Bentley Team M-Sport driver Matt Bell had an eventful Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour debut this past weekend.
Sharing the #10 Bentley Continental GT3 with Guy Smith and Steven Kane, Bell was involved in a last-lap scramble for the final two podium positions that saw him just miss out on the top three.
The British crew battled hard throughout a race that featured a high rate of attrition, with twenty safety car periods being called for in total.
Bell took command of the Bentley Continental, which was also making its Bathurst 12 Hour debut, for the second stint of the race. After working his way to the head of the 50-strong field he was forced to pit after a blocked water tube caused him to severely dehydrate under the glaring Australian sun.
“I had a great stint until right at the very end!” he said. “The drinks tube in my helmet was blocked, which wasn’t an issue until a long period behind the safety car when I started getting dehydrated. Going so much slower means the cockpit gets hotter, and I was forced to pit before it became too much of a problem.”
After spending some time at the Mount Panorama medical centre Bell was back in the car for his second stint of the day. With the Bentley matching the pace of the leaders the M-Sport team were firmly affixed at the head of the field, until Bell incurred a penalty for contact with a slower car.
However, this only proved to be a slight interference, as Bell fought his way through the pack to take second place, setting himself up for a thrilling final stint.
With the race nearing its conclusion Bell emerged as the leader as the surrounding GT3 cars pitted, and as they closed in was forced to hold on to first place in a frantic skirmish to the flag. Having fended off the charging Laurens Vanthoor (#15 Phoenix Racing Audi) Bell set on extending his lead, however a late safety car with less than 10 minutes to go put the Bentley driver on the back foot at the worst possible time.
“In the end the safety car periods were our downfall. We struggled all race when our tyre pressures dropped so the first two laps after a safety car period were always our most vulnerable time. I was able to fight Vanthoor off after the penultimate safety car and once I got that gap and my tyre pressure came up I was sure we’d done enough.”
“The last safety car meant the tyres went cold again and with only two racing laps left it was very difficult to defend. It was impossible to keep the [#35 NISMO Global Athlete Team] Nissan behind but I made it to the last corner in second place before the [#97 Craft Bamboo Racing] Aston behind decided to try and drive through me rather than actually race me. I was hit into a spin, which allowed the Audi past, then the Aston hit me again to stop himself going off which gave him third. It was a very disappointing end to such a thrilling race and I’m astonished it went unpunished.”
While Bell was understandably disappointed with the result, he was pleased with Bentley Team M-Sport’s overall performance in what was his first race weekend with Malcolm Wilson’s team.
“It was an honour to be asked to race for Bentley at Bathurst and it was a great experience,” he said. “I can’t praise the M-Sport team enough for their efforts and sharing a car with Steven and Guy was a privilege; they’re both top professionals and great team mates. We came to Bathurst to show what the Bentley Continental GT3 was capable of and I think we achieved that.”