Bentley Motorsport has experienced the toughest and most challenging 24 hour race in the world. After a very positive start that saw all three Continental GT3s entered in the race running in the top ten after two hours, the fortunes of the team changed. First, the #85 car of Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane was hit and spun off the track, costing a total of five hours of recovery and repair time and dropping the team out of contention. However, after repairs, the car was one of the quickest on track for the rest of the race, climbing 72 places before the chequered flag to finish P74. After consistently running in the top ten for the first eight hours of the race, at midnight the #84 car of Lance David Arnold, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Christian Menzel spun during extremely tricky and changeable conditions, with the ensuing frontal damage resulting in the retirement of the car.
Bentley’s European Works-supported outfit, Bentley Team HTP, scored the best result for the marque with the #11 Continental GT3 of Harold Primat, Christoper Brück, Clemens Schmid and Marco Seefried finishing P8.
Bentley’s Member of the Board for Engineering, Rolf Frech, commented:
“We knew this would be an extremely challenging race, and of course we’re disappointed with our result, but we have positives to take away. First, our friends at Bentley Team HTP finished in the top ten, which is a fantastic result for the car’s debut in this race. Guy was incredibly unlucky with his collision, that was no fault of his own, but the mechanics were so impressive and we showed excellent pace afterwards which bodes well for the future. Losing the second car was also very tough, but I’m very glad that we worked so hard to return our #85 car to the track so we can learn more for the future. We’ll continue from here, move forward and be ready for our next race, which is only a few days away at Silverstone.”
The #85 car endured a difficult race after an encouraging start. Guy Smith drove the opening stint, starting from P20, and after two hours had moved up ten places to sit P10, showing strong pace. However, as part of a train of cars moving through the field, the #85 Continental GT3 was hit from behind while the pack moved around a slow competitor from a different race class, with the collision spinning Guy in to the barrier and destroying the front left suspension.
Ninety minutes later, the car was returned to the Bentley Motorsport garage, and the team of mechanics set to work assessing the damage and starting repairs. Three hours later their work was done, and the #85 car made a popular return to the track with Steven Kane at the wheel, heading out in to the night to gather valuable Nordschleife experience for the future. From that point on, the Bentley Boys drove double-stints until the finish, at which point they’d climbed 72 places to P74.
Car #84 ran solidly with consistent pace for the first eight hours of the endurance marathon. All three drivers had each driven a double stint, and Lance David Arnold had just finished his second stint at the wheel, bringing the car in to the pits from P10. He handed over to Jeroen Bleekemolen, who headed out in to darkness and mixed conditions. The changing grip on-track caused Jeroen to spin at the famous Bergwerk corner, causing front-end damage to the car that initially looked repairable. After closer inspection by the team, it was concluded that the chassis damage was too severe for an on-site repair and the car had to be retired.
Guy Smith, car #85: “It was really frustrating to be out of the competition so early, especially given how great the car was later in the race. I was having a fantastic stint, I gained ten places and the car felt good, so it was a huge disappointment to get punted off. I was in a train of cars that had to brake for a competitor from one of the slower classes, and the car behind hit me and span me off into the Armco. The team did a phenomenal job making repairs, which meant we could get back on the track and gain some more valuable experience for the future.”
Andy Meyrick, car #85: “This wasn’t the result we were hoping for, but there are actually loads of positives to take out of this weekend. We’ve developed a great setup, we had no reliability issues at all, and all three of us now have proper experience of racing here in the dark. That gives me confidence that with a little more luck, we can really take the race to the established competition here.”
Steven Kane, car #85: “In the race, I didn’t drive the car until after the incident, but I couldn’t believe how good it was. It was just a dream to drive, and from the moment we rejoined, our pace was frequently as good as the leaders. We definitely could have competed for a top-five finish. So that’s really encouraging, and we’ll take what we’ve learnt here and apply it straight away.”
Lance David Arnold, car #84: “Every lap was like a battle, with constant Code 60s as this incredibly hard race claimed competitors. It was really hard to analyse where it was wet or dry in the dark, but the car felt good so we were able to fight in to the top ten. We had confidence that a fresh driver on fresh tyres would be able to continue the challenge, but it only takes a tiny mistake and your race is over.”
Christian Menzel, car #84: “I’m disappointed that we didn’t finish, more for the learning that comes with time in the car than the final result – that’s the secret here, to get the right feeling as a driver. But I’m really proud to be part of this team – I’ve been in a lot of very good teams, but the team spirit at Bentley is special. The spectators see it too – this car and this team is definitely a fan favourite, and that drives us to do better next time.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, car #84: “I’m very disappointed that we had to retire the car. Our pace was strong and we knew we could fight to finish in the top ten, and that was hugely motivational – but I had a big spin, and the damage that resulted was just too difficult to fix. It’s a real shame because the Continental GT3 drives really well here and with a little more luck we could’ve had a very strong finish.”
Looking Forward to Silverstone
The Bentley team now heads back to the UK and straight to Silverstone, for the second round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at the home of British motorsport. Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steve Kane will be looking to build on their second-in-class, fourth-overall finish from the opening round in Monza, while the second Continental GT3 of Andy Soucek, Maxi Buhk and Maxime Soulet will also be fighting for a podium finish. Both tasks will be made harder by another change to the Bentley Continental GT3’s Balance of Performance, with a reduction in maximum boost pressure hindering the car’s performance.
Having won the 2014 round at Silverstone, Bentley Team M-Sport will start the weekend with a working setup and are looking forward to racing in front of the home fans. Bentley’s Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush, comments:
“Silverstone is our spiritual home and I really hope we can put on a good show for the crowd. It’ll be a challenging race weekend due to the stiff competition but we know what it takes to win at Silverstone and as always we’ll race as hard as we can.”