Jordan Pepper reckons that filling Guy Smith’s shoes will be “quite tough” despite getting his career as a factory Bentley driver off to a flying start with a second place finish at Paul Ricard last month.
Pepper, who has primarily raced Bentley Continental GT3s in the ADAC GT Masters and VLN since 2016, replaced Smith at the factory M-Sport crew following the British driver’s retirement from the program after the Silverstone race in May.
“The goal was to work through the factory-supported team and hopefully step in to the factory team,” he told Sportscar365.
“The opportunity was there at the end of last year, but things didn’t really come into place.
“I wasn’t really expecting it when I got the call from Malcolm Wilson just before Silverstone to ask if I was able to replace Guy Smith. I’ve been working for two year towards this.”
Pepper immediately played an important role in scoring the maiden podium for Bentley’s second-generation Continental GT3 at the Paul Ricard 1000 km.
The South African enjoyed an excellent first stint as a Bentley Boy by climbing from 18th to 12th before the team’s decision to use its single, faster ‘joker’ pit stop vaulted the South African up to fourth.
His teammate Jules Gounon was on course to take the win until a dislodged hood in the final laps made him settle for second.
“It’s been a bit of a rushed process up until now. Getting ready for Paul Ricard was quite tough, I only had a few weeks to prepare,” Pepper said.
“It’s hard to remember everything from that race, because it all went by so fast and there was so much pressure.
“To finish my first race with the team in P2 is a dream result, but to miss the win by only a few seconds is a bit difficult to comprehend now.”
The 21-year-old explained Smith has played an important role in his career at Bentley so far, feeling honored to take his place in the No. 7 car alongside Gounon and Steven Kane.
“Guy was my first teammate in 2016,” he said. “He’s been influential in my whole Bentley career. I could always call him if I needed advice.
“That still hasn’t changed, although he isn’t part of the team as one of the six drivers. He’s still playing an important role and he’ll be here in Spa this weekend.
“He is an endurance legend and such a good starter. For me to get that pressure to start at Paul Ricard wasn’t easy.
“I feel I played a good part in the team and that I’ve found my place now. I look forward to staying with the brand as long as possible.”
Bentley Has “Package to Win” 24H Spa
While the new car has only completed three races so far, Pepper believes a strong result in this weekend’s Total 24 Hours of Spa is definitely on the table, despite being pegged back by a BoP change.
“We still have a lot to learn about Spa, the grip level is very different to Paul Ricard,” he said.
“We had a very successful two-day test here, which unfortunately played against us a little bit because we just continued our development program while everyone else was playing the BoP game, holding back two or three seconds at stages.
“We showed our cards and I don’t think SRO clearly saw that, because they hit us with the BoP penalty. It’s a bit of a shame because I think it will hurt us when everyone turns it up.
“I still think we have the package to win. For sure we have to work a bit harder now to find something extra to make up for the BoP change, especially a setup change to make the tires last a bit longer.
“Reliability shouldn’t be an issue. The bonnet issues at Paul Ricard is solved. We’ve done some very successful 30-hour tests. The car is strong and much better than the previous generation.”