It was a busy weekend for fans of Team Bentley and overall a pretty successful one as Bentley had a driver on the podium in two different series and now has the points lead in the Blancpain Endurance Series.
In Le Soullet, France, the Blancpain Endurance Series was in action in the Paul Richard 1000km. With one of the largest fields in GT racing, the track was packed with action, but overall managed to avoid becoming the world’s largest game of bumper cars.
The Bentleys all qualified well with the Bentley Team M-Sport factory supported Continentals #7 & #8 slotted fourth and tenth at the start. Bentley’s European partner HTP Motorsport from Germany had their #84 Continental GT3 starting on the front row with the second fastest qualifying time. On the race’s initial start, the Bentleys were P2, P5, and P6. The race director didn’t like the initial start (somebody was out of order) and ordered a new formation lap.
The restart worked to Bentley’s advantage as the #84 Continental GT3 from Bentley Team HTP took the race lead. The #7 and #8 cars from Bentley Team M-Sport were right behind in P2 and P6.
The #8 car was the first to suffer a mishap when Maxime Soulet made a mistake that caused him to run into a McLaren, damaging a Ferrari 458 in the process. After a pit stop to check for damage dropped Soulet and the #8 car to P61. As the car got back into a rhythm, it was called in for a 10 second stop-and-go penalty. From there, Soulet was able to climb back to 35th before his stint was up. After a stint from Andy Soucek and a second stint from Soulet, the #8 car was up to P14.
The #84 Bentley Team HTP Continental GT3 was the next to fall victim to unfortunate circumstances. On lap 63, Harold Primat was trying to get around a slower car and thought he had room when they collided. The impact did damaged something related to the throttle sending the car to the garage.
The team thought it was fixed but then the car died before it could leave pit row, sending it back to the garage. After 10 minutes or more of repair work, the team had lost too many laps and would finish in 36th place.
The delay to the #84 was disappointing because the car had been so quick. For a period of time during those first hours, the #84 and the #7 were really pushing each other along.
The drivers of the #7 all went for double-stints. Guy Smith handed the wheel to Andy Meyrick with the car in fourth place. Meyrick’s stint would end with the #7 in third place. Steven Kane took over with two hours to go and was able to move the car into second and in position to challenge for the race lead.
For Bentley fans, this set up once of the most exciting, intense hours of racing we’ve seen this year.
In hour number six, there were only a handful of cars with a shot at winning. The #23 Nissan GTR was extremely quick and held the first position. Steven Kane was a minute behind him in the Bentley Continental GT3 #7.
By now, it was dark and the air temperature had dropped from 23º C to 21º. It was difficult to tell if it was the cooler temperature, or the tires just going away, but there were a lot of offs in the final hour. Including the #7, which despite a misstep leaving the pits and an apparent error in one of the turns, found itself only 1.6 seconds behind the #23.
It was all working on so well when disaster struck: The #7 car ran wide through a turn, lost traction and went into a full out spin! Miraculously, the car stopped with only a rub against the nearby track wall and continued on it’s way. Kane was still in 2nd place, but a shot at the lead was lost.
Meanwhile, the #8 car would fight its way back from 30th to 13th place at the end, earning valuable championship points along the way.
Maxime Soulet, one of the drivers of the #8 is looking forward to the next race at Spa. “The start was very difficult. I was focused on a car behind me that was making a move, and I misjudged my braking and hit a Ferrari, which ruined our race straight away. We started a fight-back immediately and fought up the order, and at the end of my second stint I was in to the top 20 having been right at the back. It wasn’t our day today but we’ll start focusing on Spa straight away.”
Afterwards Steven Kane from car #7 reflected on the race. “My stint was pretty exciting to say the least! The car was excellent, so I’d like to thank the team for a job well done. Andy and Guy drove brilliant stints which allowed me to get very close to the leaders. I made a mistake in the closing laps which meant I ultimately couldn’t fight for the win, but we’ve had some bad luck in the last couple of races and P2 here feels really good. It’s kick-started our season and we’re really looking forward to the 24 Hours at Spa.”
Obviously the Bentley Team M-Sport would like to have finished in first place, but the team was overall pretty happy and saw the six hour event as good practice for the 24 Hours of Spa next month. Overall points from the race mean that Bentley Team M-Sport now sits atop the Teams Championships for the first time this year, with the drivers of car #7 now second in the Drivers Championship by one point.
All 7 hours of the race are embedded below. If you’re in a hurry, fast forward to the final 45 minutes or so. It was a nail biting good time!
Bentley Team HTP was also campaigning two cars in Belgium at Spa for the ADAC GT Masters. This series is a multi-day sprint series like the Pirelli World Challenge is here in the U.S. The races are 60 minutes in length with one driver change. Teams qualify before the weekend with one driver’s time counting for Saturday’s starting grid and the other driver’s time counting for Sunday’s grid.
In Saturday’s feature, Luca Stolz and Jeroen Bleekemolen would start fifth in the #7 Bentley Continental GT3. Clemens Schmid and Fabian Hamprecht would finish eighth, but were knocked back to 14th place as penalty for making contact on the final lap.
For Stolz and Bleekemolen, it was a good first race. They kept pace with the leaders and would finish third for their 2nd podium of the season.
Sunday’s race in pouring rain in Belgium was much more difficult. Both Bentleys struggled in adverse conditions, and with on incredibly wet track Stolz/Bleekemolen finished 15th, with Schmid/Hamprecht two positions behind after an additional pit stop for a tire change.
After the race, Jeroen Bleekemolen commented, “Our first race at Spa was good. We were at the limit and fought well, it was enough to claim a podium finish. In the wet in the second race it was very difficult. I had no grip and there was so much water on the track. When there was less water on track, our performance was better.”
Next up for the Blancpain Endurance Series is the TOTAL 24 Hours of Spa July 25 & 26th. ADAC GT Masters will be running Germany at Lausitzring on July 4th & 5th. Your next chance to see the Bentley Continental GT3 in action will be this week Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Wisconsin at Road America as Bentley Team Dyson Racing campaigns two cars in the Pirelli World Challenge.
The Pursuit will be at Road America in person, so prepare yourself for some extended motorsport coverage here on The Pursuit, the home on the web for Bentley enthusiasts.
Thanks for reading! Check out the Blancpain Endurance Series video here:
Source: Blancpain Endurance Series, M-Sport, HTP Motorsport