26 September, 2016
Matt Bell and his United Autosports team mates, Mark Patterson and Wayne Boyd, put the brakes on their run of bad luck yesterday when they took the No.3 Ligier-Nissan to a third-place podium finish in Round 5 of the European Le Mans Series, the ‘4 Hours of Spa’.
For the first time since the season-opener at Silverstone, Bell was on qualifying duty and he set out on Saturday with his focus fixed on a top grid position. The young Briton’s best lap time put the No.3 car on the front row of the grid in second position.
“I was actually a bit disappointed as I just missed out on pole by half a tenth of a second,” said Bell. “I was pleased to get on the front row though and happy to know that we had good pace in the car.”
It was Boyd’s turn to start the race and he was thrown straight into the ensuing chaos.
“Everyone made it through La Source and Eau Rouge but when Wayne got to Les Combes there was an LMP2 car parked in the middle of the road,” explained Bell. “In the mêlée Alex (Brundle) managed to slip past Wayne so we dropped to third. Wayne then did really well to avoid hitting a car whose wheel fell off two corners later!”
Boyd stayed on Brundle’s tail throughout the remainder of his stint before handing over to Patterson. The No.3 car actually jumped the sister No.2 car in the pits but then everyone’s different pit strategies started to come into play.
In the European Le Mans Series, two of your three pit stops have to be of a minimum time. The third stop can then be as fast as you like. With other teams doing their quick stops at the end of the first stint the United Autosports cars dropped down the order for the middle portion of the race.
To make matters look even worse, a safety car during Patterson’s first stint allowed the top three cars to gain a lap, which cut the LMP3 field in two. He handed the car over to Bell in ninth position.
As the strategies began to unfold the No.3 car had started to move back up the order so the mission for Bell was maximum attack!
“I had to attack straight out of the blocks,” he said. “We had to wait and see who still had a long stop to do and when all was done I was in sixth place. I got my head down and passed one car on my out lap. I took fourth place a couple of laps later and then the guy in third got a puncture…but I would have caught him anyway!”
Bell then set off after the sister car, which was running in second place and on its way to a championship victory. Just as it looked like it would come down to a last lap battle a Full Course Yellow was called and that was that. Bell crossed the line in third place.
“It’s great to get back on the podium after our run of bad luck,” said Bell. “It was a tricky race with numerous Safety Cars and Full Course Yellows. We had great pace today and it was good to be able to pull back so much of the time we lost. If we can have another clean race next time out we’re confident that we can get that win.
“Congratulations to the No.2 crew and the whole United Autosports team on their championship win!”
The final round of the European Le Mans Championship is on 23rd October at Estoril in Portugal.