Nissan GT Academy Team RJN driver Alex Buncombe resisted a late charge from the M-Sport Bentley of Steven Kane to win the third round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at Paul Ricard.
A late spin for Kane in the closing minutes repealed his final pursuit of Buncombe’s Nissan to give the #23 crew its first win of the season.
Buncombe, who shared the car with Katsumasa Chiyo and Wolfgang Reip, crossed the line 7.988 seconds ahead of Kane as night descended over Le Castellet. The #46 BMW Team MarcVDS Z4 of Maxime Martin, Lucas Luhr and Marcus Palttala finished third, 13 seconds off the pace of the leader.
The Nissan squad made its mark on the race four hours in, when Buncombe completed a forceful but effective move on erstwhile leader Giovanni Venturini – who was driving the pole-sitting #63 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – at Verriere.
A drive-through penalty for the Lamborghini allowed Nissan and Bentley to fully assume the leading roles, while the Marc VDS BMW – having started from the pit lane – maintained a threatening presence in the top five.
The #99 ROWE Racing Mercedes of Daniel Juncadella, Nico Bastian and Stef Dusseldorp finished fourth overall. Despite qualifying 29th, a clever double stinting strategy allowed the German squad to push through the field and gain a valuable top five finish.
Pro/Am class honours went to the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Michael Broniszewski, Alessandro Bonacini and Michael Lyons, which also finished fifth overall. In sixth was the #63 Lamborghini that had dominated the race in the early stages, one lap down on the leading Nissan.
The six-hour race was interrupted by three safety car periods for separate incidents, while the start had to be aborted and re-set after the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari of Norbert Siedler collected the #8 Bentley of Maxime Soulet and the #58 Von Ryan McLaren of Rob Bell on the opening lap.
It was a challenging day for the McLaren entries, as only one of the four cars reached the chequered flag. Although the #59 Von Ryan 650S GT3 of Bruno Senna, Adrian Quaife Hobbs and Alvaro Parente did complete the race, an early mechanical issue meant that it would finish three laps down.
The Audi runners also struggled to match the pace of the leaders, with the highest placed entry being the #75 ISR R8 LMS ultra driven by Filip Salaquarda, Marco Bonanomi and Frederic Vervisch in ninth.
In particular, the Team WRT quartet endured a notably troublesome race which was marked by a collision between the #2 car of Robin Frijns and the #6 machine of Markus Winkelhock on the Mistral Straight. The high-speed contact forced both Audis into the pits for bodywork and suspension repairs, highlighting a forgettable day for the German manufacturer.
The 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series will resume next month at the 67th Spa 24 Hours showcase, which takes place on July 25-26.