Lucas Ordonez and Markus Palttala are using this weekend’s California 8 Hours as a learning experience in their first race outings with Bentley Team M-Sport.
The pair of GT3 veterans are making their Bentley Continental GT3 debuts ahead of the British manufacturer’s four-car factory entry in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, which will feature an influx of drivers to the lineup.
Ordonez, Nissan’s first GT Academy winner, was left without a ride after his ten-year relationship with the Japanese manufacturer came to an abrupt end late last year following Nissan’s decision to scale back its GT3 involvement.
“After what happened at the end of the year, everything was not looking great. Now thanks to Bentley, I’ve got this opportunity [as well as] the Spa 24, so I’m really excited,” Ordonez told Sportscar365.
Palttala, meanwhile, joins the Bentley fold after Emil Frey Racing’s Blancpain GT Series program shifted to International GT Open, which opened the door for the Finn to explore new opportunities.
While joined by Maxime Soulet in the No. 108 Bentley this weekend, Ordonez and Palttala will team up with fellow Nissan refugee Alex Buncombe for Spa, with Bentley’s other additional GT3 entry set to feature Callum Macleod, Seb Morris and Rodrigo Baptista.
“I think [Bentley] did a good mix with it because they added two cars, so they obviously needed six more drivers,” Palttala told Sportscar365.
“One car is filled with guys racing Bentleys all around World Challenge and British GT. Us, with a lot of experience with other brands. I think it’s a good mix and a good way to spread the opportunities.”
While Palttala is no stranger to Laguna Seca, having claimed his first victory on U.S. soil here in 2014 with Turner Motorsport, this weekend’s Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli round marks Ordonez’s long-awaited Laguna Seca debut.
The gamer-to-racer, who has spent his entire professional career with Nissan, said his transition from the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 to the similarly-sized Bentley has been a positive experience so far.
“Obviously they’re two of the biggest cars in the GT3 field,” Ordonez said.
“I was really looking forward to trying a different car. The Bentley is fantastic.
“The mechanical grip, the downforce in high-speed corners, the traction, which is the lowest point for the Nissan. In this Bentley car [the traction] is amazing.
“I’m really enjoying it at the moment. Driving on the right-hand side is not as usual for me as driving on the left, but I’m getting used to it quickly.”
Both Ordonez and Palttala got their first laps in the Bentley in seperate Blancpain GT pre-season tests at Monza and Paul Ricard, with the Finn admitting he’s still “discovering things” with the second-generation GT3 contender.
“The goals for this weekend is to learn as much as possible, to adapt to the car and to the track, which is very slippery,” Ordonez added.
“I was really impressed how low grip it is in this track. I need to do the best job possible for the team.”