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SMITH: Monza Debrief

Bentley’s Guy Smith files his Sportscar365 column following BES season opener…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency/SRO

Photo: Vision Sport Agency/SRO

It feel great to get the 2015 season underway in the Blancpain Endurance Series. We’ve actually already raced once this year already, at the Bathurst 12 Hour, where we finished in 4th place after a strong race that had us leading in the last hour.

We had such a great debut season for the Bentley Continental GT3 in 2014, winning at both Silverstone and Paul Ricard and finishing second in the championship. To top that is going to be very difficult this year but that’s not to say we won’t be trying!

Heading into Monza we felt quietly confident that we could have a good race as we’ve been working really hard in the off season to develop all the areas that we felt we could improve on after last season – especially the chassis setup.

This season, the competition has really taken a step up with over 30 pro cars in the 60-car field, and the series boasts some extremely strong driver line-ups. It really is the most competitive field I have ever seen, as the series goes from strength to strength.

There are also a few new cars and teams in the championship, which also adds to the competition. So Monza was first opportunity to see just how all the cars compare against each other.

The Ferraris were very fast, as they always are at Monza, and occupied much of the first half of the grid. Lamborghini debuted their new Huracan and were also very quick, and both they and the Ferraris had a decent advantage over the rest of the field on the long straights.

In the practice sessions we focused on setting up the car for the race and not getting drawn in to any outright single-lap times.

After the first session we knew we were getting close to the sweet spot in terms of balance and handling, and the car felt fantastic through the Lesmos and Parabolica.

Steven Kane qualified our car and did a brilliant job to secure 10th place on the grid, which meant that we would be starting at the sharp end and out of the big clump of cars heading down into turn one at the start. Given the size of the field, this was vitally important.

As usual I was given the job of starting the race and my focus was to get a clean start and stay out of trouble, which is not always easy heading into the first chicane!

I managed to get a good start and move up to P6 whilst avoiding any contact. The Continental GT3 was feeling really good immediately, and as the race settled down the car proved consistent throughout my stint which allowed my to pit in from an effective P5 on the track and hand over to Andy Meyrick.

As usual Andy drove a great stint keeping the pressure on and looking after the car, keeping us in contention for the podium before handing over to Steven for the final hour.

Steven set off chasing down Laurens Vanthoor in the Audi as both cars moved towards the front. Unfortunately Steven was tagged into a spin by one of the Am cars that he had just passed, losing 15 seconds, but was able to rejoin to try and make up some of the lost ground.

We eventually crossed the line in an excellent fifth place overall and third in the Pro class, which became fourth overall and second in class once the Lamborghini that won had been excluded on a technical irregularity.

Scoring a second in class was as a great result for us as we focus on challenging for the championship.

We have to score good points at every round so we know that we will have to keep pushing and working hard. This year is going to be very tough and consistency is going to be the key to a good championship position.

Our next race will be the Nurburgring 24 and then straight onto Silverstone for round two of the championship… I can’t wait!!

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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