European champion Shaun Balfe reigns in Spain

Shaun Balfe (left) and Rob Bell crown their title with a podium finish EMN-170211-144105002
Shaun Balfe (left) and Rob Bell crown their title with a podium finish EMN-170211-144105002

Fulbeck racing driver Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell clinched the Pro-Am class title in the International GT Open Championship at Barcelona in style.

They made sure of the crown with a third-place finish in the first of the weekend’s two races.

On track at the Catalunya GP EMN-170211-144117002

On track at the Catalunya GP EMN-170211-144117002

Bell was eighth overall in the first qualifying session, but the Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3 was second quickest in the Pro Am class, behind the Mercedes of fellow Brit Tom Onslow-Cole and Valentin Pierburg.

In Saturday’s opening race Bell made a couple of places on the opening lap, before settling into a duel for sixth with Thomas Biagi’s Lamborghini.

They shared several exchanges before Bell gained the upper hand and held onto second in class before pitting, with Balfe settling into eighth overall as he rejoined.

Gradually Pierburg’s class-leading Mercedes came closer to a challenge from Balfe, but both had the Ferrari 488 of Andrea Caldarelli closing in with 28 laps gone.

A lap later Caldarelli had taken them both, which put Balfe back to third in class, but right on Pierburg’s tail.

There was panic, however, when the Mercedes driver almost stopped, leaving Balfe nowhere to go and allowing fellow McLaren driver Com Ledogar to pass, leaving Balfe suddenly in fourth.

“There were so many scary moments in that race, with cars in trouble all around me and I was just hoping for the best.

“I was right with Pierburg and then he just came across the final chicane and almost hit Com.

“I then got by and was side-by-side with Com around the final turn. I was thinking I don’t need this; last corner, last lap.”

Third in class and 10th overall was enough to take the Pro-Am title and go one better than last year’s finishing position.

Balfe started the second race and spent virtually all of his stint chasing Sergei Borisov’s Ferrari for 15th overall.

“I picked off some early places with others mistakes after the safety car, but was just stuck behind Borisov,” he explained.

When Bell rejoined, he too was stuck behind the same car with Rinat Salikhov now at the wheel as they went on to claim third in class and 11th overall.

Balfe added: “The championship title was a real team effort, all the crew and the family, not just me and Rob.”