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CONTINENTAL GT3 PROVES ITSELF AS 24-HOUR RACER

Bentley's Continental GT3 racer proves itself as the next generation of Bentley endurance machine with a strong finish for both Bentley racecars at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the fourth round of the Blancpain Endurance Series.

After an unfortunate start that saw damage and unscheduled pit stops to both cars within the first two hours, the Continental GT3s staged a strong comeback. Starting the race in P6 and P38 respectively, incidents in the first two hours saw the cars having to fight back from P50 and P55. The chequered flag saw the #7 car of Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane finish P13, while the #8 car of Jérôme D'Ambrosio, Duncan Tappy and Antoine Leclerc crossed the line in P17. More important is the finish in-class of car #7, the drivers of which have scored three championship points in their bid to be Endurance Series drivers' champions.

The Total 24 Hours of Spa was the first 24-hour endurance race for the all-new Continental GT3 race car. After wins at the last two races of the Blancpain Endurance Series, the team was looking forward to pushing the car to its endurance limit at the famous Spa track. With no mechanical issues during the race, the Continental GT3's performance and reliability proved itself, as the only problems experienced were caused by impacts with debris from a race that saw an unusually high number of accidents and a high rate of attrition, including one incident that saw the race stopped for an hour.

The team were also competing with a revised and restrictive Balance of Performance, which robbed the Continental GT3 of some of the prodigious speed on display in the first three rounds of the championship.

Bentley's Member of the Board for Engineering, Rolf Frech, comments after the race:

"I'm satisfied with our performance here this weekend as it was the first time a Continental GT3 has had to endure such extreme racing. For both cars to finish successfully is a credit to the skill and teamwork on display within Bentley Motorsport. We've gathered a lot of data, and know that we have work to do to ultimately be at the level we target – but this is a good first 24-hour result and one that we can build on in the future. The last round of the Blancpain Endurance Series will be at the Nürburgring, and the drivers of car #7 are very much in contention for the drivers' championship – which would be an amazing achievement in our first year. This is a new team, and the performance of everyone from the drivers, to the race engineers, to the mechanics, has been extremely encouraging. I'm already looking forward to our next 24-hour challenge."

 

The Story of The Race

With car #7 starting P6 and car #8 P39 on the grid, the race got underway on schedule at 16:30 CEST. Guy Smith drove the opening stint in car #7, suffering from a lack of front-end grip as the high track temperatures caused the front tyres to overheat. Despite holding off challenges for several laps, Guy had to relinquish places and was in P9 by the time he pitted on lap 25. He handed the car to Andy Meyrick, who sat P16 after all pit stops before starting to move up the field as tyre pressure adjustments improved the car's handling. However, his progress was halted during a safety car period at lap 45, when he made an unscheduled pit stop with a brake issue. The problem was instantly found to be a damaged front right brake line, caused by a piece of debris from one of the on-track incidents, lodged inside the wheel. Even though the remedial work was conducted under safety car conditions, the stop still cost car #7 three laps, and the car rejoined the race P50.

The cooling track of the evening suited the car more, and over the course of the night the three drivers took it in turns to move the car up to P13. At 4.30 am, points were awarded to the top nine competitors in each class, with the #7 Continental GT3 receiving a point for sitting P9 in class.

On the Sunday morning, the pattern continued, with the #7 Continental GT3 trading places with those cars around it, particularly around the pit-stop windows. After 18 hours, with the car in P11, an issue with the front splitter meant a six-minute pit stop for the car, as the splitter was repaired. Fortunately, the M-Sport Bentley mechanics were on fine form, and they worked tirelessly to get the car back on the track quickly without dropping lower than P13. After Steven Kane had then fought back to P12, the bad luck struck again, with a slow puncture forcing an unscheduled pit stop for new tyres. From then on, the target was to maintain P13 and so P9 in the PRO class, worth two valuable championship points to complement the single point gained at the 12-hour mark.

Bentley Boy Guy Smith reflects:

"Even though this was a very hard race, I'm proud of what we've achieved here this weekend. While we've done long endurance tests, you can't recreate a race environment and so this was the sternest test of our GT3 car yet. To have two cars finish well, with no self-inflicted failures, is fantastic. Both our car and car #8 were really unlucky in the opening couple of hours, but we knuckled down overnight and showed the long-distance pace of the Bentley. I think we've proved that the Continental GT3 is a worthy Bentley racecar, and we'll learn from this race and this result to aim even higher next time."

Car #8 suffered misfortune early in the race, with a small collision on the second lap damaging the front left track-rod. A 15-minute pit stop to fit a replacement cost six laps, with Antoine Leclerc rejoining the race in last place, P61, on lap seven. However, that was all the encouragement the Bentley Boys needed, and over the course of the next 18 hours the car steadily rose through the ranking, avoiding all of the on-track incidents, to sit P16. From that point and for the last six hours of the race, the three drivers were able to strengthen their midfield position through good race strategy, consistent pace and very quick pit stops. Jérôme D'Ambrosio drove a triple-stint over the last three hours of the race in front of his home crowd, much to the delight of the Belgian fans.

After the race, Jérôme comments:

"Coming in to this race I was both excited and nervous. This kind of endurance event is totally new to me, and I'd never raced at night before this weekend. The team, the cars and my fellow drivers have all been great though, and while there's plenty we can improve we leave Spa knowing we have a proper endurance car. Racing with Bentley in my home country was awesome, and now we look forward to the last race of the season in Germany where hopefully Duncan, Antoine and I can finish on a high."

The last race of the season is the 1000 km event at the Nürburgring over the weekend of 20th-21st September, where the championships will be decided.