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SMITH: Paul Ricard Debrief

Bentley’s Guy Smith files column following victory at Paul Ricard…

Photo: Brecht Decancq Photography

Photo: Brecht Decancq Photography

We did it! Scoring our second Blancpain Endurance Series win of the season at Paul Ricard is a dream come true, as we never expected to be this competitive so soon in the season.

It really underlines all the hard work that the team has put in over the last 12 months. It also shows how far we’ve come – at the same weekend last year, we debuted the car to the public when I drove the Continental GT3 up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

The weekend started off quite tough. We knew that Paul Ricard would be very hard on the tires, so we really focused on setting the car up for the race and not looking for a fast qualifying lap.

During the practice sessions we were often well outside the top-10 and it wasn’t looking like it was going to be an easy weekend for us.

Qualifying was a little better, with us qualifying just inside the top-10 in 9th , which became 7th when a couple of cars ahead of us were handed grid penalties.

I was on starting duties again this weekend as we felt it worked well for us at Silverstone. I was able to get a great start, moving up to 4th after the first couple of laps, before I set about chasing down the third placed McLaren of Stef Dusseldorf.

Halfway through my stint I could see him starting to struggle for grip, while my tires where still holding up well, and as we started to catch traffic I was able to find my way by and set my sights on the second placed Nissan.

With the Bentley being so great on its tires the race really started to come to us and again I was able to close up and make a pass on the Nissan for second. I wanted to close the gap to Parente in the lead to a minimum so when I handed the car over to Andy he would be in a position to fight for the lead.

After we completed our first round of pit stops Andy rejoined behind the ART GP McLaren and immediately started to pile on the pressure, closing the gap over just a handful of laps. At the midpoint of the race he was able to find his way past into the lead with a great move at the final corner.

With an hour to go Andy pitted and swapped over to Steven, who rejoined right ahead of the McLaren now with Nicolas Lapierre at the wheel.

The next hour was one of the longest of my life, with the gap between them growing and then shrinking as they made their way through the traffic.

The tension in the pit garage was unbearable, but Kaney is just awesome when under pressure and the team was feeding him all the information he needed to maintain the gap without destroying his tires.

Steven kept a cool head and drove a brilliant stint, and was able to bring the Bentley over the line to score our second win of the season.

We have now moved into the lead of the drivers’ championship as we head into Spa, which is without doubt the headline race of the season. There are a huge number of points up for grabs and we’ll be looking to score as many possible to maintain, and hopefully build on, our lead at the top of the championship.

It’s important for us to stay focused and get our preparation right heading to Spa. Any 24-hr race is the ultimate motorsport challenge, but it’s one that we are excited to be taking on. See you there!

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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