Rob Bell felt the seventh-placed JOTA McLaren 720S GT3 had pace worthy of a podium at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa, and that it “could have been third to fifth” at the end had it not been impacted by inconveniently-timed Full Course Yellow periods.
Bell, Oliver Wilkinson and Ben Barnicoat filed McLaren’s best-ever result at the Belgian enduro and its first top-ten since 2012 when Von Ryan Racing finished ninth with an MP4-12C GT3 driven by Alvaro Parente, Chris Goodwin, Rob Barff and Roger Wills.
JOTA started from sixth on the 58-car grid after Barnicoat’s Super Pole qualifying exploits and remained at the sharp end of the field throughout the race. Barnicoat and Bell ran as high as second during their early stints behind the wheel.
Bell said afterward that the result was “amazing” considering JOTA was running the only Pro-class McLaren in the field, but also believed that a higher result could have been achieved without a series of FCY-related setbacks.
“We had really good pace at times and we got really unlucky with three Full Course Yellows,” Bell told Sportscar365.
“We boxed, because we had to, and then the lap we left the pits it went Full Course Yellow. It probably cost us the best part of the lap. It was exactly the same [all three times].
“I think if you look at the pace, we were pretty strong throughout. The Full Course Yellow just got us unluckily and really hurt us, but we got third-fastest lap.
“For the middle part, myself and Ben kept swapping places with the [winning] No. 51 car. We were a lap down on that because of the FCY issues, but we were nose to tail and Ben overtook them to un-lap us. So we were in and around the sharp end.
“I’d say we could have fought for between third and fifth. We were seventh in the end: in a field like this it’s a bloody good effort, bearing in mind these guys have only had the car for eight months.
“I’ll have to look back at it, but I think the top two seemed to be a bit ahead on strategy, luck or calls. But I think we could have been third to fifth, genuinely, which would have been mega.”
Bell, who is a McLaren factory driver, suggested that the result with a single car gives the Woking-based manufacturer something to build on in terms of representation at Spa, where it has been outnumbered by other brands in recent editions.
Two McLarens were on this grid this year, with Inception Racing competing in Pro-Am. Optimum Motorsport, which runs the Inception program, entered a 720S GT3 in the Pro division last year for the vehicle’s 24-hour race debut.
“You always see the cars that win, whether it be traditionally an Audi or a Porsche or whatever, but you don’t look at the four or five [from that brand] that haven’t finished,” Bell said.
“Well if you’ve only got two, the chances are that it’s just a numbers game. We need to grow and hopefully this will help us.
He added: “The car worked really well and the team were spotless.
“I know we all want to come here and win, that’s the tagline. But actually we haven’t done many 24-hour races with this car.
“To prove it finishes and can do the job is a big deal and that’s what we set out for. We’re really happy.”