27 August, 2017
Matt Bell was set for his strongest Michelin Le Mans Cup finish of the season at Circuit Paul Ricard on Sunday until another competitor made contact with him, denying the British racer his first top-six finish in the series.
Bell and co-driver Jim McGuire were running strongly in the two-hour race at the circuit in southern France but eventually lost two laps when the contact gave Bell a left-rear puncture, resulting in a case of what might have been for the No. 22 United Autosports crew.
The Yorkshire-based team repaired the Ligier JS P3 quickly and Bell was able to get back out on track for the rest of the race but had to settle for 13th place at the finish. The other competitor was penalised for the illegal move and subsequently causing a Full Course Yellow.
The United Autosports crew set up the Ligier well for qualifying and the race on Saturday after initially struggling to find a sweet spot during Free Practice on Friday.
McGuire qualified the car in tenth position on Satuday morning and had a strong stint in the opening hour of the race.
“There was carnage at start, which led to a long safety car period, which is never easy in hot conditions,” explained Bell. “It was probably Jim’s best stint of the year so far on the most difficult track so I was very happy with that.”
Bell got into the car after a swift pit stop and came back out on track straight into a close fight for position in the midfield, where he was able to gain some places by overtaking two cars in one move.
After making solid progress up through the field came the incident which gave Bell a puncture. Bell had looked set to wrap up a strong points-scoring finish, with the car on a good setup and McGuire adapting to the track very well on his first visit to the challenging circuit.
“I think P5 or P6 was probably realistic,” Bell said. “The next car ahead ended up fifth so we were quite competitive and I definitely think a top-six finish was on the cards and that was the target going into the weekend.
“I think we would have achieved our targets and come away quite happy. I'm pretty unhappy with how it ended but we'll just have to move onto the next one.
“It was another new track for Jim and the most difficult to learn of the year. Paul Ricard is quite a technical, tricky circuit. He did a good job and it was the closest he's been to our sister car so far in the year.”
A trip to Spa-Francorchamps is next for Bell and McGuire, with another two-hour Michelin Le Mans Cup race on 23 September, although one week before then, Bell has the Henderson Insurance Brokers LMP3 Cup Championship finale at Donington Park driving with Tony Wells.
“Jim's making great steps forward so I'm looking forward to Spa, which is a track we've done a test at,” he said. “We should be a little bit more competitive there again, so we’re looking for a top-six finish again.
“To make up for the Snetterton LMP3 Cup weekend that could have been, we'd like to have that weekend at Donington, so the target is two wins and I think Tony's quite keen to stick it on pole. It’s the last race of that series so it should be a good one!”