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Rob Bell kicks off Asian Le Mans Series campaign with Sepang podium

5th December 2023

The Asian Le Mans Series returned to Malaysia for the first time since 2020, with the first two rounds of the 2023-24 championship. Rob Bell was back in action for the series opener, reconnecting with the Optimum Motorsport squad for the start of a double winter campaign alongside his British GT teammate Mark Radcliffe, and Ollie Millroy completing the line-up. The hot conditions were also met with periods of extreme wet weather, making the weekend a different challenge, but Rob and his teammates signed off the event with a hard-fought podium in round 2, finishing in 3rd place.

The #27 Optimum McLaren worked through setup changes in the opening sessions, and Mark took on the qualifying run to set the grids for both four-hour events. The order was determined by the two fastest laps of the session, but with multiple red flags and extensive traffic, the final grid positions were varied for the two events. An impressive fastest lap put Mark in 10th for the season opener against a grid of 23 GT cars, while his second fastest lap put the #27 in the mid-pack, lining up in 13th for race 2.  

Mark then took the start of race 1 and, after the initial chaos, steadily made moves up the field. Strategy calls by the team saw him run slightly longer than the pack of cars around him, climbing as high as 2nd. The second stint saw similar action, fighting his way back up through the top-10, before handing over to Ollie. From here, the pace of the #27 looked strong and the climb up the order continued. This progress was briefly halted when Ollie was deemed the guilty party for some contact, and handed a drive through penalty. Despite the setback, he made further progress as he recovered and handed over to Rob for the final run, as the storm clouds gathered overhead.

The rain had been forecast, and after an initial light shower, the final laps looked to be a routine stint. However, the skies darkened once again, and heavy rain started to fall over the Sepang circuit. Rob’s experience and skill kept the car on the increasingly wet track as he headed for the pitlane for wet tyres. Changed and now better suited to the extreme conditions, he continued to fight for position at the wheel of the McLaren 720S GT3, moving up to 17th, before the stewards were forced to red flag the race as the rain worsened with 10 minutes of the four hours still remaining.

Rain prior to Sunday’s second race meant patches of the circuit were still wet as the grid formed up. Once again, the action in the GT class saw extensive battles across the field with Mark staying out of trouble, and climbing through the top-10 within the first hour. Multiple safety car interventions throughout the four hours allowed the team to work on the strategy, and Mark benefitted initially before Ollie took over for the third stint. Running in close formation with his Optimum teammate, Ollie made a move up to 4th with just over 90 minutes of the race to go, before moving into the final podium position shortly before a further safety car period.

Rob took over for the final stint of the weekend as the #27 ran slightly longer than the rest of the field. Back out on track, Rob retained 3rd as the pack was once again brought under the control of the safety car for a further incident. After an extended period, Rob comfortably managed the restart, holding position to the flag, claiming further silverware for the season, and setting things up for the remaining three rounds.

The Asian Le Mans Series now takes a break, moving to the Middle East with Round 3 taking place at the Dubai Autodrome, 2-4 February. The championship then closes out in Abu Dhabi with a second double-header, 9-11 February. Meanwhile, Rob and his #27 Optimum Motorsport teammates now travel to Abu Dhabi ahead of this weekend’s Gulf 12 Hours for the final run of the 2023 season.