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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Pirelli Paddock Pass: Jules Gounon

This week’s Pirelli Paddock Pass featuring Bentley factory GT driver Jules Gounon…

Photo: Bentley

Jules Gounon became a Bentley factory driver in 2018 and has spent the last two years racing for the British marque in two of SRO Motorsports Group’s leading championships.

The 25-year-old Frenchman has become a regular part of Bentley’s lineup in Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli and the Endurance part of GT World Challenge Europe.

In 2019, Gounon partnered Steven Kane and Jordan Pepper for full seasons in both championships, driving the second-gen Bentley Continental GT3.

The trio achieved a landmark victory in the Paul Ricard 1000km to break a two-year winless streak for the factory M-Sport team before going on to finish fourth in the points.

This year, Gounon’s program will expand to include a GT World Challenge Europe Sprint campaign with new Bentley customer CMR, in addition to his Endurance and IGTC roles.

How did the 2019 season live up to your expectations?

“Our expectation was to try to win a race, which we did in Paul Ricard, after starting on pole.

“It was M-Sport’s first pole in the [Endurance Cup] series for seven years, so that was a really nice feeling. Also, for myself, to be back on pole with the track record, it’s always something I will have in mind.

“We were trying to run for the championship, but we finished fourth. We missed out on third by two points but we ended up with a podium in Barcelona which was unexpected because we started P12 [check]. It was a good year for us.”

What were the main areas of improvement for yourself and Bentley Team M-Sport from 2019 compared to the previous year?

“In the first year we developed the car, making it as reliable as possible and customer-friendly because we knew Bentley would sell the cars in 2019. We really focused on that and not really on the performance side.

“For sure, everyone is competitive, and we always try to win, but in 2019 we really did a lot of development on the setup and how you run the car in the really competitive GT3 field.

“We fine-tuned the car and I think M-Sport really did a good job through the winter to work on it through testing. That was a really nice improvement all year long.

“I strongly believe we have a huge potential with the Bentley and I really hope that we will have a go for the championship this year.”

This year, you’re racing for CMR in GT World Challenge Europe Sprint and K-PAX Racing in Endurance. How important is it for you to have programs in the two series with different teams?

“A lot of customers have shown a lot of interest in Bentley recently. The new boss Paul Williams has done an amazing job which is helping; what I’m really happy about is seeing how many Bentleys are racing around the world at the moment.

“It’s a big season for me and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be amazing for Bentley and the car is at its finest now. We have developed it a lot to make customers happy and I’m sure all the new customer drivers are going to love it.

“I think it’s our role as GT3 works drivers to arrive in a customer team with our experience from the works team and try to guide them to the right window for setup and car function, and at the same time helping them to raise their confidence and their game to go for victory.

“I strongly believe we are going to have a shot at that this year. We’re going to have at least eight Bentleys at the 24 Hours of Spa which is amazing for our brand.”

How much camaraderie is there within the Bentley factory driver lineup?

“Every year for the Bentley boys we always have a nice dinner at Malcolm [Wilson, M-Sport founder’s] house.

“It’s a really huge moment for us to spend time with such a legendary man who has shown his driving skills in WRC and also with Bentley to put a great program together.

“Malcolm and his wife do the cooking and we drink nice wine to create a good spirit before the season starts.

“They always cook lamb and it’s amazing, plus it’s always after the training camp so we’re going flat out for two weeks and then we have the nice meal to end it with!”

What’s it like being a part of Bentley’s Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli lineup?

“When I saw the IGTC entry list, it was unreal. It was all the drivers I have been watching on TV and reading about in magazines before I became a factory driver.

“You could do the perfect race and you could still be P5 at the end because there are so many talented drivers and teams. At the end, everyone that has a clean race still needs to fight with five or six guys to make it to the podium.

“The IGTC for me is a really nice series because you go to Suzuka, Spa, Kyalami, Indianapolis next year and Bathurst, the best race of the season.

“It’s just a shame that we don’t have an FIA name because, to me, it’s a real GT world championship at the moment. There are at least 20 cars that could win every weekend.”

It’s a busy time of year for you, contesting the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Meyer Shank Racing and the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour with Bentley. How do you manage the schedule?

“Racing is my life and I’m loving my life at the moment.

“A lot of people say that it’s a lot of traveling and that I don’t get any holidays or anything, but when you do what you love the most in life, you never take it as a job.

“When you do it for the passion, you always have energy.”

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