24 September, 2017
Bell finishes sixth in Michelin Le Mans Cup race at Spa
Matt Bell secured his best finish of the 2017 Michelin Le Mans Cup season so far in the penultimate round at Spa-Francorchamps, crossing the line sixth after a close but testing race.
Co-driver Jim McGuire put in his best qualifying performance of the year to put the No. 22 United Autosports Ligier JS P3 into seventh position on the grid for Saturday’s race.
Despite it being McGuire’s first race weekend at the famous Belgian circuit, he managed to out-qualify not only his season-long rivals by four seconds, but also the sister United Autosports car for the first time this year.
“That was Jim's best qualifying of the year so far,” said Bell. “It was a very successful session and a huge step forward. It's a testament to Jim and his progress through the season so I was really happy with that.”
McGuire started the race and held onto his position while running some fast laps in the opening half of the two-hour race. Unfortunately, towards the end of his stint he had a slow puncture in his front-left tyre. This meant that he lost 30-40 seconds later in his stint.
“He was looking quite strong and was in a battle for seventh but then the pace suddenly dropped off and we weren't really sure why,” Bell said.
“He came on the radio and said he was really struggling for grip, and when he came into the pits for his scheduled stop we saw the front-left tyre had a slow puncture. He actually did a very good job to manage that and we were lucky that it didn't blow.”
Bell then got into the car for the second half of the race and made up several positions both on-track and in the pit lane to move into sixth position, which had been his target before the race.
“We showed strong pace, we were quickest in the middle sector which is where all the corners are, so the car was very good and we were really happy with that,” he added. “We were aiming for P6 and we hit the target so it was a good weekend for us.”
Bell was once again impressed by the performance of his co-driver who benefitted tremendously from testing at Spa prior to the race weekend.
“Every circuit we've gone to has been new for Jim and Spa especially is a formidable track,” he explained. “It's always daunting coming here for the first time so had we not tested here I think it would have been a huge challenge. Putting in the hard work earlier in the season paid dividends and I think that really showed, especially in qualifying.”
The final race of the Le Mans Cup season will be held at Portimao in southern Portugal on October 21 and Bell is looking forward to testing at the technical track with a view to repeat his success and end the season on a high note.
“We have a test before Portimao, which is again a tricky track to learn,” he said. “Another day's hard work there and we'll set ourselves up nicely for that race.”