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SMITH: Spa Debrief

Bentley’s Guy Smith files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

Coming away from Spa, it’s fair to say we feel bitterly disappointed. It was a cruel race for the Bentley Team M-Sport, with both cars failing to make it to the finish.

Going into the event, my teammates Andy Meyrick, Steven Kane and I felt that we could really make our mark on the drivers’ championship and push to take the lead away from Nissan.

We headed into the race just one point behind the No. 23 Nissan and one point ahead of the No. 1 Audi, and with points being awarded at the six, 12 and 24-hour marks it would be a vitally important event for all teams.

During the practice sessions we were struggling to find a balance we were happy with as the circuit was quite a bit different from when we tested there earlier in the year.

The main aim for both cars was to make it into the top-20 and therefore into the Super Pole shootout. It’s so tough in the Blancpain series that you never know what can happen!

Steven Kane qualified the No. 7 car and Spa specialist Maxime Soulet qualified the No. 8 car – both of them did a great job with Maxime lining up in 5th and Steven in 9th despite making a small mistake on his best lap.

This put both cars in a great position to start the race, keeping us away from the possibility of getting caught up with the main pack on the first few laps.

As is now customary, I took the start – and honestly, it was some of the worst driving conditions I have ever raced in. The amount of spray and standing water on the circuit was unbelievable – it was really just a case of going into survival mode and not crashing!

It was actually my first time driving in the wet at Spa so I had to figure it out pretty quickly, finding where the grip was and more importantly where it wasn’t!

As the race settled down and the standing water began to lift, the Bentley Continental GT3 really started to come into its own and both Maxime and I began to make progress up the field. I pitted after almost three hours in the car from P4 and handed over to Steven who returned to the wet track after an early decision to switch to slicks. With no more rain forecast we had no option but to gamble on making the slicks work.

Steven did really well just to keep the car on track in those conditions, and as the track dried he began to make up ground.

We lost a huge amount of time behind the safety car and getting held at the end of the pit lane waiting to pick up the train of cars – I dread to think how much time we lost but it’s definitely minutes not seconds.

After a double stint Steven pitted and handed over to Andy to continue with the fight back up the order.

Andy rejoined and immediately began to claw back time – car No. 7 was running a full dry set up and now that the track was drying out it was really starting to work very well.

Or at least, that’s what we thought. At about 23:00, six and a half hours in, Andy radioed in to say he had crashed.

He had taken to the inside of a car heading into Les Coombes and braked on a wet patch, meaning he couldn’t get the car slowed down in time. He hit the barrier, damaging the front end and leaving him unable to return to the pits under his own power. We were out.

It was a huge blow as we were starting to make a good recovery and looked set to score some valuable points.

What’s more frustrating is that our closest championship rivals were also in trouble and not scoring any points, so it was a missed opportunity – especially as we know the car had the pace to fight for victory.

Still, we had the No. 8 car up there fighting hard in the top five, only for them to retire at the 12-hour mark with electrical issues.

I would like to congratulate the Marc VDS guys on a great win, which was thoroughly deserved.

We look forwarded to an exciting final round of the championship at Nurburgring where the championship is still up for grabs. We will keep fighting until the end.

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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