The Bentley Continental GT3 – Dominating Global GT Racing In 2017 (28.06.17)

Photo: www.blancpain-gt-series.com

Bentley Team M-Sport is riding high across the globe in sportscar racing. With recent wins in the Blancpain GT Series, the Pirelli World Challenge and the British GT Championship, the Bentley Continental GT3 is proving the weapon of choice in global GT racing for 2017.

Vincent Abril, works driver for Bentley Team M-Sport since 2015, took his first endurance win on June 24 when, alongside Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet, the crew of the #8 Bentley Continental GT3 took the top step of the podium at the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup Circuit Paul Ricard 1000kmns.

Writing for Mobil 1 The Grid, the young Frenchman explained how it felt to take his first endurance win.

“Taking the win felt incredible. It was a near perfect race, which made it even sweeter. In endurance racing, there is only so much you can do to control your destiny. The rest is up to luck. Bentley Team M-Sport gave me everything I needed to win – a perfect car, the best pit crew in the paddock and two awesome team-mates in Andy Soucek and Max Soulet.”

“The rest just had to fall into place…and it did.”

The Continental GT3, first raced in the Gulf 12 Hours in Dubai in 2013 and shown in the UK at Autosport International in January 2014, is proving fast, tough and reliable for many teams on both sides of the Atlantic and also in the Far East. Over the past few weekends it has been making the headlines.

On June 25 the #88 Absolute Racing Continental GT3, in the hands of Adderly Fong, won at Road America in Round 4 of the Pirelli World Challenge GT series. In the second of the weekend’s double-header, Fong ran a close second to Patrick Long in the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

In the British GT Championship Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris are currently lying second in the GT3 Drivers Standings after wins at Silverstone and Rockingham.

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Photo: BritishGT.com / Jakob Ebrey Photography

In the Blancpain GT Series, Bentley Team M-Sport is second in the Team Standings on 88 points, only 12 points behind leaders GRT Grasser Racing Team. Vincent Abril, driver of the #7 Bentley Continental GT3 he shares with Maxime Soulet and Andy Soucek, is second in the Drivers Standings.

Next in the sights for Bentley Team M-Sport is the Blue Riband of GT3 racing – the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

For Spa the marque will be represented by three entries – two from Bentley Team M-Sport and one from partner team Bentley Team Abt.

Bentley’s Director of Motorsport Brian Gush is focused on winning GT3 racing’s biggest prize.

“We have three Continental GT3s all capable of getting a great result,” said Gush. “That’s a good position to be in going into one of the most important races in the GT3 world. After losing the win last year, Bentley Motorsport has something to prove and we return to Spa with real determination.”

Vincent Abril is also set on another endurance win.

“I’m ready to approach it knowing that we can do it,” Abril told Mobil 1 The Grid. “Once you’ve done it, you approach it differently. Will we win the 24 Hours of Spa? Who knows?! Do I know we’re capable of winning it? 100%!”

The Total 24 Hours of Spa July is held on July 27 – 30

24 Hours Of Le Mans 2017 – Sample Gallery (22.06.17)

During the running of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans, EnduranceandGT.co.uk photographer Roger Jenkins took thousands of images across the whole of race-week. Roger has been perfecting his techniques for shooting cars both in day and night conditions and this year surpassed himself with some excellent and evocative pictures. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a selection of some of the best. Below is a just a small sample of what is to come.

If there are any entries in  particular that you would like to see, please let me know.

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Notes From Le Mans – Friday 16.06.17

Well, we can’t say that the weather has been unkind to us at Le Mans in 2017. After the, frankly, miserable conditions teams and spectators alike had to endure in 2016, this year every day of race week has bright, very warm and clear. Currently there is no rain forecast for the race and, indeed, some forecasters are predicting even hotter temperatures this weekend. More of that later.

After finally putting to bed our (brief) report on qualifying early this morning, late lie-ins were the order of the day. Emerging mid-morning, provisions were stocked-up on and, breakfasted and rested, we headed down to Le Mans and to the village of Mulsanne.

For the last five years, the ‘Virage de Mulsanne’ has hosted an event at Mulsanne Corner to celebrate the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The theme this year was ‘Jaguar at Le Mans’ and there was a fascinating collection of the famous British marque gathered on the corner itself. Further down the straight towards Indianapolis was a collection of both classic and contemporary cars, ranging from Renault Gordinis and some very early Citroens to American muscle with a good selection of Porsches included. Having caught the Porsche ‘bug’ himself, the EndurandGT.co.uk editor thinks he has spotted his next possible purchase!

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Having thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Mulsanne, we headed back along the Mulsanne Straight towards the town to prepare for the Drivers Parade. When the weather is as it was this evening, there is no better way to prepare for the race than by watching the drivers drive past in classic cars. It’s an event squarely targeted at the children of Le Mans, with souvenirs being thrown into the crowds, but nevertheless it is a lot of fun and well worth making the effort for, if you come down.

