The #23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R Nismo of Alex Buncombe, Wolfgang Reip and Katsumasa Chiyo have taken their first win of 2015 in the Blancpain Endurance Series 1000 at Circuit Paul Ricard. After an exciting six-hour race the Nissan crew beat the #7 Bentley M-Sport Continental GT3 and the #46 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4 by eight and ten seconds respectively. The first of the Pro-Am cars finished in fifth overall as well, a great result for the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari driven by Michal Broniszewski, Alessandro Bonacini and Michael Lyons. Best of the Am cars was also a Ferrari, the #25 Glorax Racing Ferrari of Fabio Mancini, Andrey Birzhin and Rino Mastronardini.
With blue skies, bright sunshine and temperatures around 28 degrees, Circuit Paul Ricard had donned its best dress for the Blancpain Endurance Series 1000, third round of the 2015 series. 61 cars hurtled down the straight towards the first corner and even though polesitter Mirko Bortolotti was surprised by two Bentleys in the opening lap, the #63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini driver quickly regained first spot and kept it all through the first two stints.
But the competition was never far behind. In the third hour of the race, Alex Buncombe in the #23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R Nismo passed the #63 Lamborghini, now with Giovanni Venturini at the wheel. When the Lamborghini incurred a drive-through penalty for a pitlane infringement, it dropped several places and eventually finished in sixth.
Together with team-mates Wolfgang Reip and Katsumasa Chiyo, Alex Buncombe extended the advantage of the Nissan to almost 25 seconds, but the intervention of the safety car – after the #49 AF Corse Ferrari had hit the barriers – bunched up the whole field.
What followed proved to be a most exciting race right up to the chequered flag, with the #23 Nissan being chased by the #7 Bentley M-Sport Continental, the #46 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4 and the #99 Rowe Racing Mercedes. After five hours and 50 minutes of racing, the gap between leader Alex Buncombe and Steven Kane was a mere 1.6 seconds. However, shortly afterwards, the Bentley driver pushed the car over its limits and spun. Even though the Continental grazed the barrier, Kane was – just – able to hold on to second spot, but the win was now firmly in the hands of the Nissan trio. In only their third race in the Pro category, Alex Buncombe, Wolfgang Reip and Katsumasa Chiyo scored their maiden win, with the #7 Bentley M-Sport and the #46 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4 completing the podium.
In Pro-Am, the other GT Academy Team RJN Nissan was fighting for the class win as well, battling hard with the #12 TDS Racing BMW and the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari. But minutes after the TDS Racing car had to retire after contact with another car, technical problems for the #22 Nissan meant the end of their race as well. This left the #11 Ferrari in the Pro-Am lead, and Michael Lyons managed to bring the car home in fifth overall, despite having lost all radio contact with the pit wall. The #18 Black Falcon Mercedes, which had led briefly, took second, with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari claiming the final spot on the podium and a top-10 finish overall, by passing the #70 GT Russian Team Mercedes in the closing stages of the race.
Starting from pole position, Rino Mastronardi was the first leader in the Am Cup, at the wheel of the #25 Glorax Racing Ferrari. He was soon under pressure from the Sport Garage and Akka-ASP Ferrari colleagues, but during the final hour it became clear that the duel between the Glorax Racing Ferrari and the #78 Team Russia by Barwell BMW would decide the outcome of the race. A slow puncture for Fabio Mancini in the Ferrari meant that the BMW closed the gap, but Mancini still managed to cross the line in front, with an advantage of only 0.6 of second after six hours of racing.
Alex Buncombe (#23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R Nismo): “We’ve been trying to get an overall win for quite a while now, and it’s great to be able to do it here at the six hours. We had a pretty perfect weekend, with smooth pitstops as well. Chiyo-san put some stunning laps in during his second stint and even though it was pretty close at the end, this is a fantastic result.”
Steven Kane (#7 Bentley M-Sport Continental): “There were a few moments during my final stint, I have to admit. It was very close, but I made a small mistake. We weren’t close enough at the very end, but it’s good to get second and important points for the championship. Guy and Andy drove brilliant stints and I have to thank the whole team, they gave us a great car.”
Lucas Luhr (#46 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4): “It was a very good race for us. Our mechanics did an awesome job in replacing the engine. The spare one only arrived on Saturday morning and they worked really hard to get the car ready in time. We had to start from pitlane after that, but the least we could do was to thank the boys with a podium finish. We came here to prepare ourselves for Spa, and I think we did quite well.”
Michal Broniszewski (#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari): “I was very lucky to avoid the incidents during the opening lap. Since the beginning of the season we have shown that we are strong, but we need a little bit of luck to get a good result, especially in a field of 60 cars.”
Fabio Mancini (#25 Glorax Racing Ferrari): “My big problem during the final laps was that I had a slow puncture. I was not aware of the problem at the time, I just felt a lot of oversteer. I put the traction control on 10, but I still struggled a lot. I am very happy that I could keep the BMW behind and I have to thank my teammates and the whole team for this excellent result.”