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SMITH: Setting Things Straight from Monza

Guy Smith on Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup incident at Monza…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Last Sunday, Bentley Team M-Sport raced at Monza. In the opening laps, a series of events took place that resulted in our No. 7 car being disqualified from race.

As might be expected, we’ve had a lot criticism thrown our way as the facts of the situation weren’t clear on the TV broadcast.

Now the dust has settled, I’d like to let Sportscar365 readers know what really happened in that lap one incident, why Bentley Team M-Sport didn’t pit sooner and how I’m disappointed that so many fans and media were quick to jump to conclusions.

It’s easiest if I start with the incident. We had qualified well and were on the grid in fourth. The start was a bit messy, to be honest. The control car perhaps didn’t make it the smoothest of starts and, with 50+ cars piling into Monza’s turn one, this affected everyone’s rhythm.

So, we’ve come through the Parabolica at the end of the formation lap and we’re all packed really closely together. I have clear space ahead of me – I just need to push along the straight as the lights go green and see how much ground I can make up.

I have a green Lamborghini to my left and a yellow Ferrari to my right. As the race starts, I get the jump on the green Lamborghini to my left, which is then in my blindspot and very close to me.

He has room to his left that he could have moved into but that was his choice. The yellow Ferrari to my right moved towards me and I shadowed his movement.

My rear left wheel made contact with the front right wheel arch of the Lamborghini as I moved to miss the Ferrari and correct a small oversteer, so that no more cars were affected, but unfortunately the Lambo went on to the grass, braked and span. The rest, well, you know.

The race was red flagged and I radioed my team to ask if everyone involved was okay. They said they would let me know if anyone had been injured.

It was then that I was informed that our team manager Matthew Wilson had been called to race control.

Soon after the race restarted, I received a 15-second stop-and-go penalty for causing the incident. Before taking the penalty, Matthew ran back up to the stewards to say that on-board from the cars behind would show I wasn’t at fault.

At this point, it’s not so much about the penalty or race result, it’s a team manager wanting justice for his team and driver. We all feel passionate about looking after each other in these situations.

At first, the stewards didn’t want to listen to Matthew, who had asked for the penalty to be reviewed post-race (when he could have presented data from our logger and on-board footage from the cars behind).

The chief steward agreed that the incident would be reviewed once the race was over. All the time, I was told to continue circulating until they had reached an agreement.

Finally, under the guidance of the stewards, we agreed to take the penalty and Matthew returned to the garage to fill in the post-race appeal form. I was told to pit so take the penalty, and that there would be an official waiting in the right place to wave me in and time the stop-and-go penalty.

However, when I pitted, the pit lane was empty – the penalty box was empty.

I carried on moving so as not to block the pitlane or another garage and, in the confusion, continued past our garage and back on track. I was then told that before I pitted a black flag had been waved, so that’s why no one was in the penalty box. I was told to return to the pits and park the car in the garage.

Having had reassurance from the stewards that the issue was being discussed, our team hadn’t for a moment thought that we would be black flagged. We had followed the procedure and been in constant communication with them.

We were still racing under the proviso that the penalty would be discussed after the race and didn’t need to be served immediately.

I guess the stewards and race control hadn’t been communicating and the latter assumed that we were just ignoring them. This is certainly not the case.

I have been racing for more than 20 years and have nothing but respect for event organizers, race officials and the team manager that I am racing for. I followed the instructions of my team, who were under the guidance of the stewards.

I’ve seen the TV footage of the events and we looked disrespectful and disorganized – but I want to give you my word that we pride ourselves on our team management and our cooperative, constructive relationship with the race officials and the SRO.

As for the team, they have been misrepresented by the media massively (many of whom didn’t even ask for our side of the story). Luckily there are outlets like Sportscar365 that will give teams and drivers the opportunity to explain themselves.

All-in-all it was a very unfortunate mess, but it’s important to remember that we were all simply trying our hardest to secure a great result with a car that we knew was on the pace.

Miscommunications happen, especially in the heat of the moment. The team and I aren’t pointing fingers at anyone – it’s racing and we all want the same thing.

However, when the facts are not obvious, it’s always better if people find out the full story before making a rash judgement.

We’ve learnt our lessons as a team. We’ve had a long, constructive and collaborative conversation with the SRO, who have apologized for their communications issues, and I’m confident that our great relationship with them is still maintained.

We are working closely with them on how we can both improve. We race on – next up is Silverstone in just over two weeks’ time and I can’t wait to get racing again.

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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