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As we walked back to the car, we met the family of James Allen, driver of the #40 Graff Racing entry, and we discussed how he was feeling now that qualifying is past. James is a driver that has a fantastic future ahead of him in sportscars and the EnduranceandGT.co.uk team wish him the very best of luck for his first 24 Hours of Le Mans.

And so… the talking stops and the racing starts…tomorrow. There has been much talk in the paddock that 2017 will be a race of attrition. Here are some points that we think will be interesting to watch as the race unfolds.

a) The faster speeds of the LMP2 cars will put of lot of strain on brakes, tyres and drivers. Teams will have to pace themselves in order to see the chequered flag and it won’t necessarily be the car that goes haring off into the distance at the start that is leading come Sunday afternoon. The LMP2 battle has the makings of one of the best class battles ever at Le Mans.

b) Clearly the issue of the top-end speed of the LMP1 And LMP2 cars will be a factor, especially as drivers get tired and at night. Mistakes can happen but need to be avoided for a good run at Le Mans. How this issue plays out in 2017 will be fascinating to watch.

c) The GTE battles will be gripping. Have all the teams shown their full hands, even during qualifying? The first few laps of the race will show us where we really are, especially in the LM GTE Pro class.

d) Toyota knows it can win this race. But… the memory of 2016 will be fresh in its mind. How will it play the first quarter of the race? Will the #9 car make the pace for the field and try to break the Porsches? Are the Toyota’s as bullet-proof as they need to be? All will be revealed.

e) The high temperatures may make the A.C.O. enforce its stint-length rules for drivers in cars without airt-conditioning. If this does become a factor, engineers of non-air-conditioned cars will have a nightmare trying to plan round it.

As ever, the 24 Hours of Le Mans will throw up excitement, triumph, despair and heartache in equal measure. Sit down, get the drinks and snacks in and settle in for the greatest motor race on the planet. Le Mans.

As Steve McQueen once said: “Racing is life. Everything before or after is….just waiting.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing On Pole for 2017 24 Hours Of Le Mans (16.06.17)

Photo: Roger Jenkins

In some of the best qualifying conditions seen at le Circuit de la Sarthe for many years, lap records tumbled and Kamui Kobayashi put the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050-Hybrid on pole for the 2017 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kobayashi put in a 3:14.791 in the second qualifying session to set the new lap-record and take pole position. Lining up alongside Kobayashi will be the sister #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050-Hybrid after Kazuki Nakajima lapped in 3:17.128 in the final qualifying session.

Third on the grid will be the #1 Porsche LMP Team 919 Hybrid after Neel Jani lapped in 3:17.259.

ORECAs dominated the LMP2 field in qualifying. The class grid will be headed by the #26 G-Drive Racing ORECA 07 after Alex Lynn put in a 3:25.352 in the final qualifying session. Second on the LMP2 grid will be the #25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing ORECA 07 after Vitaly Petrov lapped in 3:25.549 ion the second session. ‘Mighty #38’ Jackie Chan DC Racing will complete the top three in the LMP2 field after Ho-Pin Tung put in a 3:25.911.

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Photo: Roger Jenkins

In a hotly contested LM GTE Pro field it was Aston Martin who came out on top after Darren Turner put in a 3:50.837 in the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage to take pole position. Second quickest in the LM GTE Pro field was the #51 AF Corse Ferrari F488 GTE after James Calado lapped in 3:51.028 in the third session.

Rounding out the top three in the LM GTE Pro field was the #95 Aston Martin Racing entry with Richie Stanaway at the wheel.

Aston Martin did not have it all its own way in the LM GTE field after Fernando Rees put the #50 Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette C7.R on pole in LM GTE Am with a 3:52.843.

Tomorrow is a rest day from track action with warm-up for the 24 Hours cars early on Saturday morning.

To Really Be Here Is A Dream Come True.” – Graff Racing’s James Allen Talks Le Mans And ELMS (14.06.17)

Photo: Roger Jenkins

Young Australian race driver James Allen is competing at Le Mans for the first time. Supported by his family and close friends at the French classic, James displays remarkable composure for a driver facing one of the biggest challenges of his career to date.

EnduranceandGT editor Andy Lloyd caught up with James prior to the first practice session for the 24 Hours grid on Wednesday June 14….

So… you’re here. Le Mans 2017. That must feel very special, doesn’t it?

“It definitely feels special. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a kid so to really be here is a dream come true.”

When we spoke earlier in the year you were saying that prototypes were really where you wanted to focus your career moving forward. Has the reality lived up to the expectation?

