15 May, 2018
Matt Bell took a podium finish in Round 2 of the European Le Mans Series at Monza in Italy on Sunday. The British racing driver finished in third place after making a daring move on the opening lap of the four-hour race.
Bell was also in Michelin Le Mans Cup action on Saturday, albeit with less success. The #22 Ligier JS P3 that Bell shares with Jim McGuire had shown strong pace throughout the practice sessions but in a qualifying session littered with red flags, McGuire didn’t get a proper shot at a time and had to settle for 18thon the grid.
Starting in 18thplace at Monza put the United Autosports car in the danger zone for the all too inevitable contact at the tight Turn 1.
“Most of the field got through but just ahead of Jim someone got spun around,” said Bell. “Jim slowed to avoid him but the guy behind him didn’t! The damage didn’t look too bad but it had pushed some bodywork onto the rear left tyre which then failed at the end of Lap 2.”
McGuire got the car back to the pits for repairs but lost three laps in the process so, although the remainder of his run was strong and Matt’s stint was fast, they couldn’t make up the deficit and finished in 16th place.
European Le Mans Series: “I saw a gap and I went for it”
It was Bell in the driving seat for the start of Sunday’s European Le Mans Series race. After struggling to find a good set up for the #3 Ligier JS P3 he only managed 13thplace in Qualifying but after “throwing the kitchen sink at it” overnight a good balance was found and, with another car penalised, Bell started the race from 12th place.
“I knew I had to do something spectacular on Lap 1 if I was going to haul us back up the field,” said Bell. “When we all got down to Turn 1 I saw a gap and I went for it! There was always the option of the escape road if it all went wrong but I barrelled in and came out in sixth place.”
Bell lost a place at the second chicane but grabbed it back on the next lap before setting off after the fifth-placed car. That car then got a drive through penalty, making Bell’s life much easier, but then he spent most of the remainder of his stint behind the safety car as there were two big crashes.
When the second safety car came out, Bell pitted, coming in right behind the sister United Autosports car. Garrett Grist then had a good clean run, joining the race in sixth and pitting in fifth to hand over to Tony Wells.
Wells ran in fourth place for most of his stint and he had a great run for 1.5 hours before the safety car had to come and join in the action again. He had been catching the top three runners, whilst being hunted down by a Pro driver who he lost fourth place to.
“It looked like we would have to settle for fifth but with nine minutes to go our sister car, which was leading the race, was tagged by an LMP2 car,” explained Bell. “He had to pit with a puncture so we were fourth. The car in second then had to do a ‘splash and dash’ so we sailed through and took the last podium position!
“I’m delighted with today’s result as it was one of the hardest fought races I’ve ever been in,” said Bell. “It was great to see Tony out there, showing that he is one of the fastest Bronze-rated drivers in the pack. We have the pace now to challenge for wins and with this great team on our side we’re looking forward to the next round at the Red Bull Ring in July.”
Before that though, Bell will compete in the next two rounds of the Michelin Le Mans Cup, which take place at the Le Mans circuit in France in June under the “Road to Le Mans” billing.