19 June, 2017
British racer outpaces tough competition at historic Circuit de la Sarthe
Matt Bell had a promising weekend in the pair of Road to Le Mans races on the infamous French circuit, taking a top-ten finish in Thursday’s first contest.
The 27-year-old reunited with Michelin Le Mans Cup co-driver Jim McGuire for the two 55-minute Le Mans races, driving the No. 22 United Autosports Ligier JS P3.
Bell and McGuire finished seventh in the first race and 20th in Saturday’s second race, making up positions from their qualifying position in both.
“We went to Le Mans with no real expectations because everything was so new and there was a huge amount for Jim to learn,” Bell said. “We just came here with open minds and to see how we got on.”
Heavy traffic in both qualifying sessions meant Bell could only secure a starting position of 11th for Thursday’s race, despite having the pace to be fighting much further up the field.
McGuire faced a similar problem but still posted his fastest lap of the weekend up to that point, although a red flag in his session hampered his chances of improving further and so he had to settle for 33rd.
Bell had a good start in Race 1 and soon made up several positions to be fighting in the top five where everyone was running nose-to-tail. A solid run in his stint kept him there as the leaders all pitted together.
Ultimately the No. 22 United Autosports car came home seventh overall with McGuire’s lap times around seven seconds quicker than they had been earlier in the weekend.
“A top-ten finish at Le Mans is good enough!” Bell said. “Everybody was over the moon with that and the sister car won as well which was very good.
“It was a great day for the team and I was really happy for Jim because he came on so much over the weekend. We did really well and it almost felt like a win.”
McGuire started the second race and overtook several cars in the opening lap alone from 36th on the grid, but a mistake sent him into a spin at the final chicane.
“I think he admitted afterwards he was going through the rhythm of overtaking so many people he just got a little bit too greedy and went to overtake another car,” Bell explained.
“It was just a little bit too much so he had to bail out of it and had a little spin at the last corner.”
Nevertheless, the American driver kept the car on track and handed it over to Bell having avoided losing too much time.
Bell did have to serve a drive-through penalty for his co-driver allegedly overtaking under yellows earlier in the race, but this didn’t prove too troublesome overall.
He kept his head down and came back through the field with his Ligier showing good pace, moving up over a dozen positions en route to a 20th overall and 16th in class finish, 13 places ahead of the team’s starting position.
“Without the mishaps, another top ten was pretty strongly on the cards,” Bell said. “We made huge progress this week from the first round and Jim was just learning and taking in loads of information with every lap he did in the car.”
Bell is next in action in a fortnight with the Henderson Insurance Brokers LMP3 Cup round at Silverstone, where he returns to the No. 3 United Autosport Ligier alongside Tony Wells.
Red Bull Ring will play host to the next Le Mans Cup race, on 22 July.