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Best Car, Worst Car, Dream Car: Rob Bell

The car that made him, the car that nearly killed him and the car that inspired him

Rob Bell features in DSC’s latest Best Car, Worst Car, Dream Car piece. A current McLaren factory driver and all-round mercurial GT talent, Rob is always good for a tale (or three!) about his lengthy, highly successful career.

Here’s his selection of machinery:

The best car I’ve ever raced is… The Ferrari 430 GT2

“When we had Jim McWhirter’s 430 GT2 on Dunlops and were working with Dunlop to come up with a tyre, the car was absolutely awesome. It doesn’t have a million horsepower, it had a sequential gearbox, but it was supreme.

“At the Nürburgring in 2009 when we had a petrol fire and the thing burned to the ground in testing, we rebuilt it, missed qualifying and it was absolutely perfect in the race. Me and Gimmi Bruni won by a lap and a half.

“I won my first major title in that car, in 2007 and 2008, the Le Mans Series, with Dunlop tyres we developed. So that in a pure form is the one that stands out.

“It was tricky to drive though, you had to put the effort in, you knew you’d done time in it after getting out. The Porsche was strong in that era, but it was a big step from the 360 before it. It was so well balanced, the big factor was that Dunlop designed tyres specifically for JMW, so we’d go somewhere with a setup, and they’d develop a tyre. It all just worked well. Not only was it brilliant because it was balanced, and despite the fact that we were down on power compared to the Porsches, it was comfortable and it did the job. It put me on the international map, so I owe a lot to that car.

“It’s hard not to say the current McLaren 720S GT3 car because it’s so close to home and it’s the first car that from its conception, that I’ve had a hand in. From when McLaren Motorsport started with a bare tub and a roll-cage over it, we went down and sat in it and worked with the designers to make it where it is now. It’s turned out to be a great car to drive.”

The worst car I’ve ever raced is… Panoz Esperante GT2

“I’ve been lucky, I’ve done alright with cars. Prior to me, you could have cars built by a small team like Listers and Marcos’. When I first started GT racing some of those looked ropey. The first GT car I ever drove was the DBR9, so I’ve been spoiled. All of the cars I’ve driven have been quite good. However, one stands out as being quite tricky, the Panoz Esperante GT2.

“I did the Le Mans Series in it and at times it was a pig. It was with Team LNT, with Warren Hughes, Lawrence and Richard were in the other car. We were on Pirellis, and the team overachieved and won Le Mans with it.

“The characteristic of the car was that you had the front end which did half a job, the rear end which did half a job, and both were connected by a hinge from B&Q. We won two races with it, and on its day it was challenging. When it was an off day though, it was poor, like a space-hopper at the rear. The steering too wasn’t right, sometimes you’d turn into a corner and the wheel would just keep turning if you let go of it, it had a mind of its own. The front and rear just didn’t talk to each other.

“The first lap I ever did of Le Mans, ever, was in that car back in 2007. They put me in the car for an install lap, did that, came in, checked everything, and then they sent me for a five-lap run. My first time down Mulsanne in anger, I get just 30 metres before the braking zone, I heard a massive bang and the front-right corner of the car just exploded (pictured above!). And I mean exploded, the whole front-right end disappeared, big tyre failure. The front light structure was expensive, so the mechanics went to see if they could retrieve them but then it was up a tree somewhere.

“It tried to kill me. And then, they repaired it and sent me on my way and on the next lap out it did exactly the same thing again. A massive explosion and I just avoided the barriers. What it actually was, is when Pirelli took old tyres off the rim, they were cutting by mistake the valve and they weren’t replacing them, so I was going out with a faulty valve that exploded at high speed. Every car ever since has been a piece of cake, so it sort of helped me.

“Only a mother could love it. At least I didn’t have the joy of driving the Abruzzi!”

The car I’ve always wanted to race is… The Jaguar XJR-12

“The first racing car I ever remember was the Silk Cut Jaguar.

“It looked amazing and after it won Le Mans they did a tour of the dealerships around the UK. There was a Jaguar dealer on my grandma and grandad’s road just outside of Newcastle. My grandad got all excited so we went to see it, and they asked me if I wanted to sit in it. So that’s the first racing car I’d ever sat in, and I was about 10. I’d just started karting, was just getting into motorsport.

“I remember thinking ‘wow, this is what it’s all about’, it’s a lovely looking thing. It’s just cool. They were pretty brutal cars, massive tyres not a lot of aids, just a raw form of motorsport. Dangerous as hell but amazing to drive I’d think.”