05 June, 2017
The third round of the Blancpain Sprint Series held in Zolder, Belgium, this weekend produced two finishes out of the points for McLaren GT factory driver, Rob Bell and his teammate Andrew Watson, driving the Strakka Racing #59 McLaren 650S GT3.
The warm, dry, opening practice session at the Belgian circuit showed the pace of the McLaren with Andrew behind the wheel, posting seventh fastest time of the session. Rob was out on track for the second practice session, but on his third lap just prior to entering the final complex of corners, with a left-right chicane he suffered jammed steering, he was able to turn left, but wasn’t able to turn right, and was catapulted into the wall. Rob emerged unscathed, but the car was damaged and unable to continue the session.
The car was returned to the pits after the session and investigations produced an extraordinary outcome. Four weeks ago at the Brands Hatch round of the Sprint Series Andrew had lost a small visor retaining screw while racing. The screw was never found, but it transpired that it had jumped up from the footwell, through a tiny hole into the steering column bay, and then became wedged, causing the steering to seize.
Having lost the second practice session when the team had planned a new tyre run and qualifying simulation, Rob and Andrew were on the backfoot. Despite this Rob was in P1 of the first session, handing over to Andrew for the other two sessions. Andrew put in an outstanding lap in the final part of qualifying with second fastest time, and his first front row qualifying time.
Lining up for the start of the qualifying race Andrew was behind the wheel. As he came to the grid, the car was slightly out of the mandatory box area and after the start he received a drive through penalty for this and that dropped the #59 McLaren to the back of the field. With the sprint format of the race and a very tight track with little opportunity for overtaking, it was a 22nd place finish at the chequered flag for Rob and Andrew.
Lining up for the start of the main race in the finish postion of the qualifying race put the #59 car towards the back of the field. The duo raced hard and had a quick car, finishing a creditable 11th place.
Rob said of the weekend, “The results showed two finishes out of the points, which was mostly down to the penalty we incurred for the grid box issue and that’s just all part of the learning curve for Andrew. It was a harsh penalty, but the rules are the rules and I know there is no one more disappointed than him. The freak incident with the lost screw was just weird; you’d say it was impossible to have happened, but it did and I was lucky not to have had a worse accident in the circumstances. All in all, there were loads of positives from the weekend, particularly with our speed, balance of the car and handling with the new tyres. The Strakka guys did a great job too, so I hope we can bring it all together for a better result next time.”
Rob now heads to Paul Ricard for the next round of the International GT Open Series, racing the Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3.