Signing off the 2023 season with Gulf 12 Hours victory
11th December 2023
After a busy season of racing, Rob Bell rejoined his Optimum Motorsport teammates for one final outing in 2023, taking on the Gulf 12 Hours at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. Alongside Mark Radcliffe and Ollie Millroy in the #27 McLaren 720S GT3, the trio secured victory in the Pro-Am class, and an impressive P6 overall.
Making his third start at the Gulf event, Rob was back with the Optimum crew having kicked off the 2023-24 Asian Le Mans Series with a podium last week in Sepang, Malaysia. With race wins and podiums secured throughout the season, the team looked to be in a position to fight for a strong result at the final event of the year. Initial pace suggested this would be case, and the #27 entry qualified inside the overall top-10, P3 in the strong Pro-Am class.
The race start got underway with clear blue skies and the temperature ramping up, and strategy started to play a part from the opening lap, as the Pro-entered cars pitted immediately. This reshuffle of the order, and an opportunistic move by Mark saw the #27 on the front foot in the opening stages. the Pro Am field then had a clear track in front, and Mark was firmly in the fight for the class podium after the first hour. Extended Full Course Yellow and Safety Car periods followed after multiple incidents, and strategies continued to play out as the McLaren continued to climb the order, leading the Pro Am field away, before contact temporarily dropped the team back.
Rob took to the track in the third hour, and continued the strong opening to the race, making up a position in his shorter stint, as the team looked to optimise the strategy options after the interruptions. From here, they cycled through the drivers, and Rob was strapped back in as the race reached the midpoint, holding a strong lead in the class, and running with the pace of the overall race leaders.
A further incident in the seventh hour brought the Safety Car back out, and the field was neutralised once again, as Mark completed his mandatory drive time. Handing the car over to Ollie and Rob with a healthy lead, the pair then continued to deliver consistent laptimes, while chipping away at the overall positions with the sun now setting. Climbing as high as P4 overall, the #27 ran faultlessly throughout the latter stages, visiting the pitlane for routine stops by the Optimum team. Rob then took over for the final double stint and the run to the flag, with battles playing out into the final hour.
As the clock hit 12 hours, Rob brought the #27 McLaren home to a heroes welcome from the crew on the pitwall. Having claimed 24 Hours of Spa victory earlier in the year, the result completed a very strong season for the Optimum Motorsport crew, and saw a welcome return to the Gulf 12 Hours podium for Rob.