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SMITH: Nürburgring Debrief

Guy Smith files his latest Sportscar365 column after Nurburgring…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency/SRO

Photo: Vision Sport Agency/SRO

Heading into the final round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at the Nürburgring, we knew that we had an outside chance of clinching both the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championship.

We really needed to win in order to make that happen. There was a crowd of cars and drivers in with a shout at the titles, which really sums up just how competitive the championship has been this year.

Practice started well, with Steven recording the fastest lap in Free Practice 1 and generally we felt like we had a good car heading into qualifying – we were dialed in to the track immediately.

With close to 60 cars in the field, traffic is always an issue and sometimes it can be difficult just to get a clear lap in qualifying – and this was certainly the case for us.

We ended the session in P7, which was good enough to launch a challenge in the race, but Steven wasn’t happy – he had traffic on his best lap, and was convinced he could’ve challenge for pole. However, the car was preforming well and our sister car, No. 31 (formerly No. 8) lined up one spot ahead in P6.

As usual I took the start, and I was keen to try and make up some places as the lights went green.

It got a little tight heading into turn one, yet I managed to out brake Alvaro Parente but came very close to hitting the other Bentley of Maxi Buhk! I think it went very quiet in the Bentley garage for a second or two!

We were able to run nose to tail in P5 and P6 for the first few laps before I managed to sneak past him on lap 10 into the first turn to move up to P5.

Maxi then did a great job as rear gunner, sticking with me as we closed in on the cars ahead with others right behind us. We planned to run a long first stint, using the Bentley Continental GT3’s low tire wear rate, and Maxi and I were the last of the leading pack to pit, handing over to Andy Meyrick and Maxime Soulet.

Andy rejoined and set about pushing forward, trying to close down the gap to the leaders. As usual he drove a great stint, keeping the pressure on to hand over the car to Steven in the best position possible to fight at the end.

The only fly in the ointment was the No. 58 McLaren that had started back in P24. It had taken a gamble on its strategy and ended up gaining a huge advantage from the second safety car – going from P10 to P1, leaping ahead of both the No. 23 Nissan and ourselves.

Steven set his sights on the Nissan, knowing that we needed the win to take the titles. Lap after lap Steven tried to get past the Nissan, with Al Buncombe fighting valiantly until he started to struggle with tyre wear but still utilizing their impressive straight-line speed to stay ahead.

Steven eventually made it past, only to have to give the place back after the race director disapproved of the light contact made between the two cars during the maneuver. Steven had it all to do again, while up front the No. 58 McLaren was stretching its lead to over 10 seconds.

Kaney managed to get back past a couple of laps later and set off after the McLaren but with only a handful of laps remaining he just ran out of time.

So, for the send year running we have finished runners up in both the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships, which are great achievements – especially with the caliber of drivers and teams this year.

I would like to thank my teammates Steven and Andy who have been brilliant all year, and all at Bentley Motorsport and Bentley Team M-Sport.

The work on and off the circuits has been second to none, the Continental GT3 goes from strength to strength and the team spirit is phenomenal. All in all, it’s been a great year.

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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