25 April, 2017
The first round of the Blancpain Endurance Series in Monza this weekend produced eighth place finish in the Pro Class, tenth overall for Rob Bell and his teammates in the #58 Strakka Racing McLaren 650S GT3.
Rob shares the car with fellow McLaren GT Factory Driver, Come Ledogar, one of his teammates from last season and new McLaren Academy Driver, Ben Barnicoat, for this Series with the trio of drivers piloting one of four Strakka Racing McLaren GTs in the Endurance Cup.
It was a sunny start at the Autodromo di Monza on Friday and with a grid of 52 cars from 11 manufacturers it was always going to be a busy track in the Free Practice sessions. All three drivers had stints in the car during these sessions and the competitiveness of the field was shown with the top 27 cars ending up within a second in the first session.
The qualifying session proved even more closely fought with 32 cars separated by less than a second. The busy track also proved a challenge with the #58 Q3 driver, Come, posting the trio’s quickest lap in Q3 to finish 17th fastest in class, 21st overall.
The start of the race, with Rob selected to drive the first stint, produced high drama with contact from the #7 Bentley nudging the #19 Lamborghini into a spin directly in the mid-field, just as the grid were running down to the first corner. With drivers unable to avoid the spinning cars, the ensuing chaos involved 16 cars, caused the race to be red flagged and left 12 cars unable to take the restart, including one of the Strakka Racing McLaren GTs. The #58 car was hit from behind due to the incident, forcing Rob to limp back to the pits with damaged right rear suspension. With the race start aborted the Strakka crew were able to make the repairs and with a few minutes to spare, the #58 car was able to take the restart, but from the pitlane, joining the race in last place.
Rob drove his hour stint making up steady ground and moving forward from 36th place at the start to 23rd, handing over to Andrew for the middle part of the race. The young McLaren GT driver had a strong run, pushing hard to continue moving through the field and handing over to Come from 14th place. The Frenchman, with new tyres on the 650S, turned a series of quick laps to move the #58 car into the top ten, a commendable effort from last in the field at the start.
Rob said after the race, “We were a bit slow out of the blocks at the start of the weekend, getting to grips with the new Pirelli tyres. The race start was very chaotic. Racing began before the lights went green, which in my experience always ends in disaster. It seemed to me that the front cars started but then checked as the green light hadn’t gone, so brakes went on and this ended with mayhem. I watched it unfolding and managed to avoid making contact with other cars ahead, but unfortunately was hit from behind and had to go back to the pits. The guys did a great job to get us sorted before the restart.”
“It was a great effort to go from the back of the field to tenth,” adds Rob. “We all pushed hard, kept it clean and had good race pace. Come had a really good stint with the new tyres we’d saved, so to end up 10th and the first McLaren home was a welcome reward for our efforts.”
Rob now turns his attention to the International GT Open with the first round of this series taking place in Estoril, Portugal this weekend.