24 October, 2016
Matt Bell equalled his best result of the 2016 European Le Mans Series in Portugal on Sunday, taking second place in the 4 Hours of Estoril. This wraps up the European season for Bell and his United Autosports team-mates Mark Patterson and Wayne Boyd.
It was Boyd’s turn to qualify the No.3 Ligier-Nissan LMP3 at Estoril and he duly put the car on the front row of the LMP3 grid for Sunday’s season finale.
“We struggled with the car during the free practice sessions,” said Bell. “The weather had been changeable but we couldn’t get to grips with it in the wet or the dry. We took the unusual step of making a big set up change prior to qualifying - a calculated roll of the dice if you like – and it worked out really well and Wayne took second place.”
Boyd took the start of the four-hour race, making a good getaway and clearing the traffic quickly and cleanly. He held second place throughout his run before handing the car over to Patterson. As usual, differing pit strategies mixed up the order and the No.3 United Autosports car dropped to fifth place but all was to change at the end of Patterson’s first stint.
“The Safety Car actually went our way!” said Bell. “After all the misfortune we’ve had this year it was great to see this pan out. Doc (race engineer) made a brilliantly timed call to Mark so he was able to dive into the pits just as the Safety Car came out. The net result of this was that we gained a lot of time on the leader and moved all the way up to second place.”
After a double stint from Patterson it was time for Bell to get in on the action. He joined the race in third place, a full 12 seconds shy of second. He soon got down to business though and had reeled in the second placed car after a few laps. After some close battling for a couple of laps Bell slipped past and set off after the leader. Unfortunately by this stage the eventual winner was too far up the road to catch but that didn’t stop Bell from pulling out a 42 second gap back to third place by the time the chequered flag fell.
“It’s a good feeling to finish the season on the podium,” said Bell. “This is definitely our most satisfying result of the season. Even with the other podiums we have had we felt that we could have achieved better results. Not today though. The team was perfect, the strategy was excellent and we were fast. The winners were just too good today so fair play to them. We’re satisfied because we did all we could and that’s a great way to finish the year.
“Thank you to the team and to my team mates,” Bell concluded. “But on a final note I want to say a special thanks to my No.1 Mechanic, Ken. He came to Estoril immediately after losing his dog to a sudden illness. ‘Jaffa’ wasn’t just any old dog. He was Ken’s best mate and the team’s unofficial mascot. He came to all of our meetings at the workshop and was part of the team. This podium is for Jaffa!”
Bell’s European season may be complete but he now heads direct to Zhuhai in China for Round 1 of the Asian Le Mans Series. His new team, FFF Racing, just won GT Asia so Bell is looking forward to starting his Asian campaign in the Lamborghini Huracan GT3.