The 24 hours of Bathurst was an intense endurance race with the action on the track looking more like a Pirelli World Challenge sprint race than a long distance endurance race. The race concluded with a thrilling finish and huge disappointment for M-Sport Team Bentley as the #10 Continental GT3 lost the lead in the final five minutes to finish fourth.
This race was the debut of the Bentley Continental GT3 at Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst, Australia. The weekend started out slow for the big Bentley’s as the M-Sport Team Bentley cars were outpaced for much of the time by a local Flying B Racing Continental GT3 until Steven Kane qualified the #10 car ninth fastest. David Brabham was 15th fastest in the local Flying B Racing Bentley and Maxi Buhk qualified 21st in the second M-Sport entry.
As the race began, Guy Smith was at the wheel of the #10 car. After a double stint in the car, Smith had moved the car up through the field to fourth position. From there, Matt Bell took over and moved the car all the way up to second position before claiming the lead for the first time as the race leaders pitted. After a shorter than planned stint, Bell was replaced by Steven Kane in tenth position.
Kane worked his way up to third position when his turn ended at lap 131. Smith jumped in for his second stint, driving the car up to second position by lap 162. Bell’s second sting began on lap 170. After a coming in contact with a lapped car, Bell received a drive-through penalty, dropping the #10 car back to sixth.
Kane would start his second turn behind the wheel on lap 207 in second place. By lap 230, Kane had driven the Continental GT3 to the lease as more cars pitted. Matt Bell would relieve Kane on lap 242 for the final leg of the race. He held the lead after an exciting restart only to passed by a great move by the #35 Nissan GTR. The race ended is disappointment for M-Sport Bentley when the third place #15 Audi R8 and the fourth place #97 Aston Martin Vantage came into the final turn hot and forced the #10 Bentley off his line and nearly into a spin. The car recovered and Bell, Kane, and Smith’s efforts earned a fourth place.
The other M-Sport car, the #11 Bentley Continental GT3, driven by Maximilian Buhk, Andy Soucek and Harold Primat started 21st. Buhk has the first stint in the race and moved up to tenth before turning the car of to Primat on lap 29. Primat’s turn was full of struggle as the he faced two drive-through penalties and then a spin after contacting a back marker. Andy Soucek would take over in 21st position. During his turn, he would move up to thirteenth before Primat relieved him. The #11 car would see a couple more driver changes before retiring on lap 253 by a drivetrain failure. The car was in sixteen position when they withdrew from the race.
The #8 Flying B Continental GT3 also had a shortened race. After David Brabham’s good run in qualifying, he had worked the car up to 11th position. Late in the race, the very same #97 Aston Martin Vantage that would later be involved in the final lap incident with the M-Sport Bentley ran the #8 car into the wall, injuring Brabham. Brabham was treated a local hospital and released. The Aston Martin driver apologized.
“This race has got to be one of the most exciting of my career. It wasn’t like an endurance race – it was more like a 12-hour sprint. I’m really pleased with our pace and how strong our car was today, but ultimately we couldn’t quite hold on for the win. We know we should’ve finished second, but unfortunately racing isn’t always fair.” Guy Smith, car #10
The Bentley Continental GT3 program is still new and although they are starting to notch some wins in their belts, outings like this one prove to make the drivers and engineers older and wiser. Check back here in the coming weeks for a complete schedule of where to see the Bentley race cars in action the rest of this year.
Source: M-Sport & Bentley