19 September, 2016
The final round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at Nurburgring this weekend produced a nail-biting season-closer, with Rob Bell and his team mates in the #58 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 clinching the series title, despite a torrid weekend and a mid-field finish. Rob celebrated winning the Blancpain Endurance Cup with Shane Van Gisbergen and Come Ledogar with two victories securing them the championship.
The opening free practice session saw the McLaren 650S GT3 in the midfield on the time sheets, after a session interrupted with red flags, and cut short by a car hitting the barriers with 10 minutes remaining, prematurely ending the session.
Qualifying on Sunday morning was another challenge, with thick fog forcing the organisers to cancel the first two qualifying sessions. With the fog lifting, but still causing reducing visibility, there was only 10 minutes available, and with a long lap, it was a tough session. In the last few minutes Rob was on a quick lap with a drying track and the fastest first sector, but a red flag was shown and he was unable to finish the lap, leaving him qualifying the car in a disappointing 21st place.
Rob was selected to start the race and from the 11th row he was quickly on the move, improving to 17th by the end of the first lap and up to 11th by lap 27. A rare mistake by the experienced McLaren GT factory driver when he missed his braking point caused contact with another car and a drive-through penalty for his slipup. The #58 car dropped back down the order, with Rob handing the car over to team mate Duncan Tappy (standing in for Shane Van Gisbergen) for the second stint in 30th place. Duncan was making progress back through the field until being hit from behind, an incident that caused a return to the pits with a puncture. Come took over the car for the final hour of running, but with the car well back in the field there was little the Frenchman could do to finish in the points and the #58 car crossed the line in 30th place.
It was the finish position of other cars in the race that was to determine whether the #58 McLaren 650S GT3 would take the championship, with the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3 needing to finish third to wrestle the title from the British squad. Despite their best efforts, the McLaren GT’s title rivals could only finish fourth, and Rob and his team were able to celebrate their championship success.
Rob said afterwards, “What a weekend, what a season. It’s been a rubbish weekend in racing terms, but a fantastic weekend celebrating winning the championship. The lack of running in the early part of the weekend hurt us, but once I was out racing I thought we’d be able to get in the mix up front and secure our title challenge. I made a stupid little mistake though and all of a sudden the title was in the balance.
“I had a nervous couple of hours watching the rest of the race and knowing that it was out of our hands and up to the HTP Motorsport car, “ adds Rob. “Thankfully they didn’t make the podium and the title was safe. It was a rollercoaster of emotions today for me, but it’s fantastic to come out on top, especially for Garage 59’s debut year of racing. I’d like to thank everyone at McLaren GT and Garage 59, as well as Shane, Come and Duncan; we’ve all worked so hard this season and it’s great to end it in the best way possible.”
Rob now turns his attention to the overall title with the final round of the Blancpain Sprint Cup in two weeks time.