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Why you need to watch Blancpain GT racing
The amount of history wrapped up at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza is incredible. Opened in 1922 and a staple of the Formula One calendar since the sport’s inception, the racing circuit’s banked curves tell tall stories of motorsport.
Today they were mostly talking to themselves, as the grandstands were entirely empty on what was to be qualifying for the first race of the 2014 Blancpain GT series. Which is a shame, because the Blancpain series is really rather excellent.
Never heard of it? This is a stellar line-up of pumped up versions of our favourite supercars trading paint for a few hours; GT3 cars running in an endurance series. Think monster Merc SLSs, mutant Audi R8s, racing Ferrari 458s and the newest boy on the block, the Bentley Continental GT3 above.Ah yes, the Bentley GT3. We first told you about this little beastie way back at the tail end of 2012; announced as the return of Bentley to the racetrack, it was a pumped up, steroidal version of the standard Conti that looked entirely brilliant.
It was a return that Bentley had been after for some time. Don’t forget, this is a brand with a lot of racing pedigree (four straight Le Mans wins from 1927 to 1930, more recently in 2003 in the Speed 8), and wanted a way to get back onto the circuits and onto the podium.
The Conti GT3 is – as we told you during its shakedown in Abu Dhabi last December – as far from a sleek racer as you’ve come to expect, but that’s why we like it even more. Co-developed with M-Sport, the Conti is a 550bhp, twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 that features former Bentley Le Mans winner Guy Smith, Steven Kane and Andy Meyrick in one car, and former F1 jockey Jerome D’Ambrosio, Antoine Leclerc and Duncan Tappy in the second car.
At Abu Dhabi, and fresh out of the box, remember, the Conti finished fourth; a rather positive result for a first time out. Today, under the qualifying sun of Monza, the first car was pumping out a decent pace when, in the closing minutes of the session, Steven Kane caught some serious air on a kerb going into Ascari, and came out the other end in the wall. The Conti’s front was wiped out, and the team’s hopes of getting into the top three dashed. Luckily, Kane was unhurt and emerged unscathed.
After a stunned silence in the pit garage, Guy Smith was upbeat. “Unfortunately it’s one of those things. Nine out of ten times you’ll get lucky on a kerb like that, but that one time you’ll cut it and the whole thing just over-rotates.”
Kane’s other fellow driver Andy was equally optimistic about the crash. “We’ve got a lot of positives to take; we’re really good on our tyres in the Conti. We’ve got some good pace in the car, though I think the beers will be on Steven after the race.”
Though the crash looked terminal, it was later confirmed that the damage was just cosmetic, with Brian Gush – Bentley’s Motorsport chief – admitting that it was going to be a long night fixing up the Conti ahead of tomorrow. And of course M-Sport are used to fixing far worse. “At least it’s not in a forest somewhere,” Andy said.
But it’s worth catching, because Team Bentley will start fourth on the grid, just behind a pair of Ferrari 458s and the ART McLaren of Alvaro Parente on the top spot; a time of 1m47.603s ensured he will start at the front.
There’s not a lot in it, mind, and the whole field is very tightly packed in terms of pace. Plus, there’s the added advantage of noise. The Blancpain series – as well as being supported by the Lamborghini Super Trofeo one-make race – makes one helluva good racket, so if you’re bored of Formula One’s hushed turbos, then the race is available here for live streaming in many countries(although unfortunately not the UK). Tune in and watch the finest GT3 cars go at each other for three hours.
Trust us: the Merc SLS and Bentley Conti GT3’s engine noises will be worth it.