At the thrilling conclusion of the Bathurst 12 Hours, the #10 M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 of Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Matt Bell were denied victory with less than two laps remaining, and ultimately ended the endurance race down in fourth.
Bentley Motorsport were making their debut at Mount Panorama, and the #10 took the lead heading into the final hour, and held on until the penultimate lap when the #35 Nissan Nismo GT-R of Katsumasa Chiyo, Florian Strauss and Wolfgang Reip swept past down the long first straight.
Bell was running in second place heading into the final corner, but took two knocks from the cars behind that saw him run offline, losing him valuable time and the chance to finish on the podium.
“It was amazing to come here with Bentley and we put on a great show,” said Bell after the race. “This was my first race in the Continental GT3 and I’m thoroughly impressed with the car that Bentley Team M-Sport has developed. Guy and Steven were amazing throughout the race, and put me in a position where I could battle right to the last corner.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t have a clean race finish, but I as a driver and we as a team are rightly proud of our performance.”
Bell had taken a drive-through penalty earlier in the race for contact with a back marker, but such was the pace of the Bentley that they were able to recover and grab the lead.
Smith believed the team deserved to finish on the podium, but felt it was one of the most exciting experiences he has had in racing so far in his career.
“This race has got to be one of the most exciting of my career,” insisted Smith. “It wasn’t like an endurance race – it was more like a 12-hour sprint. I’m really pleased with our pace and how strong our car was today, but ultimately we couldn’t quite hold on for the win.
“We know we should’ve finished second, but unfortunately racing isn’t always fair. We’ve learnt so much this weekend and will make sure we’re even stronger for the start of our European season at Monza.”
Kane believes that coming to Bathurst and performing so well can only be positive, especially when the teams’ main focus will be the Blancpain Endurance Championship in 2015.
“We came here with an ambition to race hard and well, and we certainly did that today,” said Kane. “We got the set-up of our car right and showed great pace throughout the 12 hours, and to finish such a race less than four seconds from the winner is no mean feat.
“Matt was phenomenal in the last hour to hold on for as long as he did, and the third-in-class trophy is a small consolation. We can use what we’ve learnt here to help with our Blancpain campaign this year, and we can’t wait to get started.”
The #11 sister car of Andy Soucek, Maximilian Buhk and Harold Primat were running competitively before stopping on track during the final hour with drivetrain failure, caused by damage to the rear-end of the Bentley after contact. They had to recover from two drive-through penalties for restart infringements and a spin, before ultimately ending their race early.
“This was a real roller coaster of a race for us,” reflected Buhk. “We started strongly and made up so many places, getting in to the top ten, but the penalties dropped us down the order again.
“I was still enjoying the race in the top 20 when we had a failure and the car lost drive. These things happen, but we leave here knowing that we have a very fast car – so the season ahead looks good.”