Top-10 finish and important points for Rob Bell in Imola
4th April 2022
The 2022 Fanatec GT World challenge powered by AWS season got underway at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit in Imola over the weekend, and Rob Bell made his return to the championship at the wheel of the #38 JOTA McLaren 720S GT3. The team showed solid pace throughout the weekend, while Rob and his teammates Ollie Wilkinson and Marvin Kirchhöfer battled hard throughout the 3-hour event to climb up the order to secure a top-10 finish.
A busy pre-season testing programme has seen Rob and the team running extensively across Europe, working through setups, and getting to grips with the new 2022 tyre from Pirelli. Following this, the JOTA team arrived in Italy ready to kick off the action against a bumper grid. With pace building up over the early sessions, Rob took the first of the Sunday morning qualifying sessions which would combine to set the grid for the race later that day. Working hard to find some clear air out on track with more than 50 cars, Rob’s true pace was set to be near the very top of the order before his quickest lap was abandoned due to an incident in the final sector. While the improvement didn’t stand, he ended the session in the top half of the standings and it was clear that the pace was there. Ollie and Marvin then followed, and saw the green, red, and black McLaren climb the order with Marvin topping the timesheets with the quickest time overall in the final period. The net result would see Rob start the 3-hour endurance battle from 10th place on the grid.
The race got underway in sunny, dry conditions and the battles commenced immediately, as the lights went green. With close action across the entire grid from the very start, a number of positions changed, and Rob was caught in traffic as he made his way around the 4.909km lap. An early incident in the opening laps then saw the Safety Car scrambled and as the pace of the field was neutralised, Rob was running just outside the top-10. Despite the initial setback, as the race went green again, pace remained strong, challenging for position and looking to recover lost ground.
At the hour mark, Rob concluded his stint and entered the pitlane from P13, handing over to teammate Ollie. A quick stop by the JOTA team gained a position as the McLaren returned to the track, but the middle hour of the race was heavily interrupted by several Safety Car interventions. Further progress was affected after a misjudged move by a rival resulted in contact and pushed the #38 off-line. It was well recovered by Ollie who continued to battle hard, handing over to Marvin for the final sprint to the line. The final pitstop was carried out under a further Safety Car period, as the team optimised the strategy and looked to move up the field. The stop-start final hour saw various incidents on track, but the team steadily started to climb the order. Running just outside the top-10, the recovery drive was completed as the time ran into the final 20 minutes, moving back upto the initial starting grid position. At the line, JOTA claimed the final points-paying position to sign off a successful foundation for the season.
“We started 10th and we finished 10th, which sounds like it was all fairly plain sailing, but the result doesn’t really tell the whole story. We came into the weekend in a strong position, but it’s always difficult to know where you are in terms of pace until that first qualifying session. Ollie and Marvin did a great job, and the pace of the car was good, but we were unlucky at the start with traffic and then got tagged during the second hour which meant we had some more work to do. The team has done a great job all weekend and helped us make up positions during the stops, and it was a big effort and a fight to the very end to move us back into the top-10 to secure some points on the board from the start. We know we have a bit of work to do ahead of the next race, but we are in a good position to build from here, and looking forward to having the home advantage at Brands Hatch at the end of the month.”
Rob is back out on track for round 2 of the Fanatec GT World Challenge powered by AWS at Brands Hatch, UK for the opening event of the 2022 Sprint Cup, 30 April-1 May.