Team M-Sport Bentley open their 2014 racing account with a strong performance at the first race of the Blancpain Endurance Series in Monza, Italy. After three hours of racing in sunny and warm conditions at the famous circuit, the two Continental GT3s finished line astern in 7th and 8th positions. Car 8, driven by Antoine Leclerc, Jérôme D’Ambrosio and Duncan Tappy moved from 13th on the grid to finish 7th, just ahead of Car 7 piloted by Andy Meyrick, Guy Smith and Steven Kane.
While the racing was challenging in itself, the really hard work started after the Saturday qualifying session. With Steven Kane having set the fourth fastest lap time, on his final lap just before the end of the session he carried too much speed in to the Ascari chicane and hit the wall nose-first. Fortunately, a combination of the strength of the Continental GT body from which the GT3 is built and the skill of the mechanics from M-Sport Bentley meant an overnight rebuild was possible, and by 10am on Sunday morning the car was ready to race.
Brian Gush, Bentley’s Director of Motorsport, comments:
“This weekend has been a very good opening test of our cars and team. We’ve learnt a great deal and have many areas where we can make small improvements, but the whole team worked extremely hard and we’re very pleased with two top ten finishes in our first competition race. During the race the cars were strong and our drivers put in great performances, and I’m looking forward to being able to build from here at the next race at Silverstone.”
Steven Kane drove the final stint of the race in Car 7. He comments:
“I’m really pleased with our performance here this weekend. Fortunately my pride was damaged more than the car after the crash on Saturday afternoon, and the mechanics did an amazing job overnight to have our car ready. In the race, Andy and Guy put in two very good stints to mean I could focus on bringing the car home safely. This is good start to our season and I already can’t wait to be back behind the wheel in a few weeks for the next round.”
Car 8 had an even better race, after Jérôme D’Ambrosio drove a superb stint that brought the car from 12th to 6th. He says:
“Before this weekend I’d only driven the Continental GT3 once, so to be able to get in this weekend and be straight on the pace shows how well balanced the car is. I thoroughly enjoyed my stint, and I was able to lean on the car and make up a few places. We’ve learnt a lot about our car and our competition, and despite our good finish I know there’s more to come.”
The story of the race
Car 7 started the race in 4th, with opening driver Andy Meyrick able to overtake two Ferrari 458s off the line to lie 2nd after the opening lap. He then held off the same two Ferraris for 15 laps, despite repeated contact from one, before eventually needing to manage his rear tyres and ceding the place. When two cars ahead of him touched on lap 28 and dropped oil, Andy lost time but managed to stay on the track. He pitted from 7th place on lap 32, when Guy Smith took over. Traffic in the pit lane and a failed wheel nut meant a slow stop, and Guy resumed in 15th. Guy’s racing experience then shone through, and over the 34 laps of his stint he made up five places to bring the car in on lap 66 in 10thplace to hand over to Steven Kane with a quick and efficient pit stop. After the rest of the field had pitted, Steven was in 9th and immediately among the quickest cars on the track. He made up one place over his 30 laps to finish 8th, just behind the sister Continental GT3.
Car 8 started further back on the grid in 13th, despite setting a qualifying time just 0.3 secs slower than that of Car 7. Antoine Leclerc started the race, also passing two cars on the opening lap. By the time he entered the pits to hand the car to Jérôme D’Ambrosio, he’d progressed to 8th place. After the field had stopped Jérôme found himself 12th, but then went on a charge – taking six places to then pit on lap 64 in 6thplace. Duncan Tappy emerged from the pit stop window in 7th after a very fast service from the pit crew, and despite chasing down the ROAL BMW over the course of his 32 lap stint he settled for a 7th place finish at the chequered flag.
With an encouraging result from their first race, M-Sport Bentley is looking forward to the next race and the rest of the Blancpain Endurance Series. The next race is the British round, at the internationally renowned Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire over the weekend of 24th-25th May.