Bentley M-Sport Take Victory in 1000km Paul Ricard

by Connor Jackson

A spectacular victory in the 1000km of Paul Ricard from the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport saw them win their first Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup race since 2014. Maxime Soulet, French national Vincent Abril and Andy Soucek, kept out of trouble in the closing stages to win by 30 seconds.

Despite some tussling in the opening lap, it was Yelmer Buurman who defended his pole position in the #4 Mercedes-AMG Black Falcon, breaking away in the opening minutes. Behind him, Victor Shaytar in the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari was defending from Guy Smith in the #7 Bentley that had leaped three places in the opening lap.

The first full course yellow was caused by a crash between the #51 Ferrari and #911 Porsche, with the former ending up in the barrier. A safety car was later deployed to deal with the stricken machine.

A Second safety car was because of a Philip Eng. The Lamborghini spun on the straight, plowing into the wall where the second chicane would be. With pitstop time approaching, all the front runners except Buurman, the leader, headed to the pits.

Alternative strategies saw five manufacturers lead the race throughout the six hour period. Not all would make it to the finish though.

The #99 Rowe Racing BMW had been leading since the first round of stops and had been on for a comfortable win until a technical issue spelled and end to their run. Further back, the #4 Mercedes that had started on pole also ran into issues as they worked their way back up the order.

The #72 Ferrari remained a constant threat throughout, unable to claw back the gap in the dark. (Credit: Dirk Bogaerts Photography / SRO)

By this time a two-horse race was emerging as the #72 Ferrari was catching the dominant #8 Bentley Team M-Sport car. The Bentley had been leading by over 30 seconds after the last pitstop and it would be Soulet who crossed the line for the teams first endurance win since 2014.

The SMP Racing Ferrari and the #1 Audi Sport Team WRT completed the podium. For the #72 it moves them to the head of the Endurance Cup standings, while Audi for fortunate to come away with silverware having had all their cars start the race outside the top ten.

Completing the top five would be the #88 Mercedes-AMG AKKA ASP, who had been on course for a podium until the Audi’s late run, while the #23 Motul Team RJN Nissan took fifth having started thirty-second.

After the race, Soulet of the #8 Bentley commented: “The team did not tell me to stop pushing, it was only five laps from the end that I was told that I had a 34-second lead.”

“That’s when I backed off a bit, but then I started to hear those strange noises in the car. Those last five laps seemed to last so long, but the final one was really good.”

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