In just the car’s third international race the driving trio of Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane gave the Bentley Continental GT3 its first win. Their victory in the Silverstone round of the Blancpain Endurance Series was made all the more impressive as the M-Sport trio had to battle back from a penalty incurred in the first third of the three hour race.
It was not until the closing minutes, following a safety car period after an accident on track that the Bentley took the lead for the first time, with Steven Kane passing Andy Soucek in the #99 ART Grand Prix run McLaren to win on the first appearance of a Bentley works team on British soil since the 1930 Tourist Trophy.
Following their victory the three drivers spoke to www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk, recounted the story of the race that ended with them on the top step of the podium.
“For me it was only in the last ten laps where I started to realise that were going to be able to [win],” confessed Meyrick. “I’ve got a lot of faith in Steven so I knew that the win was on as a possibility then but to be honest I didn’t see it because I was at the back of the garage sitting there with my head in my hands. I couldn’t even be in the garage – I was in the truck at that stage.”
Kane, meanwhile was more certain of his and the car’s ability to pass the McLaren, even had the safety car not bunched up the pack.
“The information from the team over the radio was that we were going to catch him by the end of the race,” said the Ulsterman. “I was told just to carry on pushing and we knew that over the first half of the race out lap times were very similar but they would tail off while we’ve done a lot of work over the winter to make the car good over the last ten laps.”
Once the green flag was put back out Kane dispatched a handful of lapped cars between he and Soucek before eating back into the gap to the leading McLaren, just as Meyrick had done during his middle stint of the race.
“I think the biggest strength here was we tended to look after the tyres a lot better than our competitors,” he said. “Our ultimate lap pace was very good but in the second half of our stints, especially when I caught the McLaren and watching the TV when Steven caught it we were just able to turn and point the car.”
Meyrick was tasked with beginning the comeback after starting driver Guy Smith was one of several to be penalised for not slowing sufficiently through one of the yellow flag zones during the first part of the race.
Smith explained; “I think it might have been in turn one they told me. I think I got a purple sector which is unfortunate because had it not have been purple it probably wouldn’t have registered. It was just one of those things unfortunately. There were so many flags out there and sometimes you were backing off and coasting. You almost go over cautious and this was probably one where the flag was out but there was nothing. There was maybe a car off in the distance. I was following the ART car and all I was trying to do was keep the gap to him but obviously I must have gone bit quicker.”
He continued; “it was a surprise, definitely but you’ve got to take it at the time. You think ‘that’s it, we’ve lost 30 seconds’”
While he described his reaction in the cockpit Meyrick had the view from the pitwall at the time. “My reaction was shared with everyone else,” he explained. “It was probably frustration at getting the penalty in the first but very, very quickly we put it out of our heads and dealt with it and from there on we did the best job that we could. We all knuckled down. The team did very a very, very quick pitstop – the quickest pitstop they’ve ever done including all the practicing they done so that showed the adrenaline. I think it just fired everyone up a little bit more.”
The penalty was not the first problem Smith had had to overcome in his race opening stint. After several seasons racing primarily in the American Le Mans Series the race was Smith’s first on the ‘new’ Silverstone Grand Prix track – opened in 2010. This problem was compounded by the rain that had blighted Saturday’s practice sessions, leaving Smith only getting his first laps in the dry as he started the race. Fortunately, however he had the McLaren of Alvaro Parente to follow in the opening laps though “flying blind” the Portuguese began to pull away until Smith grew used to the braking points around the circuit.
However, while he was gaining on Parente the second ART McLaren was shadowing in third and when the leaders came across a knot of traffic through the Arena section Kevin Estre was able to drive around the outside and into second place.
The two McLarens would swap places during the second stint, with Kevin Korjus taking the lead in the #98 so it was Gregoire Demoustier in the #99 that a “fired up” Meyrick came upon first of the MP4-12C. Using the same tyre advantage that was to pay off for Kane Meyrick was able to outbreak the Frenchman into Brooklands completing a pass Meyrick summed up with; “we might have McLaren written backwards down the side of the Bentley. There was a little bit of rubbing but it was nice and soft.”
Kane’s pass for the lead came a hour later and one corner further around the track, lining up Soucek around Luffield. He explained the processes that resulted in the final move; “his line was wide and out there it’s very dirty so even if we drove our car out there it would still be dirty. But that inside line can be – at certain parts of it – when the rubber goes down its really grippy. I only know that from Touring Cars actually so I kept that in the bank all the time and I knew that when he went out there I could just stick it down the inside and almost have two wheels on the grass and it worked.”
“It’s a great win for Bentley,” said Smith, who admitted the victory was a bit of a relief, even this soon into the manufacturer’s GT3 program. Kane, meanwhile spoke of the “expectation” to live up to Bentley’s illustrious history, especially in front of a home crowd.
Smith added; “It’s the first time Bentley’s won at Silverstone. Bentley’s won in all its eras – in the 20s and 30s and 2003 at Le Mans and obviously this is a new era so to win again is fantastic.”
However, while the drivers on the day may have won the race all three of them were quick to point out that the race was won, at least in part, before the green flag ever flew.
“A lot of the credit needs to go to M-Sport as well because they’ve come in but they’ve had a very fresh approach,” said Meyrick. “I think it’s fair to say there some eyebrows raised when a rally team were chose to run such a competitive racing car but to me I think the race was won today in the pitstops. In the first pitstop especially we jumped a couple of places. That’s a big, big improvement from Monza they’ve worked tirelessly since then.”
Smith added; “what’s Brian [Gush, Bentley’s Director of Motorsport] done going with M-Sport is a gamble and I remember when he told me about it seemed like a strange choice but I think what they do – the way they think outside the box and the way Christian designed the car is fantastic.”
While the car and, following the practice washout, the set-up was almost identical to that which the team raced at Monza the team had worked on their pitstops during the break between rounds, the three drivers travelling to the M-Sport shop for practice with the whole team on one area they felt could make a difference to their results.
The pitstop during which Smith handed the car over to Meyrick proved the work had paid off, moving the car up the order by a couple of positions. Before the wheel-to-wheel passes that stole the headlines on the way to the historic win the comeback began in the pitlane with the entire team.
“I think we deserved it,” concludes Smith. “We had the best car, the best team, the best drivers on the day and we deserved the win.”