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JEAN: Getting 2020 Back On Track

Bentley Academy driver Pierre-Alexandre Jean files his first Sportscar365 column…

Photo: CMR Racing

I think everyone would agree that a lot has changed in 2020 and that we are all trying hard to keep moving forward when so much in our lives is standing still.

This weekend, in the CMR Bentley Continental GT3 – when I went fourth fastest in qualifying and climbed seven places in the race – I finally felt that my 2020 was getting back on track.

At just 19 years old, this is a crucial year in my career. After winning International GT4 in 2018 and finishing runner-up in French GT4 in 2019, I had an incredible opportunity to step up to GT3 racing with CMR and race as one of only four drivers in the new Bentley Motorsport Academy.

It was the perfect career progression for me.

And then, boom… everything went on hold for five months and we didn’t know what the future held. I’m just so grateful that SRO made the season happen, Bentley continued the Academy and CMR were able to keep the program together.

I’ve raced with CMR for almost three years now and they are an awesome team. We won International GT4 together and they are like family to me. When we finally arrived at the first round of GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup together last month, we knew it would be tough, but we were on this journey as a team and with the support of Bentley behind us.

Photo: Drew Gibson/Bentley

I won’t lie, I left the first round at Imola deflated – we were always going to be on the back-foot but, with COVID-19 preventing us from testing as much as we would have liked, we struggled a lot.

After a few days, however, I could see that the team was pushing hard and working every day. I realized how much we had learned as a team and that this learning was continuing even away from the track.

Bentley works driver Seb [Morris] and I had formed a good friendship and I knew I could trust in him. Perhaps things weren’t going so bad after all?

Arriving at Nürburgring, I could feel that Imola may not have given us a good result but that we’d built the foundations for something exciting – I could feel that being part of Bentley was something special.

The head of customer racing, Tom Hodgson, was there once again and was working hard with me and the rest of CMR to help us move forward, and Seb was giving me advice (he’s raced this car for three years now so knows it well).

Myself and the other three Bentley Motorsport Academy drivers also had the first of our Bentley Comms training sessions, which really gave me the
confidence to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity at Bentley and made me feel even closer to the factory.

But it was on track that my Nürburgring weekend really hit a peak.

In pre-qualifying I was smiling so hard that my face was hurting. I’ve never in my career felt a car so well hooked-up. Driving it was sheer joy and I knew, as a team, we had found the sweet spot. Going into qualifying was more exciting than nerve-wracking. I knew that if I got a clear lap, I could go really fast.

Photo: CMR Racing

Qualifying at GT World Challenge Europe takes the average lap time of the three drivers to determine the car’s grid position.

I like that it’s a team sport but it’s also important for me at this stage in my career to highlight my individual achievements – I need to take these opportunities to shine.

In my session, I qualified fourth out of 50 drivers on track and I’m pleased with that. I think I showed what I am capable of.

The race saw me take my first ever double stint – it was two of the best hours of my life. After starting in P16, I climbed up through the chaos to get up to P9 and handed the car over to Nelson without any damage.

The team did an incredible job in the pitstops – they were, at one point, the fastest pitstop of the race – and we crossed the line in P15 after six hours of some of the most-competitive racing I have ever seen.

I want to say congratulations to the guys at K-PAX Racing for fighting in the top five and finishing P6. They may be very experienced with the car, but it is only their second race in Europe, so that’s an impressive result.

I think all of the Bentley teams are feeling good heading into the 24 Hours of Spa. We still have progress to make but we are all working hard and sharing information.

And, at least the Nürburgring event gave us practice in all weather conditions… I think we’re going to need it!

Photo: Drew Gibson/Bentley

Pierre-Alexandre Jean (@PAJean_Official) is a Bentley Academy Driver, competing in GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup with customer team CMR Racing.

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