It was a mega weekend for sports car racing as the world was focused on the beautiful Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium for one of the most grueling challenges in racing: the 24 hour endurance race.
Bentley had four Continental GT3s in the field. This included two Works cars and two customer cars fielded by HTP Motorsport. Three cars were entered in the Pro class, the black Bentley Continental GT3 #83 from HTP ran in the ProAm class.
Of the sixty or so entries, about half would finish the race. Bentley’s attrition rate was higher as only one of the four Continental GT3s finished the race. For the two Works cars, which were eliminated in the night, it was a disappointing trip as both were quick and in contention when they were forced to retire.
As they did at the 24 hours Nürburgring in May, Bentley Team HTP placed highest out of any Continental GT3, but with a different driver lineup. The finishing position of Harold Primat, Vincent Abril, and Mike Parisy was also Bentley’s best finish in the history of the race, which dates back to 1924.
For the first half of the race, the weather was the major storyline. It was cold and the rain fell hard before and during the race start. After a couple early accidents damaged the barrier along the track, the safety car was brought out for an extended period.
The extended period behind the safety car would hamper Bentley’s charge as twice the Works cars were held in the pit while the entire field moved through. After the Bentleys were allowed to leave the pits, dozens of positions had been lost.
As the sun set, the rain clouds went away, leaving a damp track and foggy conditions. This led to the first Bentley retirement, the #7 car driven by Andy Meyrick. Meyrick spun early in his stint, possibly from contact with a competitor. A few laps later, he was attempting a pass around the outside of a slower car when he lost traction, sending the car into the wall. The car was able to return to the pits under its own power but was too damaged and had to retire. Andy was taken to a local hospital for observation. He was released in the morning in good health.
Meyrick said, “It’s a real shame we couldn’t put on a stronger show today. My stint was going quite well – I was on the pace of the leaders and making my way up the order. Overtaking another car, I was forced to move on to the wet line under braking, so I couldn’t stop the car and ended up in the barrier. I’m fine and we’ll be ready to race again at the Nürburgring in September.”
As the race moved into the early morning hours, attrition began to work through the field. By sunrise, several competitors had withdrawn or lost so many laps that they were out of contention. Two more Bentleys would have withdrawn. First was the #83 Bentley Team HTP car with a gearbox issue. Next was the #8 car which was particularly had to swallow because the car had a legitimate chance at the front of the field.
The #8 was running running in fifth and had been as high as second before it was left stranded on the track with an electrical issue. Maxi Buhk was at the wheel had been challenging for fourth. Without a way to get back to the pits, it too had to withdraw. It was Bentley Team M-Sport’s first ever double retirement from an event.
“I was actually really enjoying the race. I love driving here, it’s my favourite race of the season and we were doing really well. We’d been in the top five for several hours and we felt confident that we could maintain our pace to the end,” said Buhk. “Coming out of Eau Rouge, I lost all electrical power and I couldn’t restart the car. It’s the first time we’ve ever had a failure like this and we’ll work out what went wrong.”
That left the #84 Bentley Team HTP as the only car with a shot at finishing the race. Of the cars three drivers, Primat was the only driver with 24 hour race experience coming into the event. He was part of the successful #11 HTP effort at the 24 hours of Nürburgring that finished in the top 10 earlier this summer. For Abril, who was coming off a win the week before in Moscow, it was a learning experience as this was his first 24 hour race.
During the early safety car periods, the #84 lost two laps and also had to serve a penalty. After that though, they had a clean race even scored the fastest race lap of a Bentley.
“We now have two strong 24-hour results with Bentley. This shows how good this team is at the big races and this makes me happy to be part of it.” said Harold Primat.
In the final four hours of the race, the #84 was fast and consistent. Successful passes, along with a couple mechanical failures of cars ahead led to the car finishing ninth overall and fifth in class.
Vincent Abril alluded to Bentley Team HTP’s strategy after the race. “My main goal was to finish the race, as this was my first 24-hour race. I thought, if we had a clean race, we would finish in the top-ten and this is exactly what happened.”
“I drove for more then ten hours and really can feel now what I have done,” said Mike Parisy about the nature of the race. “Our pace was quite good at the beginning. Everybody did a good job, the car was perfect and we didn’t have any issue. We showed that we are a strong team and have big potential for the next race.”
At the end of the day, the Continental GT3 program is still new and building experience in every event they participate in. Bentley as a brand is looking to build upon its past racing heritage to help promote the sales of their new cars. Although they won’t be satisfied with the results at Spa, Bentley’s Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush, said the company will continue to learn and will definitely be back.
“We came to Spa hoping to cement our very strong championship positions, and while we fought back from some extremely bad luck with safety car interventions, the cars were frequently the quickest on the track. We had the pace but we just didn’t have the luck,” Gush said.
He continued, “The important facts are that Andy Meyrick is totally fine after his accident, and we know we can be competitive here again. The whole team is bitterly disappointed with the result, but we’ll try again next year with renewed energy. As always, we’ll focus on finding out what went wrong, learn from it and get ready for the next event.”
The next race for Bentley Team M-Sport is the final round of the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series, the three-hour race at the Nurburgring, September 19th & 20th 2015.
Additional News Sources: M-Sport, HTP Motorsport
Photo Credits: Bentley Motors, HTP Motorsport, and Blancpain Endurance Series