Rob Bell, Shane Van Gisbergen and Come Ledogar took their second Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup victory in Saturday’s Paul Ricard 1000km for Garage 59, beating the No. 50 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 with a well-timed final pitstop.
With the early pace-setting M-Sport Bentleys losing time with issues, the battle for the lead boiled down to a duel between the No. 58 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 and the No. 50 AF Corse Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Michele Rugolo and Pasin Lathouras.
Pier Guidi overtook Van Gisbergen’s McLaren on outright speed 90 minutes from the end, but the McLaren regained that position by making its final pitstop during a Full Course Yellow, while the Ferrari came in one lap later under green.
At the same time a refueling fire dropped the then-leading No. 8 Bentley back to fourth, resulting in a 27-second lead for Van Gisbergen.
Pier Guidi soon started closing in again, but eventually the McLaren crossed the line with a 3.376-second gap.
Pier Guidi felt the timing of the FCY cost them a possible win: “We were too close to the pit when the FCY came out and we couldn’t come in at that moment,” he said.
“I regained more than 20 seconds in the final hour but is was not enough.
“We are happy to be here because in the first two races we were not on the pace with the new car.”
Following their Monza win and the extra big haul of points on offer this weekend, Bell and Garage 59 retake the lead in the overall Blancpain GT teams’ and drivers’ standings ahead of the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
After setting the pace in the first few hours, it was Bentley’s race to lose.
A long pitstop to fix ABS issues dropped the No. 7 Continental GT3 of Guy Smith, Vincent Abril and Steven Kane out of contention early on, but the No. 8 entry of Maxime Soulet, Wolfgang Reip and Andy Soucek remained on course for victory right until the final hour.
Soucek had a controlling 35-second lead when the car got a drive-through for gaining around 20 seconds during a lengthy FCY at the end of the second hour, slashing his lead to only 7 seconds.
However, a big flash fire during refueling at the final stop dropped the No. 8 car back to fourth, 11 seconds behind the No. 3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS of Jan Magnussen, Filipe Albuquerque and Rodrigo Baptista, which finished third.
Nissan wasn’t able to repeat last year’s victory but still showed strong pace with the No. 23 GT-R NISMO GT3 of Alex Buncombe, Lucas Ordonez and Mitsunori Takaboshi.
A spin dropped the Japanese GT3 car outside top-30 early on, but the trio brought it back up to P5, one lap down on the leaders.
The No. 84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 of championship leaders Maxi Buhk and Dominik Baumann was on course for a solid top-five finish when gearbox issues brought the car to a halt with two hours still on the clock.
Another title contender to lose out was the No. 1 WRT Audi of Frédéric Vervisch and Laurens and Dries Vanthoor, the car sustaining damage after making contact with the winning McLaren when battling for third.
Pro Am Cup honors went to the No. 11 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Broniszewski/Bonacini/Rizzoli finishing eighth overall, while a 22nd overall finish secured the Am Cup silverware for the sister No. 888 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Zanuttini/Gitlin/Talbot.
RESULTS: Paul Ricard 1000km