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Back on the podium for the best result of the British GT season to-date

27th July 2023

It was another strong weekend for Rob Bell and his Optimum Motorsport teammate, Mark Radcliffe, standing on the podium again as the British GT Championship headed to Portugal. The overseas event saw the pair secure their best result of the championship so far, climbing to an impressive second-place finish in the #27 McLaren 720S GT3.

Both Rob and Mark secured P9 during their respective qualifying sessions, despite Mark being forced to abandon what was looking to be an improvement. These combined laptimes put the Optimum Motorsport entered McLaren in P9 overall, but with clear opportunity to make progress with the pace shown.

Getting underway in high temperatures just after midday, the three-hour race started with a busy opening lap as the grid battled for position. As the order shook itself out, Mark dropped a couple of positions, but he had recovered to his original grid position as the Safety car made its first appearance. Here, the team took a bold decision to take a different strategy call to the majority of the GT3 field, opting to not pit and, instead, gain track position.  The choice to remain out on track, elevated the #27 to the race lead, and a strong restart by Mark meant he was able to pull out a gap to the chasing pack, protected by the GT4 field which also hadn’t pitted.

Mark continued to make the most of the opportunity after the restart, pulling out a 15-second gap at the front, before a second Safety Car period then saw Rob take over. However, Rob under an extended caution period for his entire opening stint, preventing any progress being made. The team then made a second stop at the hour mark, switching drivers once again as Mark emerged back out of the pits, with pit strategies briefly dropping the McLaren down the order.

Progress was quickly made up the order, as Mark continued to show impressive pace, and penalties and issues hit other cars. At the halfway mark, the McLaren was back up to its original starting position, but gaining ground with every lap. The pitstop strategy continued to play out, and Rob was then ready to climb back in as Mark duplicated the early stint, once again, running longer, and climbing as high as P2.

A further Safety Car period just as Mark headed into the pitlane worked well for the team, and Rob returned to the track still holding P2 after the final scheduled pitstop. From here, the McLaren factory driver would show his pace and experience as the race went back to green. Holding position off the restart, Rob stayed in touch with the race leader, firmly within one second and posted the car’s fastest lap of the race. While challenging for the lead, Rob was also forced to defend from behind, as the Barwell Lamborghini closed in and looked for a way through. However, Rob’s superior experience and racecraft saw the #27 McLaren maintain position lap after lap, protecting the hard-earned position as the chequered flag fell.

“The result is a huge credit to the whole team, this weekend. We knew we had a quick car, and were slightly out of position, after qualifying, and then there was a chance to take a gamble early on with the strategy. It gained us track position, and it turned out to be a masterstroke as the race played out, and Mark had a great second stint to keep us in the fight, making some great moves. My final stint was great fun, and it was great to be able to fight for the lead, and also defend the position to the line to bring it home for our best result.”

The championship now returns to the UK, with round 8 taking place at Brands Hatch, over the weekend, 9-10 September.