After over a month’s sabbatical, the Blancpain Endurance Series got back on track at Circuit Paul Ricard. It was a hard-fought battle from beginning to end at the French circuit. In the end, one manufacturer saw itself back on the top step for the first time in two years.
Bentley last won at Zandvoort in 2015. Andy Soucek, Maxime Soulet and Vincent Abril took the the checkered flag in the No. 8 Continental GT3, with a half-minute advantage over the pack.
The crew from Crewe wasn’t the favoured team heading into the weekend. Two Ferraris set the fastest lap times in practice, sitting up top for the first time this season. The No. 72 SMP Racing car was a particularly strong contender. It won the second qualifying round (1:57.607), and would eventually finish the race 2nd.
However, at the end of the last qualifying session the results listed the No. 4 Team Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 at the top. The team cleared the course with a rapid lap of 1:56.442, ensuring a leading position for the feature race.
Luck smiled on the Black Falcon team for almost the entire race. Despite various accidents during the race, the team kept the pack behind. Unfortunately, half an hour before the race finish, the team experienced a mechanical problem. What was supposed to be a podium title ended in an unfortunate retirement.
The ROWE Racing’s No. 99 BMW M6 GT3 — winner of the 2016 Spa 24 Hours event — proved to be another strong competitor through the first half of the race. Before it retired due to mechanical problem it was leading for two hours straight.
The winning Bentley team qualified 8th, but would finish the race 1st after 170 laps and a comfortable 29.272 seconds in advantage over the SMP Racing Ferrari. “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”, recalled Soulet post-race.
As mentioned, second place went to the No. 72 Ferrari of Shaytar, Molina and Rigon. The No. 1 Audi Sport Team WRT settled into the final podium spot.
For more insight on the last weekend’s occurrences, check the official website. The next race scheduled on July 27-30 will be the exciting 24 Hours of Spa.
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