The No. 8 M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 was in a perfect position to win last weekend’s Total 24 Hours of Spa, but missed out on its best opportunity so far, according to motorsport director Brian Gush and driver Wolfgang Reip.
A fourth place finish for Reip and co-drivers Maxime Soulet and Andy Soucek came after a race-long battle with eventual race-winning No. 99 ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3 of Maxime Martin, Alexander Sims and Philipp Eng, due to a series of setbacks and late-race miscues.
The No. 8 Bentley incurred four drive-through penalties throughout the race and was caught out by a tire puncture and a late race deluge, resulting in three visits to the pits within a 30-minute window in the end.
All told, the car lost more than five minutes due to penalties and a miscue on its final stop.
“Every penalty could have been avoided,” Gush told Sportscar365 post-race.
“We got the first drive-through when the driver was blocked from entering the pits, causing him to exceed his stint time because he had to do another lap.
“The other driver stint time related penalty was a misinterpretation of the regulation that says that a drive-through penalty is not included in the driving time. We discussed it with the officials but they didn’t agree with us.
“A mechanic also dropped a wheel, which was over the white line, but they still said you can’t drop it.”
The final drive-through penalty was issued because Soucek exceeded the maximum speed during a Full Course Yellow by 38 km/h. The Spaniard received a similar penalty during the previous Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup round at Paul Ricard.
“We were supposed to win and we could have done that quite easily to be honest,” Reip told Sportscar365. “Altogether we lost more than three laps, so we could have actually won with a lot of margin.
“The speed, the reliability and the lineup were there, everything was there. We all did mistakes, the team, myself, another driver… there is no one in particular to blame.
“It’s just that we had everything to win, but we made mistakes.”
Reip reckoned the ROWE BMW didn’t have the outright pace and wasn’t the pre-race favorite, but made the difference by avoiding mistakes and applying the right strategy.
A rain shower with 30 minutes to go saw the No. 8 car drop from second to fifth.
The final stop for rain tires took longer than necessary, as the Bentley stayed above the prohibited 20-second pitstop time range, while the winning No. 99 ROWE BMW and the No. 88 AMG-Team AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 managed to stay under the 1 minute and 55-second pitstop barrier.
“We didn’t expect to fall that far back,” Reip said. “We knew it was going to be quite close with the No. 86 HTP Mercedes because of our final drive through, but we didn’t think it could happen.
“First of all we pitted early when the track was still green and we couldn’t catch up on the others that came in one lap later under FCY, but also because we were waiting in our pit box for 40 seconds for nothing.”
With the No. 86 Mercedes incurring a drive-through penalty itself, Reip, Soucek and Soulet recovered to fourth, but still missed out on the podium after 24 hours.
It came after high pre-race expectations for the team, and in the first outing for former Audi LMP1 race engineer Leena Gade, who brought years of endurance racing experience and success with her.
“This is another missed opportunity in our books,” Gush said. “We were on the same pace as the BMW and the Mercedes following the changes after qualifying.
“It was anybody’s race from the beginning, but it didn’t go our way.”