In the first of an exclusive series for Mobil 1 The Grid, Bentley Boy Andy Soucek shares his thoughts on a dazzling debut as he reports from the opening round of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup at Misano, Italy.
Sometimes in endurance racing, you have to take a gamble. A roll of the dice. That split-second decision, using the advice of your team and the feeling in your gut. And sometimes – just sometimes – that gamble pays off and you taste the sweet, sweet victory you’ve worked so hard for.
This weekend, Bentley Team M-Sport entered its debut Blancpain Sprint Series Cup event, which took place in Misano, in Italy. In Friday’s practice sessions, we were struggling to match the pace of the Audis and Mercedes, and our engineers and technicians were pushed to their limits to get the most out of the Continental GT3.
In qualifying, I’m confident my team-mate, Maxime Soulet, and I we did everything we could and we ended up in ninth position.
The first race of the weekend, a one-hour qualifying event that would not only decide our starting positions for Sunday’s race but could also score us championship points, took place in the dark. To make things more interesting, the track was damp.
As the cars were called out to the grid, we had a decision to make – start on wet tyres and hope it didn’t dry out, or start on slicks and hope it did. If you look at the statistics, it was an obvious choice; of the 39 cars starting the race, 37 were leaving the pits on wet Pirelli rubber, including our team-mates in Continental GT3 #7.
Never to be swayed by others, myself, Maxime and our team of engineers made the call to go out on slicks. Just before we left the garage, Maxime asked me if I thought it was the right thing to do. I honestly wasn’t sure, but it was a gamble I was willing to take. We would struggle to win this race unless we did something different.
If you’d asked me after five laps whether I thought we had made the right call, I would have said ‘No way!’ – I’d dropped from eighth to 25th and I was struggling for grip. Over the radio, we were discussing our options when the asphalt began to dry. Suddenly, I was the fastest car on track and climbing through the pack.
When the pit window opened, our competitors frantically pitted so that they could get out on slicks as soon as possible. However, I stayed out, taking advantage of my hot, sticky rubber and the fairly empty track. I was leading the race with only the BMW, which had also started on slicks, following behind.
The engineers were also keen to keep me out until the last minute, not least because there are often safety cars after pit stops. And, just as they predicted, there was. We took advantage, pitted under the full course yellow and Maxime exited in the lead. Expert driving to keep the BMW at bay meant we crossed the line and won Bentley’s debut Sprint Series Cup race.
This race was a perfect example of how motorsport is not just won by the best drivers. Us Bentley Boys are just one element. This win came from everyone in our team making the right decisions and playing the perfect strategy.
We didn’t know any more than any other team on that grid if the track was going to dry or not. But, sometimes, going against the grain and having a perfect plan in place is the only way to win a race.
Andy Soucek was writing exclusively for Mobil 1 The Grid. For more from Andy and Bentley Motorsport, follow Bentley Racing on Twitter (@BentleyRacing).