Thursday, 29 May 2014

Bentley on home soil

As I wrote in my last post, I was lucky enough, last weekend, to be at Silverstone when the Bentley Continental GT in the hands of Andy Meyrick, Guy Smith and Steven Kane scored its maiden win in the second round of the 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series.

It was lovely to be able to spend the weekend jumping between the commentary box at Becketts and the pit lane, while Jonny Palmer competently held the fort in the main box and kept the flow going. All three of the winning drivers managed to find time to talk to me, as did several of the ART Grand Prix drivers, who perhaps were justified in feeling that the race had been stolen from their McLaren MP4-12C in the Safety Car period during the final hour of the race.

Of course, motor racing is full of ifs and buts, and far be it from me to rain on Bentley's parade in their hour of victory, but thanks to the availability of relevant data, it is the matter of a few moments' work to remove the impact of the three Safety Car laps from the race, and come up with a result that (arguably) more fairly represents the performance of everyone at Silverstone. The table below shows the cars in the order that they finished the race, but with the time for 81 laps, rather than the 84 lap race distance.

Car No. Car Drivers Time
7 Bentley Continental GT Smith/Meyrick/Kane 2h 50m 29.072s
99 ART McLaren MP4-12C Soucek/Estre/Korjus 2h 50m 19.902s
1 Audi R8 LMS Ultra Basseng/Ramos/Vanthoor 2h 51m 38.813s
26 Audi R8 LMS Ultra Sandström/Ortelli/Guilvert 2h 51m 28.081s
85 Mercedes SLS AMG Afanasiev/Wolf/Dusseldorp 2h 52m 13.228s
84 Mercedes SLS AMG Verdonck/Primat/Schneider 2h 52m 18.904s
98 McLaren MP4-12C Parente/Demoustier/Premat 2h 51m 43.713s

The folly of this exercise is of course in that the winner's trophy went to Bentley, and the victory cannot so simply be taken away; but also in the fact that Premat's half-spin as the green flag flew cannot so easily be ignored.

But it is still interesting to reflect on how the race might have ended without that safety car period - certainly there is a good argument that the top three positions would have been McLaren ahead of Bentley and Saintéloc Audi.

In the Pro-Am class, the MP Motorsport Aston had just made its stop (from the outright lead of the race) when the Safety Car appeared, and its lead over the Nissan was shrunk from the best part of a lap to just a few seconds by the time the green flag was waved. One can question the wisdom of holding Mark Poole back for the final stint, but without the Safety Car period, it is hard to see how Florian Strauss would have been able to catch up the bronze driver (who also lost places to the two PRO class HTP Mercedes).

It was good to see that Bentley's public relations machine kicked into action following the result though, with a full-page advertisement in the Daily Telegraph to celebrate the Crewe manufacturer's victory on home soil.

The Blancpain Endurance Series is a real success story in today's motor-sporting tapestry - even if the grids aren't as big as last year, they are still healthy enough to provide a great spectacle and great racing. The crowd at Silverstone wasn't huge, but those who know their racing will have been there and will have gone home relishing not just result, but also a jolly good race and a fine day out.

Where GT racing is bound is quite another question - the inability of those involved to agree on a unified future is surely regrettable. I had a long conversation with someone (who had best remain nameless for now, but who is heavily involved in bringing yet another manufacturer into the series) - and it is clear that even though GT3 entrants have a large range of 24 hour races to choose from, the one that matters is Le Mans. And Le Mans has to appeal to the privateer entrant. There certainly seems to be no clear solution to me, but less intransigence from those with vested interests would help foster a better spirit of compromise.

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