Photo: Blancpain GT Series
Victory in Round Three of the 2019 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, the Paul Ricard 1000kms, went to the #107 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3, driven by Jordan Pepper, Steven Kane and Jules Gounon, the young French driver taking the chequered flag just over 37 seconds ahead of the #71 SMP Racing Ferrari F488 GT3, piloted by Miguel Molina, Mikhail Aleshin and Davide Rigon. Chasing the #72 car and taking the final overall podium position was the #563 Orange 1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 with the driver line-up of Dennis Lind, Marco Mapelli and Team Principal Andrea Calderelli.
The results, as at the time of writing, are subject to notice of intention to appeal a stewards decision regarding an incident involving the #55 Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3, the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari and the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini.
The Silver Cup category was won by the #90 Akka ASP team Mercedes-AMG Gt3 of Nico Bastian, Timur Boguslavskiy and Felipe Fraga with the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 driven by Ivan Pareras, Kim Luis Schramm and Finlay Hutchison.
The Pro-Am Cup category saw victory go to the #87 Akka ASP Mercedes of Jim Pla, Mauro Ricci and Jean-Luc Beubelique with honours in the Am Cup class going to the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 piloted by Alexander West, Chris Harris and Chris Goodwin.
Maro Engel, at the wheel of the #4 BLACK FALCON Mercedes-AMG GT3m he shares with Luca Stolz and Yelmer Buurman, took the lead from Jordan Pepper in the pole-sitting #107 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 at the start and started to pull out a small lead.
The Safety Car was required after less than five minutes of racing when Florian Scholze in the #444 HB Racing Ferrari F488 GT3, Derek Pierce in the #31 team Parker Racing Bentley and Ezequiel Perez Companc in the #2 Belgian Audi Club team WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 went off at the exit of Corbe des Signes. The race remained neutralised for 23 minutes, allowing Pierce in the #31 car to return to the pit lane but with significant damage to the front end. Thankfully, all of the drivers involved escaped serious injury.
Vincent Abril, driver of the #88 Mercedes-AMG team Akka ASP Team Mercedes, found himself under scrutiny for his driving during the Safety Car period and was later served with a drive-through penalty for overtaking under the Safety Car, a penalty which was later suspended pending further investigation and then imposed.
Racing resumed after 23 minutes and 11 laps with Jordan in the #107 car working hard to get heat back into the tyres of Bentley. The tactic worked as Pepper took the lead back from Engel during the first lap after racing resumed. Racing was neutralised for the second time with a Full Course Yellow after the #55 Attempto Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 with Steijn Schothorst at the wheel collided with James Pull in the #Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 at the final turn.
The Full Course Yellow turned into a Safety Car with 14 laps on the board for debris on the circuit with the incident at Turn 15 under investigation.
Jordan Pepper led on the re-start with Matt Campbell, at the wheel of the #99 Rowe racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, in second and the sister #98 car driven by Sven Muller in third, Luca Stolz having pitted during the race neutralisation. Pepper was able to start pulling out a gap to Campbell and after 19 laps was nearly two seconds ahead.
There was further disappointment for the #54 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche when it was announced that the car had to serve a drive-through penalty for a jump start, the penalty on top of the team’s five-place grid penalty for a pit-lane speed infringement in an earlier session.
As the race approached the one-hour mark. Jordan Pepper continued to lead with Matt Campbell and Sven Müller struggling to find a way past the #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes in order to attack the Bentley lead. Campbell suffered a puncture but was able to quickly pull into the pits for service while Müller in the #98 Porsche continuing to look for a way past the #43 car.
After the first of the driver changes had cycled through it was Mikhail Aleshin, at the wheel of the Silverstone-winning #72 SMP Racing Ferrari who led, a little over half a second ahead of Dennis Lind in the #563 Orange 1 FFF racing Team Lamborghini with the Silver Cup #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari driven by Rinat Salikhov in third. The Pro-Am Cup lead was held by the #74 RAM Racing Mercedes driven by Darren Burke with Leo Machitski leading the Am Cup class, and holding thirteenth overall, in the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini.
The lead changed again with Aleshin heading for the pits on lap 38 allowing Lind to take the lead in the #563 car. The stop for the #72 SMP Racing entry was a scheduled stop for service but an earlier stop for a puncture had caused the stop to be out of sequence.
