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SMITH: Paul Ricard Debrief

Guy Smith files his latest Sportscar365 column following Paul Ricard…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

It was great to be back at Paul Ricard for round three of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup; there can’t be many other circuits that have such a great setting.

Of course, we have some great memories from there, having won the 2014 race and finishing in second place last year. It’s a circuit that really suits our Bentley Continental GT3 with a nice mix of corners and some long open straights and it always provides some great racing.

It’s no secret that 2016 has been a challenging year so far for the No. 7 Bentley so we were really keen to turn our season around at Paul Ricard.

With this race being a six-hour race, extra points are up for grabs, making it the ideal place to do get a good points haul in the bag heading into the Spa 24 Hours.

Free practice went well and Steven, Vince and myself were all happy with the balance of the car. We really tried to focus on setting the car up for the race and making the tires last, as Paul Ricard is notoriously hard on the rubber.

Steven did a great job in qualifying to line up in fourth place alongside Maxime Soulet in third in the No. 8 Bentley Continental GT3. He had a really good lap going, that could have been pole position, but he was blocked in the final sector, so that gave us a lot of confidence going into the race.

As usual, I took the start and was able to use the grunt of the Bentley V8 to jump into second place at turn one just ahead of Wolfgang Reip in the second Bentley.

As we came off Turn 7, the Ferrari ahead of me made a small mistake and I was able to get a run on him onto the long Mistral straight but at the same time Wolfgang and the McLaren of Rob Bell got a run on me, making it a four-car wide run up to the ultra-fast Singes corner.

It was a case of who’s going to blink first and I knew it wasn’t going to be me! So I was able to sweep around the outside and take the lead with Wolfgang slotting in behind me in second.

We got our heads down and tried to pull away from the pack. It was great to see both Bentley’s running up front!

I managed to pit from the lead at the end of my stint with Wolfgang just behind and we had decided that each of us in car No. 7 would double-stint, whereas car No. 8 was going to mix-up double and single stinting.

Car No. 8 managed to squeeze past but with hours of racing still to do, my aim was to keep close and keep us in contention for the end of the race.

Unfortunately, during a safety car period, I had the no ABS alarm flash up indicating that there was a problem. I tried to do all possible resets but it was evident that we had some kind of issue.

We pitted to hand over to Vince and to try and see what the issue was, Vince rejoined but had no ABS and had unfortunately had contact with another car forcing him to pit.

While they looked around the car, they found a faulty sensor and were able to change it which fixed the ABS issue.

Vince rejoined three laps down and began to try and claw back as much of the lost ground as possible. He completed a double stint before handing over to Steven who took over until the end.

We managed to finish in 13th place. It wasn’t what we were hoping for, especially after such a strong start, but at least we proved that we are back… we just need a little bit of luck!

Car No. 8 also had a tough race leading for most of it only to have a refueling issue with an hour to go and having a small pit fire.

Luckily everybody was fine and the car wasn’t damaged but valuable time was lost dropping them to 4th place at the finish.

It was a race with so much promise for us so to leave without ever car on the podium is disappointing however we look forward to taking that momentum to the next race the big one Spa 24 Hours.

Guy Smith (@TheGuySmith) is the 2003 winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and former American Le Mans Series champion, driving for the factory M-Sport Bentley squad in the Blancpain Endurance Series.

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