Jules Gounon says he believes the “Racing Gods” were with Bentley in the dramatic final hour of Sunday’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
Gounon helped take the British manufacturer to its first major endurance race victory since the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours in a dominant performance that was nearly thwarted due to a late-race puncture for the No. 7 Bentley Continental GT3.
The Frenchman revealed they were due to only take fuel on their final scheduled stop, which suddenly changed to a four-tire stop after Gounon’s right-rear went down on the high-speed Conrod Straight.
It came as Gounon was caught up in a tight battle with the No. 999 GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo of Raffaele Marciello for the lead at the time.
“We were not for sure going for the four tires,” Gounon told Sportscar365. “That was our strategy to jump the Marciello car.
“We were talking on the radio to know what we were going to do about tires when I had the puncture on Conrod Straight.
“That was pretty lucky for us because I didn’t lose too much time in that puncture.”
Gounon emerged ahead of the GruppeM Mercedes Evo following the final round of scheduled stops and managed to bridge a gap over the Italian until he too faced a right-rear puncture.
“The last hour was really, really tense,” he said.
“In the beginning it was a hard push to try and make a gap to Marciello, which was going well. I was driving 100 percent to try and make the gap.
“Then Marciello got the puncture so suddenly we arrived with a 55-second lead.
“That was even harder than pushing because you were just listening to every noise of the car. Normally you don’t listen to those noises.
“I think the team was really, really scared about the punctures so my last four laps were 2:10 or 2:11s. I was really taking care and not touching any curbs or anything.”
Gounon said he was also quite nervous about the incoming weather, with high winds and dark clouds surrounding Mount Panorama in the final hour.
“I was really scared because Bentley always say in their posts ‘Bring the Thunder’ and suddenly I see [lightning] in the straight and I’m like, ‘No way!’
“It’s for sure when you ask for something it’s going to come.
“I was always on the radio asking for a weather update.
“At one point halfway through the stint I started to see [rain] drops and I thought it was going to be tricky.
“We have been lucky. I passed the line and the [rain] drops were massive. It’s one of those days where the Racing Gods are with you.”
Bentley Motorsport director Paul Williams told Sportscar365 they saw the potential of punctures as a “key risk” in the final few hours and were debating what to do on the final stop.
“Then the puncture swung it,” Williams said. “We were able to respond. The guys were so fast and we pulled it off.”
Williams: “Nerve-Wracking” Watching No. 7 Car Dominate
Williams admitted it was tough watching the No. 7 Bentley at the front of the pack for so much of the race.
The first long-distance endurance win for the Bentley Continental GT3 came after a challenging start to the weekend that saw both cars parked in the garage on Friday with mechanical issues.
The race-winning No. 7 Bentley of Gounon and co-drivers Jordan Pepper and Maxime Soulet underwent an engine change, while a brake failure resulted in a heavy accident for Oliver Jarvis in the No. 8 car on Saturday morning.
While the Malcom Wilson-led M-Sport crew repaired the No. 8 car for Sunday, it ultimately retired in the race due to a spin and puncture.
“It’s been a hard battle,” Williams said. “We struggled a bit this week. We had problems with an engine, we had various different things.
“Today, it was just nerve-wracking just sitting at the front.
“To see the Car 8 fight all the way from the back and at one point it was sixth. It was fantastic.
“The team did a fantastic job and was just so consistent through the day. We made careful decisions with strategy and the guys in the pits in the end were mega.
“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve wanted one of these for a long time. Brian Gush [former Bentley Motorsport director] always wanted to be here and win it and it never happened.”