In what turned out to be one of the more memorable Blancpain GT Series races in series history, the #14 Emil Frey Lexus Racing Lexus RC F GT3, piloted by Christian Klien, Marco Seefried and, taking the final stint, Albert Costa, took the lead on the final lap to win the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000kms. The #14 car finished just 2.315 seconds ahead of the #7 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 driven by Jordan Pepper, Steven Kane and Jules Gounon.
Completing the podium positions was the #58 Garage 59 McLaren 650S GT3 with the driver line-up of Ben Barnicoat, Andrew Watson and Côme Ledogar.
The Pro-Am Cup class win went to the #51 AF Corse Ferrari F488 GT3 piloted by Duncan Cameron, Gianluca de Lorenzi and Matt Griffin with the Silver Cup class victory going to the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 driven by Michele Beretta, Sandy Mitchell and Martin Kodric.
Garage 59 took its second consecutive victory for the #188 McLaren in the Am Cup class when Chris Goodwin brought the #188 entry home for the class victory in the car he shared with Chris Harris and Alexander West.
Trouble struck Jake Dennis in the pole-sitting #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin at the start when he struggled to find power as the race went green after two formation laps. Immediately Ben Barnicoat, driving the #58 Garage 59 McLaren took the lead followed by Christian Klien in the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lexus. The #58 crew maintained their lead for much of the next five hours.
It was as the six-hour race entered its final hour that the battle for the outsight victory started to come alive.
With five hours past, Côme Ledogar, at the wheel of the #58 Garage 59 entry, led the field with Miguel Molina, driving the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari F488 GT3 just a little under three seconds back. SMP Racing, however, took the lead at the final pit stops, having saved its ‘Joker’ stop for last. The #58 car’s challenge was further abated when the Leicester, UK-based team was handed a drive-through penalty for a pit-stop infringement.
The hopes of SMP Racing that the win was in its grasp were dashed, however, when, with 35 minutes remaining, a suspension issue on the #72 car meant the car had to pit and subsequently be pushed into retirement.
This left Jules Gounon, at the wheel of the #7 Bentley Team M-Sport car, in the lead with the #14 Emil Frey Lexus Racing entry in second. Albert Costa, driving the #14 car, got to within two seconds of Gounon just as a Full Course Yellow was shown with 15 minutes remaining. At the restart Costa closed up to the #7 car and, with Gounon having a problem with the new-for-2018 Bentley Continental GT3’s bonnet, passed for the lead on the final lap to win an historic first victory for the Lexus brand in the Blancpain GT Series.
The Safenwill, Switzerland-based team was delighted to take the first win for the Lexus brand in the Blancpain GT Series.
“I think I’m still dreaming right now!” said Albert Costa. “When I got the radio message saying that the #72 Ferrari had a puncture, I couldn’t believe I was P2. I was pushing but I also wanted to save the tyres as there was still 40 minutes to go.
“I saw that Jules was strong in the first sector but noticed that the front of his car was touching the asphalt and losing a lot of speed. The Lexus had good pace in the final sector and I managed to reduce the gap six laps in a row until I finally overtook him. I am very proud of my teammates and the whole Emil Frey team, especially when you think about where we have come from.”
Jules Gounon was disappointed not to have taken the first win for the new Bentley Continental GT3 but was proud to be on the podium.
“At one point I was not sure that we would make the finish’” said the young Frenchman, who finished first in the 217 ADAC GT Masters driving the Callaway Competition Corvette C7.
“When the bonnet came off, I couldn’t really see the tarmac because we sit very low in the car. But we need to be happy. This is the first year for our car and to be on the podium after just three races is a really great team effort and a great effort from Bentley. It’s always hard to lose a race in the last six hours but I am proud to race with my two teammates and with Bentley.”
Côme Ledogar, who pushed hard to get back into a podium position after the disappointment of the drive-through penalty, is now looking forward to Total 24 Hours of Spa.
“I am obviously disappointed as with the penalty the race might have ended better for us,” said Ledogar. Still, this was a difficult podium to achieve and I think we deserve a big celebration for our performance. We got a drive –through penalty because of a mistake but looking at all the work Garage 59 has doen so far this year it gives us confidence for the big one.”
There was drama too in the Pro-Am Cup category where, for the first four hours, the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari F488 GT3, piloted by Rinat Salikhov, Alexander Mattschull and Luca Ludwig, led the class, pursued by #49 Ram Racing Mercedes of Darren Burke, Salih Yoluc and Eaun Hankey. Issues for both cars, however, meant that Matt Griffin, at the wheel of the #51 AF Corse Ferrari he shared with Duncan Cameron and Gianluca de Lorenzi, to the lead with 60 minutes remaining.
“It was a great race,” said Griffin. Duncan was amazing in both of his stints, the second one particularly, and Gianluca was there to back it up. It was tough for me because of the fight with Seb Morris’ Bentley (the #31 Team Parker Racing entry). This race gives us confidence for the Total 24 Hours of Spa and puts us in a good championship position as well.”
Garage 59, with its #188 McLaren, dominated the Am Cup category and the winning crew from Silverstone two weeks previously held the class lead for the majority of the race.
“Chris (Harris) was flawless in his stint and handed over the car with an impressive advantage,” said car-owner Alexander West. “I lost the lead leaving the pit lane but managed to get the position back quickly. We are very pleased with this win, which backs up our Silverstone victory. Garage 59 did a great job throughout the whole weekend.”
The Blancpain GT Series grid reconvenes on July 26-29 for the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Photo courtesy of Blancpain GT