30 October, 2018
Matt Bell was on track at Portimao in Portugal last weekend, fighting for top honours in the European Le Mans Series. After a tough weekend, Bell and his team mates had to settle for third place in the 2018 Championship after being taken out by another car in the middle of the race. They recovered to seventh place but the challenge for the championship was over.
The United Autosports team completed a successful test at Portimao prior to the event so they turned up for the race fully prepared. Unfortunately the track conditions changed enormously between the test and the race, which meant that nobody got even close to the lap times from the test.
With the changing track conditions all of the usual challengers seem to struggle. A disappointed Bell could only take 14thplace in qualifying but he took heart from the fact the highest place championship contender was only seventh.
When the race got underway on Sunday it was Garett Grist behind the wheel of the #3 Ligier JS P3 and he soon made his way up to 10th place. The second stint was Bell’s and he carried on the fight, moving up to fifth and then battling for fourth place when it all went wrong.
“I was right behind the #7 car, challenging for fourth place,” said Bell. “I made my move up the inside going into Turn 14 but right at that moment an LMP2 car decided there was room for him too! He ploughed straight into me with such force that he also took out the #7.”
The driver of the LMP2 car earned himself a 30 second stop-go penalty for his over-ambitious manoeuvre but it scuppered Bell’s title challenge. Luckily, he was able to continue, albeit in a damaged car but the United Autosports crew did a great job at the next pit stop to fix everything they could before Tony Wells drove it to the chequered flag, finishing in seventh place.
“Just before the crash we were on target for the title,” said Bell. “We were making great progress so it’s a real shame that it ended this way. We’re third in the championship and that reflects the fact that we have had a season of ‘what could have been’. We got some great results and had some bad luck but we showed we could be champions and we almost pulled it off!
“The highlight for me was the home win at Silverstone but I also enjoyed being on the podium at Monza as you don’t get too many opportunities to do that. We took the opportunities that we had and did our best so we can be proud of that.”
Bell also raced in the Michelin Le Mans Cup at Portimao, finishing in 12thplace after starting from 17thon the grid. Again, the conditions were changeable but Bell and his team mate, Jim McGuire, pushed all the way to the flag.
“It was a tricky race for us but our pace was good,” he said. “All three United Autosports cars were within a tenth on pace so it was a strong team performance.”
News about Bell’s next challenge will be announced tomorrow. Watch this space!