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Asian Le Mans Series signs off with Rob Bell back on the Abu Dhabi podium

12th February 2024

The Asian Le Mans Series concluded at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, with rob Bell once again on the podium with his Optimum Motorsport teammates. Rob, alongside Mark Radcliff and Ollie Millroy, scored their second top-3 of the championship, before an impressive effort then saw them lead the final race after initially starting from the back of the grid.

Pace for the #27 McLaren looked to have carried over from the previous week in Dubai during the early sessions in Abu Dhabi. The single qualifying session set the grids for the pair of four hour races, taking the two quickest times. Consistency during the session would put Rob and the team in P7 for both races, and on the front foot for strong results to round out the five event season.

Race 1 saw Mark take the start and, in a repeat of the strategy from Dubai, the team extended his stint slightly longer than the majority of the GT3 field. With a couple of positions dropped in the opening phase, this allowed some running in clear air, and the #27 climbed to P5 as he handed over to Rob for the middle stint, following a Safety Car period. As the race got back underway, Rob was running in close formation with his Optimum Motorsport teammate, and the pair worked their way through traffic. With the mid-point of the race approaching, Rob had moved up the order to run in P4, hunting down the final podium position. Less than 10 minutes later, the gap ahead had been closed, and Rob made the move into P3.

Pitstop strategies continued to play out over the following laps, and the Optimum pair moved up the order, as the leader pitted early. With his stint completed and 75 minutes remaining, Rob handed over to Ollie for the final scheduled pitstop, before a further incident would see the Safety Car scrambled once again. This extended caution period concluded with less than 30 minutes remaining, and Ollie would have the sprint to the finish. Running in P4 after all the pitstops had played out, he was firmly involved in the battle for P2, with three cars covered by less than one second. He continued to push, while also biding his time to work out the best opportunity for a pass, and as the race entered the final minutes, he made a pass into the hotel section to claim the final podium position, which he held to the chequered flag.

Hopes of a repeat result for Sunday’s finale were quickly halted, as a technical issue on the way to the race start would mean the #27 was forced to start a lap down from the pitlane. Despite the setback, the pace was clear as Mark worked to unlap himself during a shorter opening stint, before handing over to Ollie just before the race had reached 30 minutes. However, a red flag just a few laps later brought proceedings to a temporary halt, with extensive barrier repairs taking over an hour to complete.

With the clock still running down, the race eventually got restarted with just under half of the four hours remaining. Having pitted just prior to the red flag, the team went against the strategies of the majority of the GT field, and the #27 stayed out and worked its way up the order, as pitstops played out, allowing Ollie to unlap himself. The pace of the purple and white McLaren was in line with the leading pack, and the progress continued as the strategies continued to play out, moving into the overall lead of the race before Ollie made way for Mark’s second shorter stint. With the pitstops now evened out, as the race neared its conclusion, Rob took over for the final 40 minutes, running in P17. The pace was clear, and the gap to the car ahead quickly reduced, as Rob made a pass, and a further place was gained in the final moments of the shortened race. As the flag fell for the final time on the championship, Rob and his teammates came home in P15, to sign off a strong recovery drive, and conclude a strong showing across the series as a whole.

“A mixed weekend in terms of results, but overall a positive end to our Asian Le Mans Series challenge. Saturday’s result was a huge effort by the whole team, and it was great to be able to stand back on the podium with Mark and Ollie – our second of the championship, and our second podium result at Yas Marina as a trio, after the Gulf 12 Hours victory.

“Obviously, the second race was a bit of a disappointment, and we were on the back foot from the very start, but everyone stuck to the plan. It immediately took the pressure off, as we were now just working to recover and try and get a result. The pace was there again, so we just got our heads down, ran our own race. The red flag meant we were even more limited on opportunities, but we brought the car home and it is always great to race under the light here. A big thanks to the whole Optimum Motorsport crew who were absolutely faultless at each stage all weekend, as they have been throughout the campaign.”