“I actually think it’s gone further than I expected. The cars are unbelievably fast and the races are fantastic. So it’s really brilliant!”

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Photo: Roger Jenkins

How have you found European Le Mans Series so far for you?

“Obviously in Monza I didn’t have the best luck with a mechanical failure. However we seem to have had good pace. Apart from the mechanical failure, it’s been fantastic. The team have done everything they can and they’ve done a great job. I think later in the year we will be looking at some podiums and, hopefully, wins. “

The relationship with Graff Racing seems to be a very good one and you seem to have gelled well with the team.

“Yes, definitely. I feel I’m part of the family right now. I have a great relationship with my engineers, the team and the other drivers. It’s feels good.”

The Le Mans Test Day nearly two weeks ago was your first experience of the circuit. How was that?

“It was unbelievable! I felt lost for the first five or six laps and at Le Mans five or six laps takes twenty minutes! I felt like ‘how am I going to figure out how to drive this track?’ but I soon got to grips with it.”

From a driver’s perspective in an LMP2 car, especially a 2017 car which has got a lot of power and a lot of aero, which are the most challenging parts of the circuit to learn?

“Probably the fast corners like the Porsche Curves. It’s really hard to try and commit to going fast, especially on a corner like that where any mistake can put you in the wall. That’s definitely been a challenge. But when you’re driving down towards Mulsanne for the first time, it’s definitely something very special.”

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Photo: Roger Jenkins

Driving the car at night must be a big challenge.

“Yes, I did the night session at Monza when it was getting dark and it was definitely something different. It feels a lot faster in the dark. You think you’re going really fast but when you come round your lap times two seconds slower because it’s at night!”

Much of the Le Mans circuit isn’t lit at night, is it?

“That’s right. The Bugatti circuit is lit but once you get through Tertre Rouge there’s no lighting and it’s pretty much the same up to the Porsche Curves and the Ford Chicane. At the night session at Monza we had good headlights because there wasn’t a lot of lighting there and it was quite easy to see.”

Many people have been talking this year about the fact that the straight line speed of the LMP2s is comparable with the LMP1s so they will be faster out of the corners and you might be faster on the straights. What has been your experience of that so far?

“I’ve actually had a P1 pull up alongside me on the straight so I ended up passing him back! It might get a bit difficult if one of the P1s gets a bit desperate but they’re professionals so they know what they’re doing. It will definitely be something to be aware of. “

And how have you have you acclimatised to the demands of driving in traffic?

“I’ve still got a bit to work on. It’s definitely a lot better than when I started. It was a challenge to keep the pace up while passing GT and LMP3 cars. However I’ve worked on driving in traffic and it’s getting better and better.”

Le Mans is  unique and the build-up is considerably longer than any other event. You must be keen to get on with racing now, aren’t you?

“I’ll  glad to be getting on track this afternoon! Le Mans is definitely nothing like anything I’ve done before.”

The first qualifying session for the 2017 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans takes place at 22:00 local time on Wednesday June 14.

Notes From Le Mans – Wednesday 14.06.17

Photo: Roger Jenkins

Today was hot. Very hot. The air temperature was touching 30 degrees (86 in old money) and it did make the afternoon’s activities hard work.

However, this morning got off to an excellent start after we were offered the opportunity to interview James Allen, a rising star of the sportscar world, who is driving the #40 Graff Racing ORECA 07, alongside Richard Bradley and Franck Matelli.

We went down to the Graff garage at 10:30am to meet with James and his family and then, after a photo session on-track to which EnduranceandGT’s photographer Roger Jenkins was invited, we sat down and discussed James’ Le Mans experience so far and his aspirations for the future.

We then followed up on an opportunity to interview a team manager but the afternoon’s practice session was getting ever closer and so that opportunity sadly passed us by. You can’t win ‘em all!

We then returned to the car to do to go and do some shopping, especially as we had missed breakfast, returning to our newly-opened official car parking spot in time to get a bite to eat and head down to the circuit in good time for the 4.00pm start of the first practice session for the 24 Hours grid.

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Photo: Roger Jenkins

By this stage the temperatures were soaring so, after an hour, we retired to the car to return to the relative coolness of base-camp to go through our notes and photos from the day.

One thing I omitted to mention yesterday was that we spent a very pleasant hour in the Circuit Des 24 Heures museum. This is a place I have visited many times in the past but new cars have been added to the display and, if you like racing sportscars, it is a destination not to be missed. This year entry to the museum was free to all holders of admission tickets to the race for the whole of race-week. In the past it was just for the duration of the race so it was a thoughtful touch from the A.C.O. to extend that.

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Photo: Roger Jenkins

Tomorrow the real action starts. We have a full days track-action starting with Porsche Carrera Cup at 10:30am and finishing with the end of qualifying for the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans at midnight.

It’s going to be a long day!