Fulbeck GT driver Shaun Balfe returns after crash with top-eight finish
It was the first time the Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3 had raced since an accident at Rockingham, the duo having missed the last round at Snetterton.
Apart from an hour’s test last Friday, two free practice sessions were all the team had to set the car up after its rebuild.
They began the race 10th on the grid, and from the start of the three-hour race – the longest in this year’s championship – Balfe settled in 12th, before closing in on Jon Minshaw’s Lamborghini, for a duel which lasted for most of his opening stint.
The Fulbeck driver briefly lost ground, but came surging back to challenge for what had become eighth place, running side by side before tucking back in behind the Lamborghini.
Minshaw was first to pit a couple of laps before Balfe who had climbed to fifth.
With the first round of stops completed, Bell was nine seconds adrift of Darren Turner’s 10th-placed Aston Martin at the hour mark.
Within two laps he was up to ninth and gradually worked his way up to eighth by lap 32, and then into third before heading to the pits again on lap 53.
With Balfe back for his second stint, the car was in ninth again as the second hour was completed, chasing the Beechdean Aston Martin.
Ninth became eighth by lap 58 and Balfe’s progress saw him break into the top six, two laps later.
With others making early final stops, Balfe came in from fourth, with Bell ready to do battle to the flag.
Having rejoined in ninth again, ahead of Turner’s Aston Martin, but with 30 minutes left, Bell was more than 20 seconds adrift of Johnny Cocker’s Lamborghini.
Bell then lapped quicker than in qualifying and reduced the gap to only six seconds at the flag for eighth place.