25 September, 2018
Matt Bell left Spa in Belgium on Sunday still in with a fighting chance of taking the LMP3 title in the European Le Mans Series, despite the weather doing everything it could to ruin everyone’s race!
Bell started the weekend with the Michelin Le Mans Cup race on Saturday. As the cars left the pits to go to the grid the weather was dry but it soon began to spit with rain. Half of the grid, including Bell’s crew, opted to make a last minute switch to wet tyres while the other half stayed on slicks. This made for an interesting race start! Those with slicks struggled to get them up to temperature and those with wets found their tyres were getting too hot.
Starting from 15thplace, Bell’s regular team mate Jim McGuire did a great job and made it up to eighth place at one point but then the rain stopped and the cars on slicks started to catch up and pull away, dropping McGuire back down the order.
“Then the real rain came!” said Bell. “Everyone on slicks had to pit so Jim made up a few places again. Then those with fresh wets had more pace than those with old wets so the order continued to yo-yo.”
The second half of the race was a much less dramatic affair for Bell. With steady rain falling he focused on staying on the track and bringing the car home, finishing in 13thplace at the flag.
If the teams thought the weather was bad on Saturday, they were in for a shock during the European Le Mans Series race on Sunday. With the weather forecast showing “biblical rain” coming in the organisers opted to bring the start of the race forward to try to avoid it.
After struggling to find the right set up in Qualifying, the #3 United Autosports Ligier lined up in 10thplace on the grid. Garrett Grist took the start and at this time the weather was bad but it was still okay for racing. After Grist made up a position in the first hour he came in from ninth place to hand over to Bell.
The team made a good strategy call during the opening stint, whereby they didn’t pit when the Safety Car was out. As everything shuffled out after the first pit stops, Bell found himself in fourth place, ready to get his head down and begin the fight for the podium.
“I did one lap and then the sky fell down!” he said. “I’ve never seen rain like it and it quickly became too dangerous even to cruise around behind the Safety Car at 40mph. It was at that point that the race was red flagged, which was the right decision.
“No-one wants a race to finish like that and it was a real shame for Tony (Wells) who didn’t even get to drive,” he continued. “The bad news is that the championship leaders finished ahead of us but the good news is that as the race was red flagged they only awarded half points so that has controlled the gap a little.”
Bell and his team mates will head into the final race of the season at Portimao in Portugal on 28 October in third place in the LMP3 Championship.“We’ll go to Portugal and throw everything we’ve got at it!” said Bell. “Hopefully we can have a good end to the season. At least the weather is likely to be a lot better there!”