The #7 M-Sport Bentley of Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane claimed a sensational debut win at Silverstone; round 2 of the Blancpain Endurance Series. This being the first time in 84 years that the ‘Works’ Bentley Motorsport team had raced in the UK.
Although having only arrived back in the UK hours earlier I was determined to make it to Silverstone to see the ‘Works’ Bentley’s take on some of Europe’s best GT teams and drivers. A prospect made even more attractive by the 1 hour qualifying session scheduled for the morning of the race.
Following Saturday’s downpours and more overnight rain, a damp track faced the competitors as the clock struck 9am. With the qualifying hour being split into 3 fifteen minute blocks, it looked like the final of these sessions would yield the pole time with the track becoming dryer and dryer.
With this in mind there was always the potential for a mixed up grid but I can’t imagine the #93 Pro GT by Almeras Porsche would have been anyone’s tip for pole. Although aided by a slightly curtailed session due to a red flag, Franck Perera still put in a stunning lap of 2:00.912 to claim the top spot by 0.151 seconds. The #98 ART McLaren in the hands of Alvaro Parente would take second spot with great laps from Alex Buncombe in the RJN Nissan and Steven Kane in the #7 Bentley being rewarded with a starting position on row 2.
Caffeine was definitely required as the cars returned to their garages followed by a much needed sit down to watch the Lamborghini Super Trofeo race at Becketts. After many years of visiting Silverstone it still amazes me how much speed the Pro drivers manage to carry through this section of track.
The lunch time pit walk was stress-free as very few spectators seem to be attracted to watch the Blancpain GT races. I still can’t understand why people want to pay much more to watch touring cars drive each other off the track when you can come and watch Europe’s elite GT drivers battle it out fairly (generally anyway) in a proper tactical endurance race! Having never been a massive fan of the new Wing complex it was also refreshing to be back in the ‘National’ Pit lane.
40+ GT cars forming up to take the rolling start at 2.55pm was an awesome sight. Inevitably as the Bronze graded driver, Eric Dermont, was starting the #93 Porsche it wasn’t long before the Pro GT By Almeras entry dropped back down the field. In fact Alvaro Parente in the #98 ART Grand Prix McLaren had taken the lead before the cars had even made it through Copse corner with the #7 Bentley of Guy Smith and the #99 McLaren of Kevin Estre following suit.
And by the end of the first lap my prediction of a McLaren victory looked very likely as Parente had built up a healthy lead. However 2003 Le Mans winner Smith was able to peg the gap at roughly 3 seconds with Estre close behind in the Sister McLaren.
Traffic however caused issues for the Bentley and the more nimble McLaren in the hands of Estre was able to sneak by to make it an ART Grand Prix one two. Things would soon get worse for the lead Bentley as Smith was given a drive-through penalty for overtaking under yellow flags. To all intents and purposes it looked like the infamous British Marque’s challenge was over.
With the first hour up, the pit stops started to take place with Andy Meyrick taking over the #7, Gregoire Demoustier the #98 and Kevin Korjus climbing aboard the #99. For some reason the #98 seemed to fall off the pace and was quickly swallowed up by the sister #99 car of Korjus.
Meanwhile Meyrick had the bit between his teeth and was soon back up to third. And with a succession of qualifying like laps it wasn’t long before he had caught and passed the struggling #98 McLaren.
In Pro-AM, British GT regular, Joe Osborne was putting in a great drive to not only lead the class but to also lead the race as the MP Motorsport Aston chose to stay out longer to minimise Bronze driver Mark Poole’s time in the car. It looked like a great tactic with several faster drivers due to take over the other AM cars for the final stint. Unfortunately a safety car period shortly after Poole had taken over blew their tactics right out of the water with their healthy lead being completely wiped out.
Up front however the safety car had played into Bentley’s hands as the 16 second lead between the top two had been dramatically shortened. With the track back to green flag conditions the race was most definitely back on. Steven Kane, now in the #7, seemed to have the pace to catch former Formula 2 champ and Williams test driver, Andy Soucek in the #99 McLaren. And to the delight of the home crowd Kane managed to take the lead with a move down the inside at copse with only twenty minutes of the race remaining.
With the #98 McLaren continuing to struggle in the hands of Alexandre Premat, the battle for the final step on the Pro podium was an all Audi affair. Gregory Guilvert in the #26 Audi was driving the wheels off the Sainteloc machine but the experience of Laurens Vanthoor in the #1 WRT Audi finally paid off as he was able to snatch third place on the very last lap.
As anticipated Poole was not able to maintain the Pro-AM lead; however he did manage to bring the MP Motorsport Aston home in a very respectable second place behind the very quick RJN Nissan of Alex Buncombe and the GT Academy boys.
The Roal Motorsport BMW Z4 was just able to hold onto third in class with the very rapid Nicholas Armindo’s similar machine less than a second further back as the chequered flag was dropped.
Further-back, the Gentleman trophy honours went the way of Alexander Mattschull and Frank Schmickler in the aptly numbered 458 GT Corse By Rinaldi Ferrari.
The similar machine of AF Corse crew, Filipe Barreiros, Peter Mann and Francisco Guedes claimed second in class, with the #22 Team Parker Racing Audi R8 of Ian Loggie, Chris Jones and Julian Westwood rounding out the podium.
The relatively small crowd gave the ‘Bentley Boys’ a well deserved cheer as they took to the podium. It was great to see an all British team and crew win a major International motor race on home soil. I for one genuinely can’t remember seeing this happen before; The 2010 Nissan GT-R Tourist Trophy Victory for Jamie Campbell-Walter and Warren Hughes only being awarded after a respective exclusion and penalty for the two cars that finished ahead of it on the road.
Although a little fortunate with the safety car, it really was a great drive from the all British Bentley crew. Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane put in some phenomenal lap times to drag themselves back into contention and take what, at one point, seemed an unlikely victory.
A few more pics from the race
Full Results are available on the Blancpain Website – Link
Some of the drivers on display last weekend will be taking part in my next racing fix; The 24 hours of Le Mans; THE major highlight in my Motorsport year. But before then it is back to rallying with the Dukeries Rally in nearby Robin Hood Country.
All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)