Despite suffering a drive through penalty during the opening hour of the race the M-Sport Bentley crew of Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane took a historic victory in the Blancpain Endurance Series at Silverstone.
Smith was one of eight drivers penalised during the opening stints for not slowing sufficiently under yellow flags and was given a drive through penalty that dropped him out of third place. However, Meyrick and Kane fought back up the order to give the Continental GT3 victory in just its third international outing and the first UK race for a works Bentley team since 1930.
Smith had moved into second at the start of the race as the pole sitting Pro GT by Almeras Porsche started a slide down the order Eric Dermont was unable to arrest. Dermont, the ‘Am’ element of the Pro-Am Cup class entry, was starting the car qualified by Franck Perera but slipped from the top 20 before the end of his stint.
Alvaro Parente swept around Dermont into the lead at Copse and the Portuguese ART Grand Prix driver began to pull out a lead over Smith. Kevin Estre put the second ART McLaren third, moving clear of Alex Buncombe in the #80 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R, who held the lead in Pro-Am cup from the first few corners for the remainder of his stint.
As the leaders began to catch the traffic of the rear end of the field Parente’s lead ebbed away, though he was helped when Estre sprang around the outside at Village to take second from Smith around a gaggle of traffic. Worse was to come for Smith with the drive-through penalty.
There were several incidents during the first hour of the race, starting with Paul Bailey’s spin into the gravel at Maggotts on the opening lap. However, the major off both in terms of damage and of impact upon the race was at Copse when Rinat Solikhov in the GT Corse by Rinaldi Ferrari tipped Ryan Ratcliffe’s Triple Eight BMW into a spin. Solikhov’s Ferrari – the green #333 that achieved infamy at Monza – limped back to the pit with a left-front puncture while Ratcliffe returned to the race after marshals have retrieved the #888 from the gravel. However, on approach to the same corner a lap later the left rear tyre on the BMW blew, pitching Ratcliffe off the track, the car almost rolling before making race ending contact with the wall.
It was this yellow flag zone – some of the affected drivers surmised – that they had carried too much speed through in the following laps, thus drawing a penalty. Smith fell from third to seventh, rejoining behind Beechdean AMR’s Daniel Lloyd who was second to Buncombe in Pro-Am having passed Richard Abra in the MP Motorsport AMR Vantage.
From that point on the only movement of the #7 Bentley team was forwards.
Smith’s penalty had consolidated the 1-2 for ART Grand Prix, the pair of McLaren’s nose to tail after the first pitstops, Gregoire Demoustier in for Parente in #98, Kevin Korjus replacing namesake Estre at the wheel of the sister car. Korjus took the lead in the earliest laps of the stint, pulling into a lead of nearly 30 seconds as Demoustier faded into the reach of a charging Meyrick who had already passed Nick McMillen in the #80 Nissan and Sainteloc Racing’s Stephane Ortelli by the team he drew a bead on the back of the McLaren more than 20 seconds up the road.
Cleaving as much as four second a lap from Demoustier’s margin in second Meyrick moved the Bentley back into second with 70 minutes remaining, out-braking the McLaren man into Brooklands to inherit the 27 seconds of arrears to the leader, though Meyrick would hand over to Kane minutes later.
Kane’s stint began in inauspicious style, the Northern Irishman stalling as he pulled away from the pits though. Despite the potential for seconds frittered away in the miscue once Andy Soucek had taken the #99 on from Korjus just 20 seconds split he and Kane, Kane starting to cut into the lead, pulling it down to around 15 seconds before the race delivered a final twist.
Andy Schulz span the Horse Power Racing Aston out of Chapel, spinning from the outside of the corner back across the track to hit the wall with the rear of the Gentlemen Trophy entry. Though Schulz was quickly out of the car the safety car was scrambled, rubbing out much of Soucek’s in the process.
In the Spaniard’s favour were the four cars that lay between he and Kane under the safety car. Unable to pass the slower cars before crossing the finish line Soucek was able to take back six seconds of his lead while Kane fought traffic. However, once there was clear traffic between McLaren and Bentley it was almost inevitable the Bentley would come out ahead.
With the Bentley able to turn tighter and accelerate earlier and harder than the McLaren Kane took advantage of Soucek’s wide, swinging line through Luffield to nose alongside, then moved ahead through the exit of the corner and the kink of Woodcote, easing his rival wide to seal the move that would result in victory.
Kane completed 84 laps to win, 1.2 seconds the official margin back to Soucek, though it had been more before the final lap.
Laurens Vanthoor took third on the final lap in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT entry, passing Gregory Guilvert in the Sainteloc Racing Audi.
HTP Motorsport’s pair of Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 finished fifth and sixth ahead of a #99 that faded in the hands of Alex Premat during the sprint that remained after the safety car.
The #80 Nissan – the team anchored by Florian Strauss – finished eighth to win the Pro-Am Cup class, repeating the squad’s result of a year ago. The #3 WRT Audi and Oman Racing Team’s Aston completed the top ten, Michael Caine taking tenth place on the final lap from MP Motorsport’s Mark Poole.
Joe Osborne, the middle stint driver for the team had stretched his stint into the final 45 minutes of the race, hoping to protect Poole – the ‘Am’ part of the team’s Pro-Am driver trio. However just as the safety car closed up the lead pair, it closed up the Pro-Am fight also, allowing Strauss to take the class victory for the Nissan team. The ROAL Motorsport BMW team completed the class podium, finishing 12th overall.
Alexander Mattschull and Frank Schmickler won the Gentlemen Trophy class nearly 30 seconds ahead of the AF Corse team that had started the race from the class pole.