Bentley celebrated its most successful weekend since returning to motor sport in the GT3 ranks with victories in both the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup in Europe and the Pirelli World Challenge in North America on the final weekend of June.
The Bentley Continental GT3 ended long victory droughts in both series within a short space of time. The factory M-Sport team was celebrating on the podium after winning the Endurance Cup round of the BGTS at Paul Ricard when news came through of a first triumph in the PWC for the factory-supported Absolute Racing team at Road America.
Vincent Abril, Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet notched up Bentley’s first BGTS win in three years in the Paul Ricard 1000Kms, which finished at midnight French time on Saturday.
The seven-hour time difference to Wisconsin meant Hong Kong driver Adderly Fong took the chequered flag at the end of the first of the two PWC races at Road America less than an hour later.
“It was a good weekend for us all round,” said Bentley motorsport boss Brian Gush. “I’d been watching the live feed from Road America in the pits at Ricard and then received a text to say we’d won at Road America when I was standing under the podium.
“I guess it has to be the best weekend for Bentley in motor sport since we finished one-two in the Le Mans 24 Hours with the Speed 8 in 2003. Ricard was a big step forward for us in the BGTS and a much-needed win, but we made the correct strategic calls and did everything right.”
The key to victory for Bentley was an early pitstop during a full-course yellow virtual safety car after barely half an hour. With a maximum stint length of 65 minutes, this allowed Abril, Soucek and Soulet to complete the six-hour race on a five-stop strategy.
Soucek brought the car into contention during his double stint in the middle of the race, moving the Bentley to the front of the group of cars that had all stopped early.
Soulet was only 14sec behind when the Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by pole-winner Yelmer Buurman, Adam Christodolou and Luca Stolz, came into the pits for the final time
with 40 minutes left on the clock. That car had stayed out during the early caution period.
Fong claimed PWC honours in race one at Road America after an early tangle with Johnny O’Connell’s Cadillac ATS-V.R – for which he later apologised – and a late challenge from Porsche factory driver Patrick Long’s Wright Motorsports 911 GT3-R. The winning margin for the Bentley driver was little more than half a second after 50 minutes of racing.
The positions were reversed in the second PWC race on Sunday, Long heading home Fong by just two tenths.
Bentley and M-Sport hadn’t taken a victory in a BGTS enduro since claiming back-to-back wins at the Silverstone and Ricard rounds in 2015 in what was then known as the Blancpain Endurance Series. The manufacturer’s absence from the winner’s circle in the PWC stretched back exactly two seasons to a win at Road America in 2015.
Victory for Abril, Soucek and Soulet gave them the championship lead in the BGTS Endurance Cup going into double-points Spa 24 Hours on July 29/30.
Meanwhile, Team Parker Racing was back in the winner’s circle in the fifth round of the British GT Championship at Spa, this time with the Continental GT3 shared by Callum Macleod and Ian Loggie. Macleod and Loggie notched up victory in the second of the two one-hour races in Belgium in early July. Loggie was chasing Jon Minshaw at
the head of the field after the mid-race pitstops, when the leader spun the Barwell Lamborghini Huracán GT3 he shared with Phil Keen.
That allowed Loggie to take a third British GT victory of the season for Parker Bentley. Seb Morris and
Rick Parfitt Jr, who won at Rockingham and Silverstone in their Continental, lost ground to Keen and Minshaw in the championship battle after collecting a third and a fifth in Belgium.
Porsche steps up attack
Porsche has committed to chasing honours in the Intercontinental GT Challenge that combines the four big GT3 enduros around the world.
The German manufacturer has announced that it will provide factory support for customer teams competing in the new California 8 Hours at Laguna Seca in October and the Sepang 12 Hours in December, the final two rounds of a series that also includes the Bathurst 12 Hours and the Spa 24 Hours. The move followed Porsche’s first factory entry since 2013 for the Spa enduro at the end of July, with World Endurance Championship LMP1 driver and double Le Mans winner Timo Bernhard’s Team 75 squad.
A Porsche spokesman said: “It is clear that at big races like these, you have to give extra support to your customer teams, because everyone else is doing it.”
He ruled out a repeat of last year’s full-factory assault with the Manthey team on the Sepang race on December 10.
“We will be doing Laguna and Sepang with local teams; we won’t be flying Manthey out to Sepang as we did last year,” he said.
Porsche was lying second to Ferrari in the IGTC manufacturers’ points ahead of the Belgian enduro at Spa. The drivers’ standings were led by Toni Vilander, Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup, winners at Bathurst aboard a Maranello Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3.
Landmark weekend for Ratel
Stéphane Ratel, the architect of the GT3 category, celebrated a quarter of a century in motor sport at the Paul Ricard BGTS round. The race fell 25 years to the weekend of the first event he organised for the Venturi Gentleman Drivers’ Trophy on the Le Mans Bugatti circuit back in 1992.
Ratel’s entry into the sport with the Venturi 400 one-make racer powered by the PRV twin-turbo V6 engine spawned the 600LM GT1 car, so that his competitors could graduate to the
Le Mans 24 Hours. A desire to give the buyers of those cars somewhere else to race was an important catalyst in the creation of BPR, which resurrected GT racing in Europe from 1994.
The Frenchman went on to organise the FIA GT Championship after the demise of the BPR. The creation of the GT3 and GT4 categories, together with the launch of the short-lived FIA GT1 World Championship and various championships carrying the Blancpain name, have all followed.