Arriving in Paul Ricard on a high from my recent win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I was looking forward to trying to repeat that feat in the Blancpain GT Series Paul Ricard 1000kms. The early signs were looking good with testing going well and the car looking extremely competitive.
Ahead of qualifying we were unsure of where we stood, as we often feel that some of our competitors don’t always show their true potential in testing. So, we were extremely happy to qualify in sixth as we were confident we had a good race car and could therefore fight for the win.
Guy [Smith] took the start and did an amazing job to move into third behind the Mercedes and Ferrari within the first few corners.
After 15 laps, there was a safety car, which caused a lot of teams a dilemma; it was just before we had estimated the pit window to open and was ever so slightly too early.
Despite this, several teams chose to pit and took on differing strategies with some taking tires and fuel and others just fuel.
We came in the following lap and took tires and fuel. When we rejoined we came out in 15th place and initially I thought that we had lost a lot of track position but, once the safety car pitted and the race resumed it was clear that there was a lot of different strategies throughout the field with many teams yet to pit and it wasn’t long before we were back up to fourth.
Unfortunately, after 19 laps of Guy’s second stint, we had a fuel pressure issue and had to pit the car.
Having solved the issue, we headed back out a lap down but just behind the leaders. At this point I still believed that if we could pass the leaders, and get a bit of luck with a safety car, that we could get the lap back and that would put us right back in the race.
I took over from Guy and came out in 42nd place. By lap 25 of my stint I had managed to work my way back through the field to 21st but bad luck struck again and we suffered the same fuel pressure issue… this time we stopped on track.
I managed to get it going again after a full power cycle but it cost us a minute and the possibility of getting back in the race was gone.
Both myself and Steven Kane pushed on but towards the end of his first stint the gremlin came back and, to avoid interrupting the race by stopping on track, the team took the decision to retire the car.
The big positive of the weekend was that our sister car No. 8 managed to win the race. It’s not always easy to see your teammates win especially when you’ve had a tough race but I was really pleased for Andy, Maxime, Vince and the team. They did a perfect job and it was fully deserved!
Seeing them win proves that Bentley Team M-Sport has everything in place to win big races. I just hope we have got our bad luck out of the way heading into the big race of the year, the 24 Hours of Spa.