powerful LMP1 car, with the car being very different from Bell’s usual GT2 racing machinery. Bell posted the third fastest lap time during Sunday’s warm up for the race indicating the potential for the new Lola car and the Newcastle driver.
After a steady start to the race by Cocker, Bell’s team mate handed the Lola over to owner/driver, Drayson. After his stint the no.88 car was lying in sixth place and Bell then stepped in for his first racing experience with the car. Unfortunately disaster struck on the first lap of Bell’s stint, when a front left wheel failure left him without control and the car ploughing into the tyre barrier at turn seven. With heavy damage, Bell limped back to the pits with the Lola.
A pitstop lasting over one a half hours was needed for the crew to complete the necessary repairs and Bell was then able to return to the driving seat and take the Lola back out on track. Torrential rain had set in while the team were in the garage, so conditions were very difficult and after only two laps of green flag racing the safety car was deployed. Another two laps later the race was red flagged and all the cars returned to the pits to wait for the storm to pass through. The race clock continued to count down, but the cars were not able to return to racing and at the scheduled race finish time, the chequered flag fell.
Bell commented on his weekend, “We had a great first outing in the car, it was an absolute pleasure for me this weekend. I really enjoyed the challenge of the superb Road Atlanta circuit and the car was fantastic. The whole week was a steep learning experience for me, with the power of the LMP1 car and its driveability giving me an opportunity which I relished, and I think I proved a quick learner. The crew were excellent as well, working tirelessly throughout the weekend.
“During Saturday’s warm up I was third quickest, despite it being the first time I’d ever driven the car in the wet, so this indicated our pace in these conditions. It’s just such a shame we didn’t have the chance to showcase this in the race.
“When I left the pits for my run, I didn’t feel anything wrong, but as a driver you know when you’ve made an error yourself, so when the car went off on my out lap of the race, I was pretty shocked to be honest. It was a fairly big impact and when I saw the wheel I figured something had broken, but we were lucky to get back to the pits. The team did a fantastic job of repairs, it’s just a big shame we didn’t get longer when we went back out on track. The weather was atrocious though and the organisers really didn’t have any other option than to stop the race. Hopefully I’ll be back for a full-length Petit Le mans in the future.”
Bell will return to the track in the FIA GT Series at the Paul Ricard Circuit in France on 4th October, before the final round at the Zolder circuit in Belgium on 25th October.