Bentley Team M-Sport has started its Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup campaign with a win, as a well-timed Full Course Yellow helped the No. 8 Bentley Continental GT3 of Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet to victory in Saturday night’s Qualifying Race at Misano.
A damp track made for mixed tire choices on the grid. While the front of the pack opted for rain tires, the No. 99 ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3 and No. 8 Bentley opted for slicks.
While the cars on slicks initially struggled to keep up and lost ground, they were able to leapfrog to the front during the first of two FCYs, when both Soucek and Alexander Sims pitted and rejoined with a considerable lead.
The pole-sitting No. 1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS of Laurens Vanthoor had built up a large margin at the front prior to the stops, but could do nothing about the strategic advantage that No. 8 Bentley and No. 99 ROWE BMW gained with the FCY for debris.
“The problem is that our car is not great under slippery conditions, so we had to play a bit of a gamble,” said Soucek.
“I made the call for slicks but after two laps I dropped back to P25 or something. Right as I told the team that we were losing too much time… All of a sudden it starts to dry up and the track came towards us, so we stayed out.”
Philipp Eng’s ROWE BMW charged toward the Bentley after the pitstops and came close to taking the lead, but in the end the German decided to play it safe.
“When I was right behind Maxime Soulet I tried a move, but it was still damp off line, so I chose not to take any risks and instead focus on the Main Race tomorrow,” Eng said.
Vanthoor and Vervisch still finished on the podium but ended the race more than 30 seconds behind the winners.
“I did a good start and came in with a six second lead. We did one of the quickest pistops and we came out 30 seconds behind. So we lost about 40 seconds because of the FCY,” Vanthoor said.
“This is quite a lot in my opinion. It should have been a normal safety car. We obviously feel a bit disappointed”
Laurens’ brother Dries made a strong Blancpain GT debut. While his teammate Frijns was battling for second before the stops, Vanthoor went on to overtake Dominik Baumann’s No. 84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 on a drying track and finished only 2.7s behind the sister No. 1 car.
The Rinaldi Racing Ferarri 458 Italia GT3 of Marco Seefried and Norbert Siedler finished in sixth after challenging early but suffered a slow pit stop. They finished in front of the Tristan Vautier and Flix Rosenqvist-driven AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3, which came home in 7th.
The No. 58 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 of Rob Bell and Alvaro Parente, which started in second, lost ground early on, but could still salvage a 10th place finish despite a spectacular and temporary engine malfunction.
Sunday’s Main Race gets underway at 2:15 p.m. local time.
RESULTS: Qualifying Race