Six weeks after he found out he lost his drive at Nissan, Wolfgang Reip has landed a fresh new factory deal with M-Sport Bentley, joining the British manufacturer for this year’s Blancpain GT Series season.
The 29-year-old Belgian will defend his Blancpain Endurance Cup title in the No. 8 Bentley Continental GT3 alongside Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet.
Sportscar365 caught up with Reip, the 2012 Nissan GT Academy European Champion, to get his thoughts on his next chapter of his racing career.
When and how did you find out you wouldn’t continue with Nissan this season and what were your first thoughts after you got the news?
“I got the news on Feb. 1. I was quite surprised, but in another way I knew it could happen due to Darren Cox leaving and the collapse of the LMP1 project.
“So all things considered, I knew it could happen, but I was still very surprised, especially after the results we got last year.
“Straight away I tried to look for other options, but I was still very grateful to Nissan for the opportunity they gave me over the past three years.”
You barely had any time to find a new drive, let alone a factory deal. Were you able to use some of the connections you had built up over the past seasons?
“I had connections, but nothing really concrete. I just tried to call the people I knew, telling them I was available.
“In the end I had a few other opportunities with other brands. The most obvious one was definitely Bentley. I knew I had been on their radar for a few weeks already, but it was still a very big surprise.”
How did the first test with Bentley at Paul Ricard go and were you able to show your full potential? How much did still depend on it?
“The test at Paul Ricard is the only running with the Continental GT3 I’ve had so far. It was a long winter break for me, the last time I raced was in November.
“I knew I had to do a solid job more than try to impress the team with a qualy lap. Bentley was looking for something else, mainly a consistent driver.
“I’m quite happy with the performance I delivered at the test. We worked quite well together. I spent a lot of time with the team and got to know them better. You always want to do better, but everyone was happy.”
The Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 and Bentley Continental GT3 are both big cars that share some similarities at first sight; did this also play a role?
“For the team it may have helped a bit, because both cars are big and front engined. Obviously it’s not a completely different car like for example an Audi or a Lamborghini, so it was a factor.
“On the other hand the Nissan GT-R and Bentley Continental are quite different in the way they behave. Even though they are quite similar, they are also different.”
Your new co-drivers Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet seem to get along well on and off the track; do you think you’ll be able to form a coherent lineup with them?
“Bentley is looking for a strong team spirit and Maxime and Andy get along really well. They were looking for someone that could match their spirit, and I think I will fit in.
“I have known Maxime for a while now. We’ve been talking with each other quite a lot last year and it’s always nice to have a fellow countryman as a teammate.
“Andy is fast and he already has a long career behind him, he was even involved in Formula One. I’m really looking forward to having a good time with them.”
Bentley only narrowly missed out on the Blancpain Endurance title on its first two attempts, so the team’s ambitions must be high. Besides defending your own drivers’ title, what other goals have you set yourself?
“Bentley completely changed the lineup on the No. 8 car after the first season and now they are looking for some consistency in the lineup as well.
“With Andy and Maxime starting their second season together, I think I can match that. Our ambition is to be at the front.
“I think we’ll be able to work quite well with the No. 7 car, they are all great guys and very fast drivers. If both cars can help each other, I think that’s how we are going to get the results.
“It’s a very good position to be in a team and a car that is able to win the championship. After finishing second the last two seasons, now they really want to win it.”
Back to the Nissan GT Academy. Even though you’re no longer part of the program, signing a factory deal with another manufacturer might one of the biggest achievements of the Academy so far…
“It’s the first time in GT Academy history that this has happened. I’m really proud of it. It shows that the program is working. You can actually win a competition from gamer to racer and become a proper racing driver that is able to get a factory drive. It’s incredible.
“Obviously it was my goal to achieve a factory drive somewhere else at some point in my career, but I didn’t think it could happen after only three years.
“I hope this will give credibility to GT Academy drivers and also to racing in general.
“It’s quite easy to judge people on how they get into racing, but you need to be open-minded and to give everybody a chance. In the end it’s the results that matter.”
Do you expect fellow graduates that were dropped to be able to find something similar?
“Gaetan Paletou showed some really great things last season in LMP3, and it’s great for because of that he might have the opportunity to test and also race. Florian might have found something else as well.”
Now that you have your new drive with Bentley, how will you experience competing against the Nissan GT-R, your old team and teammates?
“That was already a really funny situation at the test day. I have spent almost four years with them, so I know them really well. It might also be an advantage; I know exactly the strengths and the weaknesses of the Nissan.
“Actually it would be great to meet them on the track and to be able to fight with Alex Buncombe for example.
“He’s a very good driver and a strong fighter on the track. It will be a cool experience for sure. We know each other really well, so I know it will stay fair for sure.”