Bentley Team M-Sport takes first endurance win since 2014

© Marc de Mattia

The Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km race was won by Vincent Abril, Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet in the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental, the first endurance win for the British manufacturer since three years. At the end of the six-hour race, the Bentley Boys had a 29-second lead over the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Shaytar, Rigon and Molina, with a superb final stint giving third to the #1 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 of Rast, Garcia and Müller.

Just like in Silverstone, the Pro-Am Cup win went to the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini of Kujala, Amstutz and Kodric, with the #36 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW of Walkenhorst, Schiwietz and Vancampenhoudt taking their first win in the Am Cup.

Two safety car interventions in the opening hour of the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km gave the teams the opportunity to try an alternative strategy, by choosing to take an early pitstop. That made the race not only difficult to read, but also resulted in five different manufacturers (Mercedes-AMG, Jaguar, Ferrari, BMW and Bentley) taking the lead at some point during the race.

Halfway through the six-hour race the #99 ROWE Racing BMW of Sims, Martin and Eng – winners of last year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa – was in the lead, with a good chance of finishing on the podium. Their joy was shortlived however, as a technical issue meant the car dropped down the order.

That reduced the battle for the lead to a four-way fight, between the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental, the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari, polesitter #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon and the #50 Spirit of Race Ferrari. The latter fell by the wayside with under an hour to go, and with just 30 minutes to go the same cruel fate befell the #4 Black Falcon machine, taking away what would have been a well-deserved podium finish.

After the last pitstop the leading Bentley enjoyed a 32-second advantage over the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari and Maxime Soulet remained as faultless as co-drivers Andy Soucek and Vincent Abril had been, handing Bentley Team M-Sport its first endurance win since their victory at the 2014 Circuit Paul Ricard round.

In the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina and Victor Shaytar ended their best performance of the season with a well-deserved second place. It brings them to the front of the endurance driver standings as well.

Third went to the #1 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 of Antonio Garcia, Nico Müller and René Rast. The German driver produced a superb final stint, gaining several positions in the process and giving the Belgian squad a boost of confidence on the eve of the their home event, the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

For the leaders in the Blancpain GT Series driver standings, the #63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Bortolotti, Engelhart and Caldarelli and the #84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport of Buhk, Perera and Eriksson, the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km proved to be a nightmare. The latter retired with two hours to go, due to a suspected engine issue. The Lamborghini finished outside the points after it had to serve a one minute stop & go penalty for causing a collision. This results in Vincent Abril climbing up the rankings: in the overall driver standings the Bentley youngster is now only four points behind leaders Bortolotti-Engelhart.

In the Pro-Am Cup it was quickly clear that the drivers of the #97 Oman Racing Team with TF Sport Aston Martin and the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini would decide the outcome of this six-hour race. The Pro-Am winners of the Monza and Silverstone rounds respectively were at it hammer and tongs, but eventually Barwell Motorsport-trio Adrian Amstutz, Martin Kodric and Patrick Kujala took their second consecutive endurance class win, crossing the line with 25 seconds in hand over the Aston Martin.

In the Am Cup the win went to the #888 Kessel Racing Ferrari, even though the #36 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW crossed the line in first position. It was handed a 30 second stop&go-penalty converted into a time penalty after the finish, due to a stint violation. Jacques Duyver, David Perel and Marco Zanuttini inherited the win, strenghtening Perel’s lead in the overall Am Cup driver standings.

Maxime Soulet (#8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental, 1st): “The team did not tell me to stop pushing, it was only five laps from the end that I was told that I had a 34-second lead. That’s when I backed off a bit, but then I started to hear those strange noises in the car. Those last five laps seemed to last so long, but the final one was really good.