30 January, 2012
Rob Bell's recent trip to contest his second Daytona 24 Hours race in Florida, USA, looked promising for the Brit. However, the Paul Miller Racing No. 48 Chopard Porsche GT3 co-driven by Bryce Miller, Sascha Maassen and Mark Wilkins alongside Rob, was caught up in the accident of two other cars, with one of the tangling cars returning to the track just as Bell was passing, hitting the Porsche and forcing him to pit for substantial repairs. Although the car was returned to the track 30 laps down, the team finally took the decision to retire from the race.
Heading into the 50th Anniversary Daytona 24 Hours, the team were rated as one of the top contenders for victory in a huge GT field. With a ninth place start on the grid after the practice and qualifying sessions, Paul Miller Racing were anticipating a strong run. The car was fast regardless of who was driving or what the conditions were. Bell turned in the second-quickest GT time during Thursday's night practice, and Maassen was quickest in a damp final practice session on Friday.
In the race, the team and drivers worked through a few early issues to remain in contention for the victory, and by the fourth hour, they were back among the top GT runners. The high point of the race was just after night fell, when Bell drove the No. 48 Porsche into the top five for the first time.
As Bell reached the five hour mark, he was enjoying the classic American race track and had settled into a good pace, having made up further ground to lie fourth in class. However, there was nothing Bell could do when two cars tangled ahead and after falling off track, one of these came back on and hit the Porsche in the rear. The contact damaged the suspension on the Porsche, sending it to the garage for an entire right rear corner, upright, trailing arm and axle.
The team ultimately got the car back on track, 30 laps behind the GT leader after spending just over an hour in the garage. It was clear that the team would not be able to get back into contention for the victory, and as this was the only Grand Am event the team plans to run in 2012, staying in the race for championship points was of little value. As a result, the team elected to retire from the race around midnight.
Bell said of his second Daytona experience, "It all looked very promising as we headed into the race and I was really positive about our potential for another podium finish, having been second last year here with the team. We'd worked really hard to find a good balance in the car during the practice and qualifying sessions, so by the time the race started we felt that we had a strong car with the pace we'd need to be vying for the victory. Of course, you can only do this if you've survived 24 hours and this year we didn't make the distance.
"I was gutted when a car speared back onto the track and hit me in the rear at the bus stop chicane. I had nowhere to go and was just really unlucky. It was a massive disappointment as I'd just got up to fourth in class and was in a good rhythm, enjoying my stint and happy with the car. I was gutted for everyone at Paul Miller Racing as we'd all worked so hard to get the car right and then this major blow.
"All credit to the team for battling on and making the repairs to get back out on track, and I totally understand why they took the decision to retire from the race in the end. A really disappointing end for the team, but I would like to thank them for the opportunity to compete at Daytona, as it such a great event."
Bell continues his preparations for his new sportscar racing campaign this year, having joined McLaren GT as a works driver and signed with Gulf Racing to campaign their Mclaren MP4-12C GT3 car in the Blancpain Endurance Series.