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SMITH: Silverstone Debrief

Bentley Boy Guy Smith checks into Sportscar365 after Silverstone win…

Photo: Bentley

Photo: Bentley

I have been looking forward the Silverstone round of the Blancpain Endurance Series since I knew I would be racing in the championship. It’s been 14 years since I last raced properly in the UK, and that was in the Silverstone round of the ALMS with Stefan Johansson in the Reynard Judd.

My only reservation was the fact that we had not tested there and I had not driven the new GP layout – but I thought that the pair of 90 minute practice sessions on would be enough track time to work it all out.

I was wrong! The great old British weather reared its ugly head with torrential rain on Saturday. It was so wet that most teams opted not to run at all, especially as Sunday looked largely dry. Unfortunately I only managed one out lap before the end of practice so I was none the wiser as to where the circuit went!

We decided that I would do the first qualifying stint so I could build my knowledge of the track while burning off the fuel for the last, fastest qualifying session as the track dried out. With the damp conditions at the start though, I did just four laps on wet tires – not enough to really learn the braking points and best lines.

Andy did Q2 and did a good job evaluating where the best grip, feeding that information back to Steven who then did Q3. We ended up P4 before the session was red flagged near the end, and we felt that perhaps we could have been a little higher up the grid.

The good news for the team was that despite not testing there, and with no dry running on Saturday the car had quick pace and a very good balance – a credit to our race engineers from M-Sport.

Having not started a race for a couple of years I was keen to drive the opening stint of the race, but I was a little apprehensive as it was my first start in a GT car and my first proper dry laps of Silverstone in 14 years, and first ever on the new GP circuit!

That being the case…I decided I was just going to go for it. The Bentley V8 engine is awesome off the start, and as the lights turned green I was much quicker than the McLaren of Parente in front of me and actually had to back out of the throttle so I didn’t hit him. I successfully made it around the outside of the pole-sitting Porsche and set off after Parente, who had taken the lead, with the second ART McLaren of Estre behind me.

After two laps Parente had pulled around four seconds on me but I started to get my rhythm and feel for the car, and refined my lines and braking points. I started to reel him back in, reducing the gap to around 1.5 seconds.

We started to catch traffic and entering Village there was a gaggle of around five cars. I decided to go around the outside of them at Farm to then have the inside line for Village, but unfortunately they all went to the inside too – crowding me into the apex allowing Estre’s McLaren around the outside.

I gritted my teeth and focused on keeping with him and looking for my opportunity to come back at him once we hit traffic again.

Unfortunately the circuit was littered with yellow flags which seemed to be out for much of the race and it was deemed that I gained an advantage under a yellow flag as I set the fastest time in the first sector under waved yellows, and so was handed a drive through penalty. This was an unfortunate but genuine mistake as I was trying to keep the gap to the McLaren in front, but it’s so difficult to read the situation – as seven other drivers who were also given penalties will attest.

Once I finished my stint I came in to the pits in 7th place but swift work by the M-Sport crew elevated us to 5th place as Andy exited the pits. He then set about closing the gap to the cars in front and making great progress to get us into 2nd by the end of his stint.

The gap back from the leading ART McLaren as Steven started his stint was around 20 seconds and Steven began whittling away at the McLaren’s advantage at around a second per lap, and with 30 minutes left in the race it was going to be very close at the end but mathematically possible.

With about 20 minutes left on the clock the safety car was brought out due to a car spinning and crashing on the Hangar straight. This closed Steven up to the leader, but this with five slower cars between them at the restart. As the race restarted Steven began to work his way through traffic before chasing down the ART McLaren of Andy Soucek – the battle of the British brands was on.

But it was the Continental GT3 that had the upper hand with Steven chasing him down hard, and after a handful of laps he was right up behind the McLaren going into Luffield. Soucek appeared to run wide Steven and was able to dive up the inside and muscle his way past and into the lead!!

With six laps remaining it was then a case of not making any mistakes and holding onto the lead. There was so much pressure with the majority of the Bentley Board there and so many Bentley employees, family and friends watching, at that point we knew we HAD to win THIS race.

As Steven exited Luffied for the final time we knew we had done it, and he crossed the line in first place 11 years after Bentley’s last win at the Le Mans 24 Hours and the first win for Bentley ever at Silverstone. All this in the first appearance of a works-affiliated Bentley at a UK racetrack in 84 years.

The amount of effort and hard work that has gone into this program at every level is astounding. We knew we had a good car in Monza but we needed to tighten up our pit stops, and so we went up to M-Sport and practiced and practiced. The M-Sport crew was brilliant in the race, and it’s that type of hard work and focus that makes days like Silverstone possible.

This win was the result of extraordinary work from an amazing team of people. They make me proud to be called a Bentley Boy.

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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