There was disappointment for Manual Lauck in the #33 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari after the car stopped on circuit after 50 laps, brining out a Full Course Yellow with four hours seven minutes remaining. The race neutralisation caused issues for Dennis Lind who had to stop and then took his lost places back. Many in the field took the opportunity to pit after being frustrated by the #15 Boutsen Ginion Lamborghini which had a puncture and struggled to maintain the FCY pace. The Safety Car was again called upon.
Romain Dumas, at the wheel of the #98 Rowe racing Porsche, earned a drive-through penalty for ignoring the blend line when leaving the pits. Dumas later revealed that the sun in his eyes had caused him to make the error.
As the race approached the two hour 15 minute mark, Steven Kane held the lead in the #107 Bentley, a little under three seconds of Andrea Calderelli in the #563 Orange 1 FFF Racing team Lamborghini with the Silver Cup leader, Denis Bulatov in the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari in third place overall.
Andy Soucek, driving the #108 Bentley and in fourth place after 67 laps, was handed a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release.
Calderelli, in the #563 Lamborghini, pushed Kane in the Bentley hard and, after 74 laps, was on the rear bumper of the #107 car, finally finding a way past on Lap 75. Calderelli immediately set about pulling out a gap from the Bentley while Denis Bulatov, running in third in the #333 Ferrari, was handed a drive-through penalty for a pit-stop infringement.
Disappointment struck the #88 Mercedes-AMG team Akka ASP Mercedes, a car that had undergone an overnight engine change and had started from the pit-lane, after Michael Meadows parked the car at the start of the Mistral Straight on its 78th lap. At the same time, the #98 Rowe Racing Porsche was pushed back into the garage after being brought in by Romain Dumas. The #98 car was withdrawn shortly after due to damage to the underfloor of the car.
A Full Course Yellow was required after the race approached the half-way mark to retrieve debris from the circuit.
At the three-hour mark, Steven Kane maintained his lead with Andrew Watson in the #59 Garage 59 Aston Martin in second, 7,296 seconds behind, and Davide Rigon in the #72 Ferrari in third. Kim Luis Schramm held the Silver Cup category in the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi.
Jim Pla in the #87 AKKA ASP team Mercedes led the Pro-Am Cup class while Alexander West headed the Am Cup class in the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin.
There was an issue for Andrew Watson in the #59 Garage 59 Aston Martin on lap 91 as Watson slowed on the start/finish straight, allowing cars to pass. The #59 entry pitted where Jonny Adam commented that the team believed it was possibly an electrical problem causing a misfire.
As the race moved into the final 90 minutes, the #107 Bentley maintained its lead over the #72 Ferrari, a margin that was extended as the final laps counted down.
Jules Gounon was delighted to take the chequered flag to win the Paul Ricard 1000kms, a victory that was especially poignant after last-lap disappointment in 2018.
“Last year it was so hard talking about losing the victory,” said Gounon. “Then team had done such a great job over the winter, working on the car, and our engineers have done a fantastic job as well. Jordan ran an absolutely amazing stint, Steven went from the lead to the lead! What else can I say? Massive thanks to Bentley, to M-Sport and to my two teammates.”
The results at Paul Ricard mean that the #72 SMP Racing crew of Miguel Molina, Davide Rigon and Mikhail Aleshin provisionally lead the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup drivers standings on 49 point, four ahead of the #563 Orange 1 FFF Racing Team line-up of Dennis Lind, Marco Mapelli and Andrea Calderelli. The victorious #107 crew of Jules Gounon, Steven Kane and Jordan Pepper move into third place on 34 points.
Nico Bastian, Felipe Fraga and Timur Boguslavskiy, the crew of the #90 Akka ASP Team Mercedes continue to pull out a lead in the Silver Cup drivers standings and are now 31 points ahead of second-placed Patrick Assenheimer, Gabriele Piana and Hubert Haupt of the #6 BLACK FALCON Mercedes.
The #37 Oman Racing with TF Sport crew of Charlie Eastwood, Salih Yoluc and Ahmad Al Harthy head the Pro-Am drivers standings while drivers honours in the Am Cup class currently sit with Barwell Motorsport’s Miguel Ramos, Adrian Amstutz and Leo Machitski.
Orange 1 FFF Racing Team heads the overall Blancpain GT teams standings on 68 points, 15.5 points ahead of BLACK FALCON.
The Blancpain GT Series grid next convenes at Misano on June 28 – 30.