This race for Bentley began back in 2018 when they lost the race in the dying moments of the 6 hours to the Emil Frey Lexus. This year the outfit from Crewe were out for redemption and to take the win they deserve.
The #107 Bentley Continental of Jordan Pepper, Steven Kane and Jules Gounon from M-Sport was put on pole from the days earlier qualifying session. The car had looked strong through practice and showed potential here last year in it’s first year of competition.
The race got underway in perfect conditions for racing, the green flag dropped at 6pm with the #4 Black Falcon jumping off the line quicker than the #107 Bentley. Maro Engel got a mighty start and led the field into turn 1 but as always Paul Ricard has a natural pinch point as the field enter the first turn.
At turn 1 the field scattered as they realise they weren’t all going to fit through at speed but as they rounded the lap they managed to keep cars all in one piece and no damage.
Lap 2 didn’t stay so clean, arriving into the braking area of the Mistral straight saw the Team Parker Racing Bentley collide with the back of the #2 WRT Audi which in turn speared into the #444 Ferrari of HB Racing.
#2 WRT and #444 HB racing both in turn were out of control and collided heavily with the barriers bringing out an instant safety car with just under 5 minutes ran of the race.
It was a heavy impact for both parties but luckily it was reported that the 2 drivers were both fine after being checked over at the medical centre.
As the race returned to green running, it took only 1 lap to bring out a full course yellow into safety car once again.
The #55 Attempto Racing Audi was battling with the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari, when the Audi ran wide heading into the final turn and came back but without the space needed. The #72 SMP Ferrari took a hit to the side and sent the #55 Attempto Audi spinning across the final corner which smashed into the passenger side of the innocent Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini of Jordan Pull. This then was added to as the #27 Lamborghini from Daiko Lazarus collected up the spinning Audi and damaged both cars even further.
This second safety car period drew some early stops from some teams, most notably the the #4 AMG Mercedes of the Black Falcon crew. This early stop from them was an attempt to change their strategy away from the same as everyone else but was a strategy that would eventually put them out of contention. With the #4 of Black Falcon pitting the #107 Bentley had retaken the lead of the field.
Racing continued after the second safety car period and saw a good stretch of green flag running. Pit stops begin to cycle through at the hour mark. During this stop cycle the #72 SMP came to the front of the pack to battle with the #563 Lamborghini.
At the two hour mark the leading #563 Lamborghini from orange1 FFF Racing team came into the pits for another stop and hand over to Andrea Calderelli. Unfortunately for the team another full course yellow was called a few laps later for a stranded Ferrari on the circuit. This gifted a free pitstop for the #107 Bentley which saw them come in and return to the circuit in the lead overall.
The battle would continue as the #563 hustled the #107 Bentley, which was now in the hands of Steven Kane. The Lamborghini crawled all over the back of the M-Sport Bentley before eventually diving into the final corner and getting an almighty drive out the corner to put itself on the inside going into turn 1 and take the lead.
Calderelli onboard the #563 would pit later on on schedule but when returning to the circuit a full course yellow would be called once again, and as luck would have it the #107 once again reaped the rewards to pit and return to the circuit with the lead.
Two thirds of the race complete and the #107 Bentley was out in front but coming under fire from the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari.
SMP Racing was the only car in this portion of the race that seemed to have the pace that could keep in contention with the Bentley #107 from M-Sport.
The Bentley pitted with 2 hours to go and suffered a sticking wheel nut in the front left wheel, this lost the team 14 seconds losing the lead to the #72 SMP Ferrari.
In the fifth hour of racing, the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari pitted for what seemed a routine stop, that was until the car was dropped off the jacks but then put back up again to then be dropped and pull away. This isn’t allowed in the pitstops and the team fell foul of a pit stop infringement penalty and were forced to serve a drive through penalty and releasing the #107 Bentley in to the lead.
Jules Gounon continued in the #107 Bentley and pulled away until the end of the race, crossing the line to take the chequered flag with a 37 second lead over Miguel Molina in the #72 SMP Ferrari.
#563 crossed the line in third place but had to fight for it having being held up behind Marvin Kirchofer in the #76 Aston for so long towards the end of the race.
Garage 59 suffered a mixed weekend, the #59 entry was fairing well early in the race, keeping up with the front runners and holding strong, until an electrical issue caused the car to lose time and eventually be pulled into the pits to retire. Garage 59’s AM class entry #188 would take the class win by 2 laps ahead of the #77 Barwell Lamborghini. An impressive class win over the Barwell Machine that seemed until now unbeatable this season.
M-Sport now become a 3 time winner of the Paul Ricard race since the beginning of this event format in 2014 and also now have taken their maiden win in the second generation machine in the Blancpain series.
Next time out will see the cars at Spa-Francorchamps for the big one, the Total 24 Hours of Spa, which is expected to be contested by a huge field this season, M-sport are reported to be bringing 4 cars to try and claim the win in their centenary year of the brand.