#8 Bentley Team M-Sport (GBR) Bentley Continental GT3 Vincent Abril (MCO) Andy Soucek (ESP) Maxime Soulet (BEL) . Photo: SRO / Dirk Bogaerts Photography

Vincent Abril, Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet took home the silverware at the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km race in the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental, the first endurance win for the British manufacturer in three years.

At the end of the six-hour race, the Bentley Boys had a 29-second lead over the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Shaytar, Rigon and Molina, with a superb final stint giving third to the #1 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 of Rast, Garcia and Müller.

Photo: OLIVIER BEROUD / VISION SPORT AGENCY

“The team did not tell me to stop pushing, it was only five laps from the end that I was told that I had a 34-second lead.” said Maxime Soulet “That’s when I backed off a bit, but then I started to hear those strange noises in the car. Those last five laps seemed to last so long, but the final one was really good.”

Just as at Silverstone, the Pro-Am Cup win went to the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini of Kujala, Amstutz and Kodric, with the #36 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW of Walkenhorst, Schiwietz and Vancampenhoudt taking their first win in the Am Cup.

Two safety car interventions in the opening hour of the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km gave the teams the opportunity to try an alternative strategy, by choosing to take an early pitstop. That made the race not only difficult to read, but also resulted in five different manufacturers (Mercedes-AMG, Jaguar, Ferrari, BMW and Bentley) taking the lead at some point during the race.

Halfway through the six-hour race the #99 ROWE Racing BMW of  Sims, Martin and Eng – winners of last year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa – was in the lead, with a good chance of finishing on the podium. Their joy was shortlived however, as a technical issue meant the car dropped down the order.

Photo: OLIVIER BEROUD / VISION SPORT AGENCY

That reduced the battle for the lead to a four-way fight, between the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental, the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari, polesitter #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon and the #50 Spirit of Race Ferrari. The latter fell by the wayside with under an hour to go, and with just 30 minutes to go the same cruel fate befell the #4 Black Falcon machine, taking away what would have been a well-deserved podium finish.

After the last pitstop the leading Bentley enjoyed a 32-second advantage over the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari and Maxime Soulet remained as faultless as co-drivers Andy Soucek and Vincent Abril had been, handing Bentley Team M-Sport its first endurance win since their victory at the 2014 Circuit Paul Ricard round.

In the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina and Victor Shaytar ended their best performance of the season with a well-deserved second place. It brings them to the front of the endurance driver standings as well.

“I was a bit worried when the others made me take the start, but I could hang on to second place.” commented Shaytar. “After that Miguel and Davide did a great job. This is my first overall podium and I am very happy about that.”

Third went to the #1 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 of Antonio Garcia, Nico Müller and René Rast. The German driver produced a superb final stint, gaining several positions in the process and giving the Belgian squad a boost of confidence on the eve of the their home event, the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

For the leaders in the Blancpain GT Series driver standings, the #63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Bortolotti, Engelhart and Caldarelli and the #84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport of Buhk, Perera and Eriksson, the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km proved to be a nightmare. The latter retired with two hours to go, due to a suspected engine issue. The Lamborghini finished outside the points after it had to serve a one minute stop & go penalty for causing a collision. This results in Vincent Abril climbing up the rankings: in the overall driver standings the Bentley youngster is now only four points behind leaders Bortolotti-Engelhart.

In the Pro-Am Cup it was quickly clear that the drivers of the #97 Oman Racing Team with TF Sport Aston Martin and the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini would decide the outcome of this six-hour race. The Pro-Am winners of the Monza and Silverstone rounds respectively were at it hammer and tongs, but eventually Barwell Motorsport-trio Adrian Amstutz, Martin Kodric and Patrick Kujala took their second consecutive endurance class win, crossing the line with 25 seconds in hand over the Aston Martin.

In the Am Cup everybody expected a duel between the #488 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari and the #888 Kessel Racing Ferrari, but a faultless drive from Henry Walkenhorst, David Schiwietz and Stef Vancampenhoudt in the #36 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW gave the  Blancpain GT Series newcomers their first class win, which puts them completely back in the Am Cup title race.