Having a Blast from the Back of the Grid
Monday 29th August 2016
Matt Bell arrived at Le Castellet in France for Round 4 of the European Le Mans Series, hoping for a change in luck for the No.3 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan LMP3 crew. Despite showing a great turn of pace the trio of Bell, Mark Patterson and Wayne Boyd had another troubled European Le Mans race meeting, finishing Sunday’s four-hour race in 11th place in class.
After trying an alternative set-up in the first free practice session the team opted to return to its familiar set-up. Boyd went out first; quickly showing this was the right decision by putting in some very fast lap times. Unfortunately just seven laps into his run, the Ligier-Nissan suffered an engine failure.
“When you consider the mileage we’ve done this year it’s actually pretty impressive that this was the first mechanical failure for the team,” said Bell. “Typically though the misfortune fell on our side of the garage so our bad luck streak continues!”
The team set about changing the engine but the monumental task couldn’t be completed in time for Saturday’s qualifying session so the No.3 crew had to sit it out. As they didn’t qualify they would have to start the race from the back of the grid. This was further impacted by a two-minute stop-go penalty that they would have to serve during the race for making an engine change.
With nothing to lose and everything to gain, it was Bell who took the start of the four-hour race, from all the way back in 39th position!
“Before the start I thought to myself that we could still drag a podium out of this race so I just went for it,” he explained. “I hate giving in and I started the race as motivated as I would have been if I was on pole position. “
In just two laps Bell had moved up the order so quickly that he gained 15 positions, crossing the line for the start of lap three in 24th place. He then had to pit to serve the two-minute penalty, which put him back behind all the cars he had just passed, plus a further lap down!
“Once I accepted the fact that I had to serve such a long penalty I actually quite enjoyed my stint,” said Bell. “It was one of the hardest I’ve ever done, just car after car after car but I got past every time.”
After Bell’s run came to an end, Patterson completed a smooth double stint - despite having little running before the race and despite the soaring temperatures - before Boyd jumped in for the final stint, described by Bell as ‘the nice stint’ as the temperatures started to drop towards the end of the race.
The No.3 Ligier-Nissan finished the race 30th overall, 11th in class, missing out on 10th after letting the sister United Autosports car take the pit stop the No.3 crew would have done under a Full Course Yellow.
“The No.2 guys were ahead of us so it was the right call,” said Bell. “We came here hoping to challenge for the win but the mechanical failure was out of our hands. I need to say a bigger ‘thank you’ than ever to the guys on the team who turned the car around for the race, despite having horrendous jet lag after flying in from a great showing at Monterey!”
There are two more rounds of the European Le Mans Series remaining so Bell will be hoping his change in fortune will arrive before he takes to the track at Spa in just a few weeks’ time.