Shane Van Gisbergen weaved some Kiwi magic in his Garage 59 McLaren 650S to win the fifth round of the Blancpain GT Series – the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km.
At the start Rob Bell, who started the #58 McLaren, was part of a four car train that fought for the lead alongside Pasin Lathouras in the pole-sitting AF Corse Ferrari 488 and the two Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3s. Indeed they went four abreast down the Mistral Straight as the Bentley’s moved from third and fourth to first and second, Bell moved to third whilst Lathouras slipped to tenth.
Considering there were 57 cars on the grid charging round what can be a narrow Paul Ricard track at times, there weren’t many silly incidents to report on with teams happy to accept that in a six hour race – the second longest of the season – the race isn’t won or lost on the first lap so teams decided to settle into their rhythms.
With the Bentley’s swooping into the lead, they were out of range of any of the squabbles from behind and if it wasn’t for an ABS issue on the #7 they’d have remained 1-2 for quite a while.
Also having a Bentley issue was Ian Loggie, who crashed the Pro-Am Team Parker Racing machine early on into the race – he was alright but the team’s race was over in that car at least.
That brought out the full course yellow and it was one of these early caution periods – or perhaps the full course yellow for the Porsche that decided to turn itself into a bonfire – that yet another Bentley got itself into an issue as the leading #8 Continental of Maxime Soulet was caught speeding when the race was neutralised and was slapped with a drive-through penalty when it was leading the race.
He got back into the lead and ran undisturbed for a time as the battles seemed to be going on behind the Crewe machine.
That’s because the man on the move was Michele Rugolo in the AF Corse Ferrari which found itself in a good scrap with the #19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3. They were running nose-to-tail for a good while but Rugolo managed to get through shortly after, using a slower Nissan GT-R as a mobile chicane to block-pass the Lamborghini.
While one Nissan was causing traffic jams, another was doing exactly the opposite as Mitsunori Takaboshi in the #23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R moved from 31st, following a spin, up to sixth in less than one hour – that car would eventually finish one place higher in fifth a great result considering the previous state they were in.
A few places further ahead and the #50 AF Corse machine – which by this point had been handed over to Alessandro Pier Guidi – was chasing down Shane Van Gisbergen’s McLaren, which found itself in second place thanks to a champion stint by Come Ledogar. The battle became fiery at points and at one point it seemed Pier Guidi has got through having sent the Ferrari down the inside, but going through the last corner Van Gisbergen pushed him wide and crossed the line 0.019 ahead, which he extended out over the course of a few laps.
With those two fighting it out at the front, it was a good opportunity for the #8 Bentley to sneak in with an audacious move, but some fuel spilling onto a hot brake or exhaust saw the car engulfed in flames. Thankfully no one was hurt in the incident but that relegated them to fourth as the flag came out.
That all happened during a full course yellow period and Van Gisbergen pitted at the right time to do his final stop without losing much time on the track.
He said: “Making the final pitstop under the Full Course Yellow was a brilliant call and gave us the big jump we needed. We did not have the speed of Ferrari or Bentley today but strategy and great pitstops won us the race. We were always on the limit of doing the shortest stop we could, so it was an impressive performance from the team. It is pretty cool to get another win.”
For Pier Guidi, the slow period came out at the wrong time for them to make a stop as he explains: “We were too close to the pit entry to come in when the Full Course Yellow was called, so we lost more than 30 seconds waiting. The crew did a good job but there was not enough time to get in earlier. Without that we would have probably won the race. But ok, that is racing and we are still happy to be here, especially when you look at the first two races and see how far away we were from the podium. AF Corse and Ferrari did a very good job here and we are now looking forward to Spa.”