Interview with Rob Bell by The PitCrew Online​

18th May 2016

Q&A with Rob Bell

The PitCrew Online​

There are not many drivers out there in the world of GT racing with the sheer experience that Rob Bell has. He's driven for some of the biggest names in the racing paddock such as Ferrari, Aston Martin and has now become one of the leading factory drivers in the McLaren GT programme, which oversees the development and racing of their GT3 (and now GT4 cars) in various international racing series. Rob's driven it all, seen it all, and had some of the most amazing experiences driving in some of the toughest races that the sports car racing world has to offer. In 2016, he's not only driving in the Blancpain Endurance and Sprint Series, but he's in the British GT paddock racing for Ecurie Ecosse, who are running McLaren cars in both the GT3 and GT4 classes. We asked the world's fastest Geordie for his opinions on life with McLaren, the return to British soil, and more besides,

It’s your fifth year as a McLaren GT factory driver. How has the journey with the team been for you?
It's been great! I really enjoy being a part of something more than just turning up and driving. It's hard work at times but it's been very rewarding to have an input towards the development of a winning car.

2016 started off superbly for you with victory in the Asian Le Mans Series, did that give you a head start in terms of confidence for your other races this season?
It was definitely a good way to start the year and it's always a confidence boost to get race wins under your belt early.

You’re in 3 contrasting series currently with Mclaren GT in British GT and the two Blancpain GT cups. How tough do you find it going between each series?
It's not so tough to be honest, they are all run by the SRO and have the same regulations more or less.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen someone do in a pit garage?
I've seen a fair few funny/odd things! The one that stands out is when I was with LNT in the Panoz GT2 in 2006. We were at a shake down at Snetterton before an LMS race. During the previous race my team mate, Warren Hughes, had t-boned a Ferrari. Our car was badly damaged and had a bent chassis. It had to be stripped and flown to the States to be fixed before coming back to the UK to be rebuilt. It was a quick turn around and the whole team had been working around the clock for the week up to shakedown, which was arranged a day before we were then to travel to the next LMS race at Donington. Bearing this in mind and the fact that most of the mechanics were severely sleep deprived I was told to "take extra care, with no risk and just make sure the car is working OK". After an installation lap I set off on a five lap run. On lap 4 my engineer came on the radio when I was on the back straight to say there was a red flag, "red flag, pit this lap". I replied "I know it's a bloody red flag. It's me, I'm in the barriers!" Apparently the whole team had their heads in their hands and looked in shock until just before Coram I radioed "Only kidding!" Everyone was in stitches, except my engineer and TM who wanted to kill me! The rest of the day went well and we won at Donington.

Do you often wish for “creature comforts” in your car during a long race?
I always want better head lights for night races, especial at Le Mans where GT cars have to have a yellow film on the lights. It's not a creature comfort really but they are so bad it feels like it.

Are you enjoying racing on British circuits again in British GT after years travelling around the world?
Yes and no...yes, I enjoy racing in the UK. The circuits are all pretty good and it's nice to be at home on Sunday nights but I hate the British track limit regulations. We are the only place in the world to adopt these rules. Rather than being on the limit, using all the road and using curbs to the maximum, we are constantly being warned for track limits. You may argue that it's the same for everyone, but that's the point it's often not. More often than not you watch the car in front go over the limit but not get a warning, then you get one for doing the same thing! It's down to the marshals, who are meant to be there for safety, or observers. Too much room for human error for me. If you don't want us to mess the grass up then put a tyre barrier there.

How hard is it for you to maintain the concentration required in a 24 hour race, when you know you will be out of the car for anything up to 6 hours at a time?
It's all about getting the right food and sleep. I'm the world sleep champion so that helps.
You’ve been developing the McLaren 650S GT3 into a proven race winner. Has it pleased you how strong the car has become in the last 12 months?
Yes absolutely. We knew it was a great car straight away and a good step forward from the 12C but it's nice to see it winning races all around the world.

Which tracks on your calendar for this year are you most looking forward to visiting and why?
I love Donington and I haven't been there in a while so I'm very much looking forward to that.

What was the most difficult problem or situation you personally have faced in a race and how did you overcome it?
When my good friend and team mate Allan Simonsen was killed at Le Mans 2013. We both started the race in our respective cars so I was told he had been killed as soon as I finished my stint. It was just a tough situation which we all got through in our own way. Allan's family who were there wanted all AMR cars to continue. In my opinion all AMR crew, management and staff acted immaculately in what was the most difficult situation in my career.

As the only English driver in the Ecurie Ecosse team, do you find yourself being the butt of various Scottish pranks from Alasdair McCaig, Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell?
Yes I do feel a bit outnumbered. I just go with it and enjoy the staple diet of Tunnocks Tea Cakes and Irn-Bru!

What’s your trick for dealing with any pre-race nerves?
I realise that everyone is feeling the same.

Curry or kebab?

If you could take part as a driver in one famous race from history, which would it be and why?
I would loved to have raced in the mid-late 80's Group C cars at Le Mans. The Silk Cut Jaguar was the first racing car I remember.

Which other sportspeople do you look up to to inspire you in performing at your best?
I cycle to keep fit and really enjoy watching the Tour De France so Bradley Wiggins is an inspiration. I also love and used to play Rugby. I look up to all members and management of the all-conquering 2003 England Rugby team. I've read Sir Clive Woodward's book and learned a bit about getting the best out of a team.

Vettel has “the finger”, Lewis has his bulldogs, what’s your racing trademark?
My pre race stretching and lack of hair!

What’s the worst habit of any of your present or previous teammates?
I've had the odd team mate who has peed in the seat....not nice!

If we were to visit your trophy cabinet, which one would we currently see taking centre stage? Can you tell us why it’s the most important to you?
My first major title was big for me, 2007 Le Mans Series, nice trophy.

What’s the strangest radio message you’ve ever had during a race?
Any time an engineer comes from on the radio and tells me to "push". This doesn't happen often but winds me up! What do they think I'm doing?!

How’s your parallel parking? Would you be up for challenging our GT editor Sandra to a parking competition?
I'd deffo win, Sandra's parking skills don't scare me!...​

We'd like to thank Rob for taking the time to answer our questions, especially as he's only just gotten out of yet another race with the McLaren team at Silverstone!

Pete Richardson
​17 May 2016

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