Paul Ricard Blancpain Endurance Series: Nissan Beats Bentley

At the weekend, Nissan of Katsumasa Chiyo, Wolfgang Reip and Alex Buncombe triumphed in a tense finish to the six-hour Blancpain Endurance Series race at Paul Ricard.

After taking the lead midway through the third hour, Nissan GTR NISMO GT3 driver Buncombe survived a late challenge from the Bentley of Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane.

Kane had moved to within two seconds of the leader in the closing stages, but his charge ended when he spun and glanced the barriers with just six minutes remaining.

Despite that, the Bentley was able to hold onto second ahead of the Marc VDS BMW Z4 of Markus Palttala, Lucas Luhr and Maxime Martin.

The Belgian squad’s car started from the pitlane due to an overnight engine change, but its three drivers were able to charge through the 60-car field.

Mirko Bortolotti started from pole in the #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan but lost the lead to the #84 Bentley driven by Vincent Abril off the start, only to reclaim the initiative after an early safety car period.

That was triggered by a first-lap clash in which the #8 Bentley of Maxime Soulet went into the back of the Silverstone-winning McLaren of Rob Bell and the Rinaldi Ferrari of Norbert Siedler.

Bortolotti held the lead through the opening two hours in a double stint – including a 20-minute safety car period to recover an Am-class Ferrari that crashed and caught fire – before Buncombe moved the Nissan ahead during the third hour and Chiyo then built a margin of half a minute.

That was helped by the Lamborghini having to serve a drive-through penalty for a pitstop infringement, promoting the Marc VDS car to second.

Martin had passed Meyrick for third just minutes before the halfway mark, but an early penultimate stop paid off to move the car back up into second and halve the Nissan’s advantage.

Kane then gained further time through the final pitstop phase and closed right up when Buncombe ran wide with 20 minutes remaining, but the spin meant the Bentley finished nearly eight seconds back.

Martin brought the BMW home just 10s behind the winner.

Almost a minute back in fourth was the Rowe Racing Mercedes SLS shared by Nico Bastian, Stef Dusseldorp and Daniel Juncadella, which twice led thanks to some very long stints in the latter half of the race.

Michael Lyons took the Pro-Am honours in fifth overall in the Kessel Racing Ferrari he shared with Michael Broniszewski and Alessandro Bonacini.

The Lamborghini of Bortolotti, Giovanni Venturini and Adrian Zaugg finished sixth in front of the Akka ASP Ferrari that led the race in the hands of Alessandro Pier Guidi after a puncture-induced alternate strategy was aided by the second-hour safety car.

It was a difficult race for Audi, with the star-studded #1 line-up of Laurens Vanthoor, Rene Rast and Mike Rockenfeller losing laps in the pits with a gearbox problem, while the #2 car of Robin Frijns, Nico Muller and Jean-Karl Vernay had climbed from 42nd on the grid to eighth when Frijns ran into the back of the similar car of Markus Winkelhock.

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