Bentley Motorsport’s Guy Smith, who is driving the #36 Bentley Team Abt Continental GT3 in this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours with Steven Kane and Maxime Soulet, feels he still has a shot at victory, despite having his drive confirmed for this year’s race in the eleventh hour.
“I’ve only done a few laps, and these laps this weekend have been my first since last year,” Smith told DSC during Qualifying 1. “Obviously we (he, Kane and Soulet) haven’t raced here since last year, so now it’s just about getting laps and getting used to the Yokohama.
“I’m quite happy though, I was following the Audis and felt quite good in the car. Great to back here, it always is.”
Smith told DSC that internally, the decision to run a third Abt Bentley in the race was only made in the past two months, leaving himself, Kane and Soulet little time to prepare.
“We were talking about this for a couple of months,” he revealed, “and I’ve know about it for a month and a half, it was a bit ‘yes, no, yes, no’ before they pushed the button.”
One of the biggest challenges for the #36 crew at this year’s race is adapting to the new rubber which Abt has been campaigning this year. Before, the Bentley’s at the ‘Ring have raced on Michelin tyres, and in Blancpain Smith and the M-Sport team race on Pirellis. This weekend though, he’s getting to speed with Yokohama tyres for the first time in the car.
It’s not the easiest circuit to drive after a year off!
“The only thing I can gauge here on the Nordschleife is comparing the Yokohamas to the Michelins,” he said, “as that’s what we have always used when we’ve raced here. It’s quite unique here on the Nordschleife, because the way the circuit is, the conditions and its flow. But the Yokohamas have been really good, and the feedback from all the guys has been nothing but positive. Everyone is pushing hard, but I’m still learning how to use them effectively.”
Not only that, but prior to today’s running Smith had not driven on the 20.8-km Nordschleife since last year’s 24 Hours (below), leaving him with the task of regaining his rhythm out on the circuit too.
“It’s not the easiest circuit to drive after a year off!” he laughed. “Your memory of it is in there somewhere. When you have a lap as long as this, you may lose a second, you may lose 10. I know it in bits, and have to piece it all together. Tonight I’ll sleep on it and come back tomorrow and get a little bit faster in each sector.
“Having not done the Qualifying Race or the VLN races, we’re having to re-learn everything, learning the track, car and tyre.”
This year is the fourth full year of competition for the Continental GT3, therefore placing it in the SP9 LG sub-category for the race, reserved for older GT3 cars. Smith still feels it’s capable of winning the N24 this year despite its age, and was keen to stress that that if the Abt team runs its own race, then its chances of a positive result are high.
The pressure is off us in the third car a little bit
“We want to win, we want to do well and get a good result,” he said. “The pressure is off us in the third car a little bit too because we’re coming in last minute, but that’s a good way to approach it, it will allow us to just enjoy the race. There will be a lot of people out there hot-headed, so we are just going to do our thing.”
“We want to win here, we believe the car has life, that it’s still competitive. The competition nowadays in GT3 has been really tough, but we feel we have a car that can win. You can never have enough cars round here, we’re not as big at Mercedes and BMW, but we’ve got a good team and because of that I feel we can be somewhere close to the top on Sunday.”
Featured image courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography