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The forgettable format that unearthed a sportscar nice

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Rob Bell has by no means raced on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, however the Eifel area nonetheless holds some particular reminiscences for the British sportscar ace. The Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit is commonly considered because the poor relation to the 12.944-mile motor racing Mecca that numerous drivers (including Yvan Muller) have cited as their favorite, and has are available for loads of criticism because it was launched in 1984.

However for McLaren manufacturing unit driver Bell it was the launchpad for his sportscar profession after taking a category win on his GT racing debut in 2005, and the scene of a number of vital triumphs since then.

“Each time I’m going there, I simply really feel comfy,” he explains. And that’s not shocking given his three Le Mans Sequence class victories and two outright successes within the sequence right now referred to as GT World Problem Europe.

The Newcastle racer had completed fifth within the 2004 System Renault V6 championship, however the funds weren’t there to proceed his profession and Bell “sort of thought my profession was a bit over”. That was till an “out of the blue” telephone name from a consultant of Cirtek Racing to see whether or not the out-of-work racer, then making ends meet by instructing at Bedford Autodrome, can be obtainable to drive its Aston Martin DBR9 GT1 on the Nurburgring in that weekend’s six-hour Le Mans Sequence spherical.

Bell admits that “I had no clue what GT racing was, or sportscar racing actually” however just a little white lie helped to push open the door.

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He recollects: “The man rang me up and mentioned ‘have you learnt Nurburgring’ and I assumed ‘I’ve by no means been, I’ve seen it on telly’. So I wasn’t mendacity after I mentioned, ‘yeah, I do know Nurburgring’ as a result of he didn’t particularly say ‘had I pushed it’!

“And he mentioned, ‘that’s good. Have you ever ever pushed a GT automobile?’ Which I hadn’t. However I drove on a trackday at Bedford – that they had Porsches that you simply used to instruct in. So I mentioned, ‘yeah, in fact I’ve pushed a GT automobile’. Clearly it was a little bit of a white lie. Anyway, he’s like, ‘deal is finished, fly right here tomorrow’. I can safely say it was dropping me in on the deep finish.”

Bell (proper) admits {that a} white lie received him into the Cirtek DBR9 seat that yielded victory alongside Turner on the Nurburgring on his sportscar debut in 2005

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

He didn’t have time for a observe stroll and spent observe trying to study the automobile – the primary buyer instance of the DBR9 – in addition to the circuit and the truth of being overtaken a number of occasions per lap by a lot sooner prototypes.

“First observe actually I didn’t know the place the observe went,” he laughs. “Clearly it appears totally different if you’re watching it [on TV]. I didn’t know that LMP1 automobiles have been that a lot faster, I didn’t know something about these automobiles. However to chop an extended story brief, me and Darren Turner gained the race!

“It’s solely later in my profession the place I realise – I landed myself in a chance that I didn’t have a clue how good it was. It was all fairly surreal.”

“To return from such adversity to then have a automobile which was only a dream to drive and to win there has at all times stayed with me” Rob Bell

For 2006 Bell’s companies have been picked up by Lawrence Tomlinson to race for his Panoz group in GT2. Apart from a shock win at Donington with Warren Hughes, their ‘bucking bronco’ was hardly ever an element. However the identical couldn’t be mentioned of his change to the Virgo Motorsport Ferrari group for 2007.

Previous to the World Endurance Championship beginning in 2012, Bell rightly factors out that the LMS was “nonetheless the premier class with FIA GT on the time” so it was an actual enhance to his profession to assert the GT2 crown in opposition to pukka manufacturing unit opposition from the Felbermayr-Proton Porsche. Along with Allan Simonsen, Bell scored the group’s first win with the F430 on the Nurburgring “in emphatic type” based on Gary Watkins’ Autosport report, aided by “a brand new growth tyre courtesy of the group’s shut relationship with Dunlop”. Bell took pole, the late Simonsen gapped the opposition and so they have been by no means headed over the six hours.

“We simply had a bonus that weekend over everybody,” recollects Bell. “You take a look at growth tyres after which it takes some time for them to supply a production-spec tyre, so we couldn’t use it for the primary few races. That tyre was launched at Nurburgring and clearly the onerous work had paid off within the take a look at. All of it got here collectively for that first race with Allan.”

Paired with Gianmaria Bruni for 2008, Bell efficiently defended his LMS title. The pair’s Nurburgring win, two laps away from the opposition, was a spotlight that Bell regards as “one in every of my most particular reminiscences in racing”.

“We had a gas fireplace in free observe which decimated the automobile,” he says of his third Nurburgring go to from 4 visits. “The rear of the automobile was completed. We did two laps after which we had the fireplace so we missed testing, we missed qualifying, began on the again and we gained.

Bell and Bruni remarkably won GT2 class for Virgo in 2008 after a devastating fire in practice

Bell and Bruni remarkably gained GT2 class for Virgo in 2008 after a devastating fireplace in observe

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

“It was only a circuit I used to be in tune with, a automobile I used to be in tune with, a tyre I used to be in tune with, a team-mate and group I used to be in tune with. To return from such adversity to then have a automobile which was only a dream to drive and to win there has at all times stayed with me.”

Solely a driveshaft failure whereas main in 2009, which price seven laps, price Bell a Nurburgring hat-trick and proved essential in his and Bruni’s defeat to Felbermayr-Proton team-mates Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz by a single level at season’s finish.

Bell’s rising popularity culminated in McLaren works standing for 2012 forward of the marque’s return to GT racing with the MP4-12C. Bell additionally took a number one position in creating the 650S that arrived for 2015 and canny pitstop technique that yr yielded one other Nurburgring triumph with a 3rd totally different producer – albeit this time outright – as he shared the successful Von Ryan McLaren 650S GT3 with Kevin Estre and Shane van Gisbergen within the Endurance Cup finale.

Then in 2016 when Storage 59 took over the works McLaren group, Bell and Alvaro Parente took Dash Cup spoils in July earlier than Bell wrapped up the Endurance Cup crown on the identical venue observe in September. It was a making an attempt weekend with team-mates Come Ledogar and van Gisbergen’s one-off stand-in Duncan Tappy because the trio failed to attain, however their closest rivals have been unable to capitalise.

“We had the whole lot that day,” Bell says of a race he began twenty first after a red-flag interrupted qualifying and completed thirtieth. “I used to be actually fairly overrated when it comes to ‘I do know what I’ve received to do right here, there’s no level in messing round, I’ve received to go for it’ and really in my stint I hit a automobile and received a penalty. It was fully my very own fault.”

After Bell had been pinged for punting Marco Bonanomi into the Flip 7 gravel and spinning Daniel Zampieri at Flip 1, Tappy picked up a right-rear puncture being rotated at Flip 1 by a Mercedes. To compound their afternoon, Ledogar too had a spin within the closing leg. However thankfully for Bell, RJN’s Nissan withstood strain from the HTP Mercedes of Maxi Buhk, Dominik Baumann and Jazeman Jaafar who wanted only one extra place to overtake their tally.

“We didn’t rating any factors on the day, however we’d carried out sufficient within the earlier races so we gained the championship there,” concludes Bell. That their non-score meant their championship was shared with van Gisbergen, absent on the day competing within the Sandown 500, made the nervy day that bit extra palatable: “Let’s be trustworthy, I’d fairly have gained the race by 30s and it was all straightforward crusing. However in hindsight it was a pleasant factor, and a deserved one as nicely.”

Bell isn’t bothered that his CV lacks a Nordschleife race look and counts himself “very fortunate” to have made 24 begins to this point in around-the-clock enduro races – one thing that appeared extremely unlikely previous to that transformational weekend virtually twenty years in the past.

Victory with van Gisbergen and Estre at the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Cup finale in Von Ryan's 650S preceded Bell clinching the title at the Nurburgring the following year

Victory with van Gisbergen and Estre on the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Cup finale in Von Ryan’s 650S preceded Bell clinching the title on the Nurburgring the next yr

Photograph by: Olivier Beroud / VSA

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