MOTOR RACING: Ancaster’s Balfe and team retain top spot in ProAm class
With temperatures of 32 degrees and heavy rain, Spa-Francorchamps held its usual surprises for the Balfe Motorsport duo of Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell in the latest round of the International GT Open last weekend.
The early practice session proved critical with setting the car up for race qualifying. Bell was tasked with qualifying the McLaren 650S GT3 for the first race in searing temperatures.
It was still around the 30 degrees mark for the race too and as the field rolled passed the pits into the La Source hairpin on the opening lap, Bell had slotted into third for the dive down to Eau Rouge.
The lead quartet had shown signs of spreading out, with Bell hoping to get the best position he could before handing over to Balfe, of Ancaster.
Two safety car interventions interrupted the strategy but Bell held on to a solid third as the pit stop window opened.
Balfe rejoined in sixth and was immediately under attack from Nelson Piquet Junior’s BMW and Michael Meadows Bentley.
“It was straight into racing. Piquet outran me through Eau Rouge and was ahead through Les Combes, but Meadows hit me, backed off and got me a couples of laps later. I certainly didn’t get the easy bit of the race,” said Balfe.
Sixth overall was still second in the ProAm class behind the Meadows/Witt Bentley and consolidated their championship class lead.
It was Balfe’s turn to qualify on Sunday morning, with heavy rain having fallen minutes before the session started. He said: “I felt comfortable but we didn’t qualify within our capabilities. I was on my best lap when the session was red flagged, but we had been aquaplaning out there.” He qualifyied 17th for seventh in class.
It was back to 32 degrees heat for the start of Sunday’s race, with Balfe looking to avoid any problems at the start. He had already made up two places on the opening lap when he arrived at the Bus Stop on lap three in 15th and exited 13th after demoting Bouveng’s BMW and Ling’s Lamborghini.
Balfe said: “They all boxed up on the approach. I saw a gap and thought I would stick my nose in there and have a go, and it worked.”
He pitted from 12th to hand to Bell after a continuing duel with Bouveng. The clouds were already darkening, though, as Bell rejoined and within a handful of laps the rain had started – and it was soon torrential.
“When it came and we were on slicks I could have spun on the straights at 30mph,” said Bell. “It was still dry in the pits area but from Les Combes to Blanchimont there were cars spinning in all directions.”
Bell was in 12th when the safety car came out, and after four laps it was green again for a final four lap sprint. Tenth place became ninth and a final charge finally netted seventh at the flag, after just missing sixth in a duel to the flag with Witt.
One of the podium finishes was later penalised, which gave Shaun and Rob sixth and fifth best in the ProAm class.
Going into the next rounds at Paul Ricard, the pair hold a seven points lead in the ProAm standings as well as third in the overall and fourth in the team.
The next round of the championship is at the Paul Ricard circuit in France this weekend.