Only one month after scoring its maiden win at Silverstone, the M-Sport run No. 7 Bentley Continental GT3 of Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane scored another win in the Blancpain Endurance Series, in a race that ran into the night on the Paul Ricard circuit.
Starting from seventh on the grid, Guy Smith soon made up a couple of positions at the start to end up in second behind pole-sitting No. 98 ART GP McLaren of Alvaro Parente at the end of his one hour stint.
With Gregoire Demoustier taking over the leading McLaren for the middle stint, Meyrick immediately began to close the gap on old tires and eventually took the lead halfway the race with a great maneuver to open up a gap of 8 seconds before handing over to Kane.
That lead was reduced to almost nothing after a slower second and final pitstop of the Bentley crew, meaning that Kane in the No. 7 Bentley and Nicolas Lapierre in the No. 98 McLaren started the final hour nose to tail.
Both drivers pushed their cars to the limit on the pitch black Paul Ricard circuit, with the gap rising and falling depending on the traffic.
“I made a few mistakes with the traffic; passing the cars in the dark, getting blocked and going off line with dirty tires as a consequence,” Steven Kane said afterwards.
“The race kind of came to us, the Bentley is so good on its tires, while the others were struggling on them,” Guy Smith added.
“It was all really nail biting, Steven (Kane) drove fantastic under pressure, but that’s what Blancpain racing is all about.”
Lapierre put the leading Bentley under pressure in the cooler conditions, but eventually couldn’t launch an attack, finishing a mere 1.178s behind Kane.
“It was my first time in a GT car since a long time, so a was a bit careful in the beginning,” said Lapierre.
“In the end when the temperature dropped, it seemed that the car got better than the Bentley. We could catch up a bit, but then in the traffic I was not sharp enough.
With the first and second placed cars starting the race equal on points, Smith-Meyrick-Kane now move into the lead of the championship, seven points clear of Demoustier and Parente in second.
However, both M-Sport and ART GP also faced setbacks, with their second cars not making it to the finish.
The No. 99 McLaren that was demoted to the back of the grid after an engine change, retired after making contact with the Emil Frey Jaguar on the first lap, while the Bentley No. 8 lost drive halfway with a suspected transmission related problem.
However, ART Grand Prix remains on top in the Pro Cup Team Classification, a single point clear of the Bentley boys.
The No. 85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Stef Dusseldorp, Luca Wolf and Sergei Afanasiev won the battle for the third and final spot on the podium, with the latter one passing teammate Nico Verdonck in No. 84 car on the final lap, who was hampered by understeer.
The No. 26 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra of Edward Sandström, Stephane Ortelli and Gregory Guilvert finished a close fifth, only half a second adrift of the HTP Mercedes of Verdonck.
Once again the French Sainteloc team outpaced the Audis of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, with the No. 3 of Christopher Mies, James Nash and Frank Stippler finishing in seventh and the No. 1 of Marc Basseng, Laurens Vanthoor and Cesar Ramos on a distant P13 after a difficult weekend and a lack of top speed.
The No. 12 TDS Racing BMW Z4 of Nick Catsburg and Henry Hassid came in sixth and won the Pro-Am class after an impressive middle stint of Nick Catsburg who got as high as third before handing the car over to Hassid.
The No. 90 Scuderia Villorba Corse Ferrari 458 and the No. 35 GT Academy Team RJN Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 completed the podium in the biggest class of the field, with the former taking over the lead in the championship.
It was Katsumasa Chiyo who delivered an impressive opening stint in the No. 35 Nissan and who was the only one able to follow the leading McLaren in the first half hour of the race.
Pierre Ehret, Alexander Mattschull, Frank Schmickler remained unbeaten with their No. 458 GT Corse by Rinaldi Ferrari in the Gentlemen Trophy and scored a third victory in a row.