31 July, 2012
Rob Bell, racing with the Gulf Racing UK team in one of the two McLaren MP4-12C GT3 cars fielded by the team, showed his racing prowess at this year's 24 Hours of Spa at the famed Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium this weekend, carving his way through the field from 51st to seventh in the opening stint. However, torrential weather around half distance caught out Bell's team mate, Mike Wainwright, with a spin into the barrier forcing retirement from the race.
The weekend had started well with the Gulf Racing UK team showing good pace in the early practice sessions of this Blancpain Endurance Series round but an unfortunate off track excursion by Wainwright in the final practice session caused fairly substantial damage to the car. The crew worked quickly to make the necessary repairs, but this inevitably curtailed running time in qualifying. With only Wainwright and third driver, Andy Meyrick managing to put in qualifying laps in the late stages of the session, it was a 51st place start of the 66 cars competing in the Spa 24 Hours for the No.9 car.
McLaren GT factory driver, Bell, was behind the wheel for the opening stint of the race and quickly showed his mastery of sportscar racing with a spirited drive through the field, reaching as high as seventh place before pitting to hand over to his team mates. Bell said of the stint, "I really enjoyed my drive, although there were quite a few hairy moments when slower cars were trying to keep me behind them. It just made me more determined to get past them and get on pace with the front runners, which I managed to do by the time I pitted."
The timing of the pitstop worked well for the team, with rain falling as Bell came down the pitlane, allowing the team to switch to wets without having to add in an unscheduled stop. The team were looking good for a strong finish as the race settled down, and were running in 17th place, but as conditions worsened the track started to take victims, both professional and amateur drivers.It was unfortunate that Wainwright was caught out by a rain-soaked astro-turf on the edge of the track, which spun him off track and into the barriers, to end the team's chances of a chequered flag finish.
Bell reflects, "It was horrendous conditions in the depth of the night, with some of the worst, most challenging weather I've experienced and Mike was unlucky to make a minor error which resulted in major damage. I think all three of us had been driving well and the car was proving very reliable. The Gulf Racing UK crew had done a brilliant job with the car preparation for the race, so it was a shame that we weren't able to benefit from their hard work, but there is plenty of positives we can draw from this for the future."
"There has been a huge step forward," adds Bell. "There's still further development to come, but the car is capable of a 24 hour race – and very competitively too. I'm delighted to be part of this evolution process and look forward to our next outing."
Bell returns to Blancpain Endurance Series racing at Nurburgring in Germany in late September.