It was an amazing weekend for Bentley Team HTP that would see Bentley win their first championship since the launch of the Continental GT3 racing program three years ago. Tension and expectations were high in the Bentley camp thanks to a win last weekend by HTP drivers Vincent Abril and Maxi Buhk. That win moved the team within sight of the championship.
Abril and Buhk qualified the #84 Bentley Continental GT3 well. The car was very fast and was positioned on the pole for Saturday’s preliminary race. Buhk had an excellent start and his lead was aided by the second place Audi R8 #1 spinning in turn one. After a caution to retrieve another car, Buhk began building his lead. He would bring the #84 Bentley into the pits for the driver change with a 3 second lead.
Positioned at the front of the field, Vincent Abril controlled the race keeping the Audi R8 #2 5secs behind at the finish. Meanwhile, Bentley Team HTP’s second entry, the #83 Bentley Continental GT3, also had a competitive day in the Silver Cup class. After a strong first stint from Max von Splunteren, Jules Szymkowiak would finish seventh after starting 12th.
Sunday’s race had Abril and Buhk on the poll with a one point lead over the Audi of Robin Frijns. The only other championship contender, a Ferrari, withdrew after the warmup due to an engine failure. The Bentley was at an advantage not just because of the pole, but because the Audi was starting in 14th and would need to battle a lot of traffic before encountering the #84 car.
Abril had a good start, but lost the lead after a caution that also saw the rival Audi make up most of the distance between the two cars. Abril retook first position on lap 5 but holding on to it was not certain with constant pressure from behind. Coming in for the driver change, Abril had the lead but a quicker driver change by the Audi crew threatened it.
In a heart stopping moment for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, their R8 wouldn’t refire after the driver switch. Once underway, it had lost precious seconds and would be in second place behind Buhk in the #84 Bentley. The next 30 minutes would be intense and nail-biting for both teams as the Audi and the Bentley battled it out. Buhk was faster on the straight, while Frijns in the Audi would close the gap through some of Zandvoort’s technical second section.
As the race reached it’s conclusion, there was never more than about 1 second between the two competitors. At the checkered flag, Buhk was cool and collected as he flashed his lights to celebrate the win. “The last few laps were really hard today and I am so incredibly happy that we made it. Robin (Frijns) was very strong today, especially in the second sector and under braking. I tried to run the same strategy as in Saturday’s race and luckily it worked,” said Buhk afterwards.
In Silver Cup, Jules Szymkowiak only had to finish the race to win the championship. Being at his home track, however, the Dutchman wanted a race win too. He had good turn during the first half of the race, making up several positions. At the driver change, Max Van Splunteren took over and added to their positions. The duo finished in sixth overall, winning the Silver Cup and earning Szymkowiak the championship too.
It was a perfect end to the season for Bentley Team HTP. A race win and the Continental GT3’s first championship. “The title belongs to the entire team, each and every one can be very proud,” said Norbert Brückner, Bentley Team HTP-principal.
“We worked extremely hard this year and this is the well-deserved pay-off for the entire crew. This title makes our inaugural season with Bentley perfect. We have won the driver’s title in the Sprint Series, one race victory in the ADAC GT Masters and so far we secured the best-ever results for Bentley in both the 24-hours at Nürburgring and Spa. We can be really proud about this record and it will be a great incentive for the coming season,” said Brückner.
Abril was seen in the pits jumping for joy while he waited for his teammate to bring the #84 in to the pits. “I cannot really understand what happened today. My emotions went wild when Maxi crossed the finishing line,” he said. “The last laps were so nerve-racking and Maxi did a fabulous job. It is all so crazy and we are just over the moon. I am proud, to be able to share this title with Maxi and to win it for a brand like Bentley makes it even more special. Thank you to HTP and Maxi, this was an incredible season.”
Buhk was also over the moon, saying “We prepared really well for the final weekend of the season and the car had the perfect Set-up. We saw our chances and we followed them through consequently during the weekend. I am very proud to have won the title in my first year as a Bentley Works-driver.”
Photo Credit: Blancpain Sprint Series / (c) SRO-VSA / Bentley Motors