03 April, 2018
McLaren Factory Driver, Rob Bell, re-joined Balfe Motorsport this weekend, with the first of the seven rounds of the British GT Championship taking place at Oulton Park. Rob is once again partnering with Shaun Balfe for this season, with the GT Open Championship-winning duo taking on the challenge of British GT for 2018 with the Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3.
The event began with a day of testing and with dry conditions Rob and Shaun were able to use the two sessions to the full, completing over 40 laps and posting seventh quickest lap of the day. Set up work continued through the practice sessions on Saturday morning with the weather staying kind and allowing plenty more laps to be turned in preparation for qualifying, with the McLaren 650S GT3, the only McLaren GT3 in the field, posting 9thfastest lap at the end of the sessions.
Qualifying proved to be a different challenge with Shaun taking to the track and quickly realising that the McLaren GT3 was under performing and off the pace. The team identified a turbo-related issue as the cause of this, but it was decided to persevere through the second session to claim a starting slot at the tail of the GT3s but ahead of the GT4 pack. After the two sessions, Rob and Shaun had posted 12thfastest time in each session to line up on the sixth row of the grid to start each of the two races.
With no racing on Easter Sunday the Balfe Motorsport crew were able to work to fix the problems and put the car back out on track for warm up on Monday morning and back on a competitive pace. The weather had now turned and on a wet track the #101 McLaren GT3 turned solid laps with Rob sixth quickest at the end of the session.
There was no let up from the rain and the start of the first race, and although delayed, was underway in green flag conditions. However, with a tight circuit and limited visibility Shaun drove well to make up a few places, handing over the car to Rob for the second half of the race in 10thposition. Rob quickly gained a couple more places to bring the McLaren GT3 home in eighth and a few valuable championship points.
The torrential weather worsened as the day progressed and the second race started under the safety car. However, after a few laps it was red flagged and abandoned.
Rob said of the weekend, “I’ve finally dried out now, but it was seriously wet yesterday. The biggest issue was visibility as it was mud-laden rain from dirty puddles that smeared the windscreen and made conditions really difficult. All in all it was good to get some points on the board in the opening event. Our qualifying woes really hurt us as overtaking on this track is very difficult and coupled with the weather, there was little opportunity to make up much ground. Gaining two places a piece Shaun and I did the best we could all things considered. The car is good and we’re optimistic that with better weather we can be mixing it up the front at Rockingham.”
The second round of the Championship with two races, takes place at Rockingham circuit at the end of April.