Just 12 months on from late heartbreak which denied the team victory, Bentley Team M-Sport left no stone unturned as the polesitting #107 Bentley Continental GT3 secured victory at the third round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup at Paul Ricard.
At the start, Jordan Pepper – starting the #107 – lost the lead to a hard charging Maro Engel in the second-placed Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 as the German reacted quicker to the red lights going out to hold a clear lead into the left-handed turn one.
Despite Pepper closing in, the South African didn’t have chance to reclaim the lead as a 25-minute safety car was called for on the second lap to clear up the Audi R8 LMS of Team WRT & Ezequiel Perez Companc and the #444 HB Racing Ferrari 488 of Florian Scholze.
The pair crashed at Signes after the Audi was rear-ended by Rob Smith in the Team Parker Racing Bentley which sent Companc into Scholze.
After the wreckage was cleared and the barriers were repaired, the Black Falcon crew elected to make an early pitstop – just 40 minutes into the race – after a full course caution to clear up the #55 Attempto Racing Audi which had spun across the track at the final corner and t-boned one of the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghinis. The Lamborghini continued, but the Attempto team’s race was over.
As the race settled down in the middle hours, the lead shuffled around a number of teams – including the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 488 which won at Silverstone and had climbed up from its starting position of 16th, and the #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 team – as squads ever so slightly varied their pit strategies over the course of the six-hour test.
That routine of the lead swapping around continued until just before the four-hour mark. With shades of last year coming back to haunt them, the #107 came in for a routine pitstop but the wheel nut for the front-left wheel jammed in the gun and Bentley Team M-Sport lost 14sec fixing the wheel gun. That delay allowed Miguel Molina – in the #72 – to swoop into the lead.
But just 30 minutes later and Bentley’s luck was coming back to them as the #72 was hit with a drive-through penalty for a pit infringement after the car was dropped from its jacks and then raised up again – a breach of the series rules.
That released the #107 into clear air and what turned out to be a comfortable victory – more than 37sec ahead of the SMP team, which hung onto second.
Although, the Russian team was lucky to secure second as Marco Mapelli in the #563 FFF Lamborghini closed to just a second behind at the chequered flag.
SMP was probably spared, though, by Marvin Kirchhöfer’s dogged defence of the final podium spot. The R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT3 driver did everything he could to hold off Mapelli but with just five minutes left on the clock, the Italian utilised a backmarker slowing Kirchhöfer down to muscle his way past and claim the final spot on the podium.
R-Motorsport finished fourth, 5sec ahead of the #99 ROWE Racing Porsche 911 GT3.R after a consistent top ten run for the German team – some relief for the squad after the #98 was forced to retire with an issue with the Porsche’s front diffuser.
Sixth went to the second Bentley Team M-Sport entry of Callum Macleod, Maxime Soulet and Andy Soucek with the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini entry a distant seventh.
The Pro-class Attempto Racing Audi was eighth, Sainteloc Racing was ninth and the second of the R-Motorsport Aston Martin’s rounded out the top ten.
Silver Cup victory went the way of AKKA ASP and its Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Felipe Fraga, Nico Bastian and Timur Boguslavskiy who got the better of a tough battle with the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi crew.
AKKA ASP also took the top prize in the Pro-Am class as Jim Pla, Mauro Ricci and Jean-Luc Beaubelique finished more than 45sec ahead of next-in-class RAM Racing with Remon Vos, Tom Onslow-Cole and Darren Burke lifting the second-place trophy.
Splitting the pair was the Am class winning Aston Martin of Garage 59 with Chris Harris, Alexander West and Chris Goodwin taking their first win of the season.
The next two rounds of the Blancpain GT Series are World Challenge Europe sprint races at Misano and Zandvoort, with the next Endurance round the Total 24 Hours of Spa at the end of July.
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