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SMITH: Nürburgring Debrief

Bentley’s Guy Smith files his final Blancpain GT column of the year…

Photo: Bentley

Photo: Bentley

It’s a great feeling to have ended the 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series fighting for the championship and finishing second overall in the first season of racing in the series for me, the Bentley Continental GT3 and the team.

At the start of the season, if you’d offered me runner-up in both the Teams and Drivers Championships along with two race wins, I would’ve laughed at you – but that’s how the season has transpired, and I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve achieved.

In truth, this year has exceeded all of our expectations. We knew from the outset that we had a great car in the Continental GT3, and a dedicated and passionate team in M-Sport Bentley, but the reality is that we really lacked experience.

The car had only been tested at a couple of tracks and we had no pit stop proficiency. However, we’ve learnt extremely quickly and gelled as team, and the results speak for themselves.

Going into last weekend’s race, the Nürburgring 1000 km, we knew we had an outside chance of winning the championship but knew it was a long shot. We needed to win the race, and for Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 1 WRT Audi to have a poor weekend – so it wasn’t entirely in our hands.

In practice and qualifying the pace of the car in the dry was pretty good – we were lacking some grip in certain corners but I think the same can be said of a lot of other teams. Our issue was that we had very little experience of the car in wet conditions as most of our running has been in the dry – not ideal, as the this race ended up being one of the wettest I’ve ever experienced.

I was on starting duty again and those first few laps were extremely difficult to say the least. There was so much standing water, streams running across the circuit and it was very tricky just to stay on the road.

After looking at the forecast the night before, we knew it was going to be a very wet race and so had made a raft of changes to the setup – and while it wasn’t perfect, we made some big steps in learning what the car likes in those conditions.

I had a good double stint and managed to keep my nose clean, as I knew that as long as we could stay out of trouble we would be in good shape. Andy Meyrick took over from me and drove smoothly over a solid stint, but unfortunately received two penalties.

The first was for speeding in the pit lane, which is so easily done, but the second was much more questionable. As Andy pitted to finish his stint, the onboard cameras showed him slacken his shoulder belts so he could jump out quickly.

He didn’t undo his belts, just loosened them, but the Race Director wasn’t happy and administered a penalty – which was a shame, as Andy drove really well in such challenging conditions.

Steven Kane drove the final double stint, and as the track dried he switched to slicks and was able to set some of the fastest times on the track. In the last half an hour, Steven was in 9th place behind the BMW of Alexander Sims, and we’d calculated that we needed to get by him to secure enough points for second in the Teams Championship.

Steven closed in slowly and applied pressure, and eventually Sims ran wide allowing Steven to get past and take 8th place – and more importantly, 5th in class, meaning we secured second place in both Championships.

It’s been a great first full season racing GT cars for me, in a year where I have learnt a great deal and pushed myself harder and harder.

I’ve really enjoyed going back to some of the circuits in Europe that I haven’t raced on for a decade, and hopefully I’ll be back with Bentley Motorsport again for the 2015 season. See you then!

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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