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SMITH: Spa 24 Debrief

Bentley’s Guy Smith files his Sportscar365 column following 24H Spa…

Photo: Brecht Decancq Photography

Photo: Brecht Decancq Photography

This year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa was a very mixed bag for us at M-Sport Bentley.

Getting both Continental GT3s to the finish in the top-20 at arguably one of the toughest races in the world was a great achievement, but I would be dishonest if I said we are not a little disappointed not to have finished a little higher up the order.

We had the pace and the reliability – what we were missing was the luck that such a long race needs.

I think we could easily have been in the top-10, maybe even the top-five, but two hours in we suffered a severed brake line due to the large amounts of debris on the track.

That dropped us back three laps and effectively ended our chances of a top-five result. In the very first stint we didn’t have our tire pressures right for the track temperature so we weren’t on the pace, but after adjusting that our pace was very close to that of the leaders

I’m sure every team has a similar story to tell but I really think we would have been right up there. Ultimately we didn’t have the outright performance of the Audis, which had received a large upgrade to their Balance of Performance (BoP) before the weekend.

Meanwhile we’d been hit with another BoP downgrade after our two wins, including carrying more ballast and with a lower boost pressure limit. Personally I think the BoP has now swung to be a little unfair to us, but that’s the nature of GT3 racing and we have to take the rough with the smooth.

What I am really happy about was the performance of the team. This was M-Sport Bentley’s first 24-hour race and the team excelled in every area. From the tire technicians to the mechanics, race engineers, team management and the support staff – everyone did a first class job and we’ll be back next year even stronger still.

You can tell people about endurance racing and 24-hour races in particular, but you can’t beat experiencing them first hand and despite a few tired people everybody thoroughly enjoyed themselves and everybody is already talking about next year.

The real star was the car, which was phenomenal. The only issues we had were due to external influence – Car No. 8 got hit on lap two which damaged the steering, and my car No. 7 had two debris impacts (one to the brake line that I mentioned earlier, and later to the front splitter).

Neither car had any mechanical or electrical failures in the race, which is a great display of the inherent reliability of the Continental GT3 despite this being the car’s first 24-hour race. That fact is a credit to all the people that have worked on the design and build of the car.

The race itself was pretty crazy, with a number of very serious accidents – many of which were immediately after a safety car period. I’m delighted to hear that ultimately, all of the drivers involved in incidents are alright, but my thoughts are with Marcus Mahy who’s still in hospital after a big shunt.

I think there’ll need to be discussions in the coming weeks and months about how to improve driver safety at the event – the number of serious incidents in the race was simply unacceptable.

As per the last few races, I took the start, which was actually really exciting – getting 60 cars through Eau Rouge on the first lap was a tight squeeze! My aim was to get a clean start and get the first stint out of the way so we could get in to the rhythm of the race.

We struggled with front grip as the high track temperatures over-heated our tyres, so I called for a pressure adjustment for the next stint which solved the problem. I battled with the cars around me but by the end of the stint I had dropped a couple of places, but I wasn’t overly concerned as I knew there was still plenty of racing ahead and after the pressure adjustment our pace was fantastic.

Unfortunately, it was during the second stint with Andy Meyrick at the wheel that we had the issue with the brakes. A piece of debris from a crash that brought out the safety car had got stuck in the front wheel and had then gradually worn through a brake line.

Luckily the brake line failed during a safety car so Andy was able to get it back to the pits safely and the M-Sport guys quickly set about fixing it.

The rest of the race was spent driving flat out, trying to claw back as many positions as we could, and we climbed from 50th after the brake line change to 13th at the finish.

It would’ve been even higher had we not had to repair the splitter after hitting more debris, or stop for new tires after a puncture near the end, but that’s the reality of endurance racing.

We didn’t pick up as many points as we would have liked at Spa, and while we have slipped to third place in the championship it’s very much all to play for, with the final round at the Nürburgring being a 1000 km race with extra points. See you there!

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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