Bentley’s challenge for the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series championship intensified last weekend with a hard-fought podium finish at the Paul Ricard 1000 km, the third round of the series. The #7 Continental GT3 of British trio Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane finished P2 after an exciting six hours of racing, culminating in Steven closing to within 1.6 seconds of the leader in the final stages. 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.
The second Bentley Continental GT3, the #8 car of Andy Soucek, Maxi Buhk and Maxime Soulet endured a more challenging race, after contact for Maxime in the opening lap put him to the back of field. The team recovered well after the incident, only for progress to be disrupted by a pair of stop-and-go penalties later in the race. However, strong pace and a determined attitude saw the #8 car finish P12 overall and P8 in class, which was rewarded with championship points.
Bentley’s Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush, said after the race:
“After some bad luck in the previous rounds, the whole team is ecstatic with the result here. It wasn’t an easy race, but we got the setup of our cars right and came so close to repeating our victory here last year. The last few laps were extremely tense for everyone in the garage, but Steven did what he does best and got the podium. I’m disappointed that car #8 couldn’t join car #7 in the top three, but we’ll review and come back stronger. Our championship challenge is back on-track, and this is a real confidence boost ahead of the most important race of the season at Spa next month. We’re heading from here to the official test session this week to start our preparations, but until then we’ll reflect on what’s been a great race weekend for us.”
The two Bentleys started P4 (#7) and P10 (#8) respectively. After an aborted start that saw both cars in to the top five, the restart saw Guy Smith move the #7 car to P2, but an unfortunate misjudgement by Maxime Soulet in #8 saw him collide with two competitors. A pit stop to check for damage dropped Maxime to P61, reinforced by a stop-and-go penalty, but he rebuilt from there to P35. After a stint from Andy Soucek and a second stint from Maxime, the #8 car was up to P14. The drivers of the #7 car all double-stinted, with Andy Meyrick taking the car from Guy in P4 after two hours, and finished his stint in P3, handing to Steven Kane Thanks to an extremely efficient pit stop from the Bentley Team M-Sport crew, Steven moved up to P2 and immediately started his challenge for the lead, closing a 16-second gap to just 1.6 seconds before running slightly wide and spinning. Steven recovered from the spin to secure P2 at the chequered flag. Meanwhile, after a stop-and-go penalty for pushing, Maxi Buhk in car #8 was able to climb from P30 to P13 before Andy Soucek drove the final stint of the race, coming home P12 overall and P8 in class.
A third Continental GT3 entered by Bentley’s European customer team, Bentley Team HTP, also raced Paul Ricard, finishing P36 overall, P17 in class.
The next race for Bentley Team M-Sport will be the TOTAL 24 Hours of Spa, over the weekend of 25th-26th July.