The European season started for me and the Bentley M-Sport team in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup last weekend.
On reflection it was an event full of contrasts. On the one hand I was genuinely delighted for our stablemates; Andy Soucek, Maxime Soulet and the No.8 crew to get the win in the qualifying race on Saturday night – they did a really good job to capitalise and grab an important victory for Bentley. On the other hand though, it was a really frustrating one for Vincent (Abril) and I, in the No.7 Bentley Continental GT.
There is no point glossing over it, we had tough races due to a combination of factors. However, what I do know is that we will come back stronger. After we have analysed everything that happened in Misano, we will be even hungrier to make sure we get back to the sharp-end immediately.
It was a tough opening to the event, as the conditions were really greasy during the track time available before qualifying. In fact my first ever lap of Misano in the dry was my first lap in qualifying. That isn’t ideal, but it is what it is, and I had to get on with it. Prior to the race we had tried various set-up changes on the car and to be frank they didn’t work for us, and we ended up chasing our collective tails. This, combined with the mixed conditions, meant we struggled to recover and catch up with our rivals.
We thought before the weekend started that it could be a tough one for us, especially after the track categorisation was changed from last year and presented challenges for us with the BoP. But, at the end of the day you have to get on with it and put it to the back of your mind, there is no point making it an excuse. It all tends to even itself out over a season anyway.
In the Saturday night qualifying race I started with slicks on a very slippery track. After a quick spin at turn four I was able to make some impression and was actually doing fastest laps at one stage.
However, the fact we didn’t get in to the third qualifying session really left us hamstrung, and unlike the No.8 Bentley M-Sport Continental GT we couldn’t optimise the pit window as effectively either because the team wanted to maximise the position of No.8 and we came in early.
It was a great strategy by the team with the No.8 car and they did a really good team job to win the race. They were clever and reaped the reward. Like I said, it is great for the Bentley M-Sport team to get that first sprint win at the first attempt as a factory entity.
For the main race on Sunday we started way back in 27th position, with Vincent doing the first stint. I took over at half distance but was immediately frustrated as I got baulked in the pits and lost about 10-seconds. After this I was able to make some progress and overtake a number of cars to come home 17th.
The Blancpain GT Series is incredibly strong this year. The depth of quality in teams, drivers and cars is fantastic. You have to tip your hat to Stephane Ratel and his team at SRO who have done an impressive job to get this exceptional grid together. We have raced and beaten most of those in the field before, so I know we can do it again this season.
Like I said at the top of the column, we have to learn from these frustrations but we are already preparing for the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup round at Monza in a few weeks. We’ve been strong there in the past and I believe the No.7 Bentley M-Sport crew will turn around our fortunes and ensure we leave Italy next time with more to write home about!