Top-10 finish for Rob Bell at GT World Challenge Europe opener
26th July 2020
Rob Bell has made his 2020 race return at the opening round of the revised GT World Challenge powered by AWS at the famous Imola circuit in Italy, at the wheel of the Optimum Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3. Running as a full-Pro entry alongside fellow McLaren drivers Ollie Wilkinson and Joe Osborne, the trio fought their way through the field to finish in 8th place in what was the debut appearance of the latest McLaren GT3 model in the championship.
After delays to the start of the 2020 season, Rob returned to the cockpit of the 720S GT3 for his first race since taking victory at the final round of the 2019 British GT Championship. The first round of the revised GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, and the first of four events which forms the Endurance Cup visited the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit and it was the first time since 2011 that Rob had been back racing at the iconic Italian circuit. This prolonged break from racing appeared to drive more determination in Rob and the team which has moved to run with the McLaren 720S GT3 for the first time in 2020.
The GT World Challenge Europe starting grid is set during a qualifying session which sees all three drivers complete a flying lap and the combined average across each laptime is then calculated. Such is the strength of the competition across the full 46-car grid that the #69 Optimum Motorsport entry would line up 19th in class, 22nd overall having qualified just 0.787 seconds off pole position.
A solid opening stint by Joe during a chaotic start to the race saw the iconic orange-liveried McLaren make up two places in as many laps, before Full Course Yellow periods put a stop to any further progression. A strategy decision to keep Joe in the car for a lap longer than the majority of the field as the pitlane opened during a third caution period saw him move up as high as 2nd before making way for Ollie Wilkinson who joined the track in 20th. As all pitstops were completed and the order settled itself with racing back underway, Ollie picked up where Joe left off and gained two places before drive-through penalties were issued to several front-runners following the Full Course Yellow periods which saw the Optimum Motorsport-run entry claim further positions.
Another pitstop strategy decision by the team kept Ollie in the car a lap longer than the opposition, giving a lap of clear air and, most importantly, a less congested pitlane to bring the car in to handover to Rob for the final hour of the race. This call by the team jumped Rob up the order, leaving the pitlane in 13th and quickly making up a place as the race entered another caution period following an incident involving two of the lead pack. Rob wasted no time after the Safety Car returned to the pits, quickly moving up to 11th with his sights set on a top-10 position, which he achieved as a Full Course Yellow period neutralised the race for a fifth and final time.
With 25 minutes remaining, Rob was once again on the charge and having protected the condition of his tyres during the opening laps of his stint, he was now in a strong position to push. The laptimes continued to improve, and in the closing stages of the 180-minute race, Rob made his move to take two further positions, taking 8th position on the final lap.
Rob Bell -
“It is great to be back racing after a long few months off, and I am really proud of the result we have achieved here this weekend. Optimum Motorsport has done a great job in the build up and during the weekend, and Joe, Ollie and I kept ourselves out of trouble and focused on the job in hand. It was a race full of incidents, but this is arguably the most competitive GT3 series in the world and the competition is fierce, so to take a top 10 finish is a great achievement by everyone. It is also the first time the 720S GT3 has raced in the championship, and it was great to show the potential against some of the world’s best drivers and be fighting with the biggest names in motorsport and to come home with a solid haul of points. A big thank you to the whole Optimum Motorsport team and the support from McLaren Customer Racing, and importantly to the SRO who have done an amazing job to get us back racing safely. We will build on the result this weekend and looking forward to seeing what we can achieve at the Nürburgring in a few weeks.
Round 2 of the GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup takes place at the Nürburgring, Germany over the weekend, 5-6 September.