24 July, 2017
LMP3 racer helps teammate get up to speed in Austria
Matt Bell finished eighth in the Michelin Le Mans Cup race at the Red Bull Ring on Saturday after a successful weekend in which his United Autosports teammate Jim McGuire made great gains on his first visit to the circuit.
With limited track time ahead of the two-hour race, the focus of the two Free Practice sessions was largely on getting McGuire accustomed to the track. He qualified the #22 Ligier JS P3 in 13th position, with a lap time around two seconds quicker than he had started the weekend with.
McGuire took the start of the race and made a few positions early on but suffered from starting mid-pack with the leaders making a large gap on the rest of the field in the first few tight corners. Nevertheless, he carried on and had a clean stint while impressively matching his qualifying pace.
“The weekend was all about getting my teammate up to speed,” Bell said. “He'd never been here before which was always going to make it challenging because you only get two one-hour test sessions, which sounds a lot on paper, but with red flags and things like that, the time quickly disappears.
“Jim is improving with every session and he hit our target for qualifying but quite a few others went faster than we thought.”
Bell took over the controls at the halfway mark and drove a strong stint despite two drive-through penalties hampering his progress. The first was given after McGuire slightly miscalculated his speed coming into the pit lane, while the second was awarded to Bell for crossing the track limits, something that most cars were caught out by at the Red Bull Ring.
Despite the penalties, Bell kept his head down and eventually crossed the finish line in ninth position after a strong stint that could have resulted in a much higher finishing position if not for the penalties. A post race penalty for a competitor later promoted Bell and MacGuire to eighth place.
“Without the two drive-throughs, we would have been sixth, maybe fifth,” Bell said. “We'll be able to tidy things up for Paul Ricard and definitely aim for a top-five finish going forward.”
Ultimately, Bell has been able to take a lot away from the Red Bull Ring event and is pleased to see his teammate improving so much over the course of the weekend.
“It's given Jim a lot more experience in the car,” he said. “I think we'll just have to sharpen up in a couple of areas and then I think a good result is there to be had.
“The top six is a realistic target for every race until the end of the year, so that is what we'll be pushing for now, and we'll see how that goes.”
Next on the calendar for Bell is the Henderson Insurance Brokers LMP3 Cup Championship round at Snetterton in Norfolk on August 12-13, while the Le Mans Cup returns on August 26 at Circuit Paul Ricard in southern France.