Two Down, Two To Go in Asian Le Mans Series
Monday 12th December 2016
Matt Bell is already halfway through the Asian Le Mans Series, having competed at Zhuhai in China and at Fuji in Japan. Racing the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 for ‘FFF Racing by ACM’ the British racing driver is still hoping for championship success despite a tough start to the season.
The team entered the Asian Le Mans Series with a clear goal of winning the championship and the guaranteed Le Mans entry that comes with it.
When the free practice sessions got underway at Zhuhai just over a month ago Bell, along with his team mates, Andrea Calderelli (ITA) and Hiroshi Hamaguchi (JAP), was immediately on the pace and hopeful of a good result in the season opener.
Hamaguchi took the start from fifth place on the grid and rocketed up to second place by the end of Lap 1 and he was catching the leader when the Safety Car came out for the first time in the four-hour race.
“A key part of our strategy was to pit if the Safety Car came out during the opening stint,” explained Bell. “Unfortunately an error in Race Control meant that the Safety Car wasn’t deployed when we expected it to be and a move that would have put us a lap ahead of everyone else put us a lap behind!”
Bell jumped into the Lamborghini for the second stint. The team changed the strategy to a two-stop instead of a three-stop race, pushing the stint lengths to increase their chances of success. Cruelly, the car ran out of fuel as Bell approached the pits on his ‘in’ lap as the margin had been just that little bit too tight.
With a DNF at Zhuhai the team focused on getting a good result at Fuji to keep the championship hopes alive.
This time out, all three drivers struggled to find a good set up during the free practice sessions but by qualifying they were all much happier with the balance and pleased to take sixth place on the grid.
Hamaguchi was again on starting duty and he pulled off another fantastic start, coming around at the end of Lap 1 in second place. The Safety Car came out on Lap 2 and this time the team decided to stay out while others pitted. It was the right call and all of a sudden the Lamborghini was in a very strong position.
“Once the race got back underway Hiroshi was running well in second place with a big group of cars behind him,” said Bell. “He then got lapped by an LMP2 car, which was fine but two GT cars took the opportunity to try to pass on either side of him. Hiroshi had nowhere to go as he was sandwiched by the two cars and the net result was that part of the Lamborghini’s rear suspension was broken.”
The Japanese driver got the car back to the pits and the team were able to repair the car and send Bell out for his stint. It was impossible to make up a six-lap deficit though and the Lamborghini finished the race in 11th position.
“I’m sure that if we hadn’t been hit we had an assured second place at Fuji,” said Bell. “The Ferraris are way ahead of everyone but hopefully that will get sorted out via Balance of Performance (BoP) before the next race. The season hasn’t started so well for us but despite the unfavourable BoP we have been within a shot of the podium in both races. The only way for us to salvage the season is to win the last two rounds.
“It may sound like a tall order but the races have been unpredictable,” he continued. “We need to win races and see what happens around us. It is all still mathematically possible so let’s see what we can do in Thailand and Malaysia.”