Rob Bell Takes the Chequered Flag in Fifth on Le Mans Debut
20th June 2007
Leading British sportscar driver, Rob Bell, completed the most famous and revered sportscar race yesterday, taking on the ultimate challenge of the Le Mans 24 Hours race with Team LNT in a Panoz Esperante GT2 racer. Finishing fifth in class and 23rd overall is a major achievement for the young racer who partnered Lawrence Tomlinson and Richard Dean for this year's assault on this historic sporting event.
The 75th running of the Le Mans event was the debut for Bell and he savoured the unique atmosphere of the occasion, having only visited the venue for the test day earlier this month. His first stint in the car for the pre-race qualifying sessions was one of high drama, with an explosive puncture early in the first session forcing him to crawl back to the pits with the car in need of urgent repairs.
With all drivers needing to complete the necessary qualifying laps in all sessions, Team LNT focused on giving each driver as much track time as possible and not to chase for qualifying pole or fastest lap, recognising that reliability is the key for the 24 hours race distance.
Before the race Bell said of the preparations, "It's clear that this is a massive occasion and will have a fantastic atmosphere. After the fright of our early puncture, it's been a lot calmer and the car was been running well. The track is a bit faster, so the times we're getting have been a real boost. It's been very wet for much of the track time, but I'm loving driving in the dark with mega lights, and just enjoying being part of this great event."
The Team LNT No.82 Panoz Esperante entry lined up for the start of the race with 24 gruelling hours ahead for Bell and his team mates. With a clean start the field of 54 cars were off for their first tour of the 13.6 km Le Mans track, the longest circuit on the global motorsport calendar. After a few hours the Panoz suffer a left rear hub failure which impacts on the
upright, driveshaft and electronics. A lengthy pitstop for repairs delays the team, but they are able to get back out on track, although having dropped down the order with this setback.
As the team races on towards daylight, Bell reflects on his night stint saying, "It was quite cool and I felt quite relaxed. Visibility was pretty good - it wasn't foggy or raining or anything, the only thing I had problem with was physically. Your back starts to ache after a couple of hours; your knees start to hurt a little bit so that was the only thing that bothered me really.
"The car's running well and we're on pace, so I think it's just a case of still trying to maintain this and put the pressure on the people ahead and hopefully they might make a mistake. I think it's going to rain at some point from now until the end of the race, so maybe if we're just in a position to capitalise on anybody making any mistakes, that would be our best chance to get on the podium."
Bell was right with the weather, with torrential rain arriving in the closing stages of the race. The fourth placed Ferrari in GT2 was a possible target for the fifth placed Team LNT Panoz in the closing stages and Bell was starting to make inroads and closing in on the car ahead, until the safety car was deployed due to the horrendous track conditions and put paid to this possibility. The team was able to bring the car home in fifth, an excellent achievement in a very challenging Le Mans 24 Hours 2007.
Summing up his first Le Mans, Bell reflected, "I'm delighted to have done the race, it was an amazing experience. I didn't know what to expect, but events like the driver parade were an eye opener. The amount of support and the enthusiasm of the spectators was like nothing I've experienced. The atmosphere at the start of the race was electric, probably the high point of the weekend.
"Racing at Le Mans was very different than the Le Mans Series six hours events which are really just sprints, this is a real endurance race. Battling all the way through, while also looking after the car and nurturing the gearbox and the concentration that's needed, it's a great challenge. Towards the end when you know you're tired and your legs are hurting, you still just want to be back in the car and testing your own limits; that's very motivating and you get a great buzz from this.
"The crew did a fantastic job all weekend and everyone pulled together. Richard, Lawrence and I worked well together and no one made a mistake, so we did the best we could and my thanks go to everyone at Team LNT for all their efforts to reach the chequered flag. Finishing is a real achievement and I've definitely been bitten by the Le Mans bug now. I just hope that I
can be back here next year."
Bell returns to his regular sportscar racing duties with Virgo Motorsport in two weeks times, contesting the Nurburgring round of the Le Mans Series.