An eventful final hour of the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km resulted in a win for the #58 Garage 59 McLaren of Shane Van Gisbergen, Côme Ledogar and Rob Bell. Van Gisbergen hit the front after the last pitstop when the leading Bentley – which had dominated the race up until then – caught fire during refuelling. Van Gisbergen was reeled in by the #50 AF Corse Ferrari in the final laps of the race, but eventually Alessandro Pier Guidi, Michele Rugolo and Pasin Lathouras had to settle for second. The final podium position went to the #3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 of Rodrigo Baptista, Felipe Albuquerque and Jan Magnussen whose Audi was one of five different manufacturers to finish inside the top-five. The Pro-Am win was taken by the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Broniszewski, Bonacini and Rizzoli, while another Kessel Racing Ferrari, the #888 of Talbot, Gitlin and Zanuttini, was first in the Am Cup.
Temperatures were still hovering around 30 degrees when the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km began at 18:00 local time. The two Continentals of Bentley Team M-Sport started the race from the second row, but by the end of the opening lap were leading the race after emerging victorious from a four-wide tussle along the Mistral Straight. The British cars then dominated much of the early running until the #7 machine was struck with an ABS problem, leaving the #8 to build a near-45s advantage after four hours.
But during one of the Full Course Yellow periods Maxime Soulet did not slow down quickly enough, resulting in a drive-through penalty, which was served by Andy Soucek. The Spaniard emerged with a six-second lead over Pier Guidi whose #50 AF Corse Ferrari had been rapidly closing in. But it all finally went pear-shaped for the leading Bentley during its final pitstop when fuel leaked on to the hot brake discs, triggering a flash fire. The flames were quickly extinguished but a lap was lost and the Bentley dropped to fourth.
At the same time as the dramatic events were unfolding at Bentley, the #58 Garage 59 McLaren also stopped for the final time. Since it was taken during a Full Course Yellow period, Shane Van Gisbergen emerged having overturned the team’s deficit to the leading Ferrari. Indeed, Pier Guidi left the AF Corse box two laps later some 27 seconds down on the Kiwi. Despite an inspired charge during the final hour of the race, the Italian never managed to close the gap completely, leaving Van Gisbergen, Ledogar and Bell to score their second victory of the year after also winning at Monza. Thus the McLaren trio now lead the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, while Bell also returns to the top of the overall Blancpain GT Series driver standings. That was helped by Maxi Buhk and Dominik Baumann – leaders at the start of the meeting – retiring with transmission problems.
Behind the #58 McLaren and #50 Ferrari was the #3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8, which crossed the line in third. The car of Felipe Albuquerque, Rodrigo Baptista and Blancpain GT Series rookie Jan Magnussen had qualified in a lowly 20th position, but faultless driving and some great strategic decisions pushed the best of the Audis into podium contention. With the unlucky Bentley and #23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R not far behind, the same number of manufacturers filled the top-five positions at the finish.
In the Pro-Am Cup Matteo Malucelli in the #34 Scuderia Praha Ferrari was the man of the opening hour. The Italian even managed to briefly put his car between the two leading Bentleys. After the first driver changes his co-driver Jiri Pisarik held on to the class lead, but after contact with the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 the Scuderia Praha Ferrari was too badly damaged, resulting in a lengthy pitstop. Top spot therefore fell into the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari’s lap, the car of championship leader Michal Broniszewski. The Polish driver had endured a difficult start to the race, but together with his co-drivers Alessandro Bonacini and Andrea Rizzoli kept his cool to record a fourth win in five races.
The Am Cup looked set to go to the #49 Kaspersky Motorsport Ferrari, the car with which Stephane Lémeret was making his debut. Together with Alex Moiseev the Belgian ran away from the competition, but with just over two hours left the white Ferrari came to a heartbreaking halt on the Mistral Straight. Its retirement paved the way for a three-way fight between the #111 Kessel Racing Ferrari, the #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG and the #888 Kessel Racing Ferrari. Eventually – and thanks to an inspired drive by Liam Talbot in the final hour of the race – it was the latter that secured the win.
Shane Van Gisbergen (#58 Garage 59 McLaren): “Making the final pitstop under the Full Course Yellow was a brilliant call and gave us the big jump we needed. We did not have the speed of Ferrari or Bentley today but strategy and great pitstops won us the race. We were always on the limit of doing the shortest stop we could, so it was an impressive performance from the team. It is pretty cool to get another win.”
Alessandro Pier Guidi (#50 AF Corse Ferrari): “We were too close to the pit entry to come in when the Full Course Yellow was called, so we lost more than 30 seconds waiting. The crew did a good job but there was not enough time to get in earlier. Without that we would have probably won the race. But ok, that is racing and we are still happy to be here, especially when you look at the first two races and see how far away we were from the podium. AF Corse and Ferrari did a very good job here and we are now looking forward to Spa.”
Jan Magnussen (#3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8): “The championship is absolutely fantastic; so many cars and quite different to what I am used to. I took the start of the race and was quite surprised by how aggressive everyone was. There was a lot of touching and bumping. But I felt my job today was to remain consistent, try to pick up some places and take care of the car. It was the same strategy during my second stint so that I could hand Filipe [Albuquerque] a good car at the end. I would love to come back. I been speaking to Vincent Vosse, who I was team-mates with in Formula Ford, about racing one of his cars since 2010. Finally it happened and maybe I can do a couple more.”
Michal Broniszewski (#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari): “This certainly was not the easiest win of the year. Halfway through my first stint I was hit by an Audi, and that resulted in problems with the door. But the team worked hard, my team-mates drove some excellent stints, and we took the win.”
Liam Talbot (#888 Kessel Racing Ferrari): “Marco and Vadim did an excellent job during their stints and we had some great pitstops too. Once I saw that our lead was big enough I controlled the race until the chequered flag.”
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