After a difficult opening Blancpain Endurance round at Monza, the Von Ryan McLaren team bounced back in the best possible way by scoring its debut win on home soil at Silverstone courtesy of Rob Bell, Shane Van Gisbergen and Kevin Estre in the #59 650S.
A bold strategy call by the team when a full-course yellow was thrown late in the first hour saw the car move into a lead that wouldn’t be seriously threatened. Key to the win was the Kiwi Van Gisbergen’s fuel-saving middle stint, which lasted around an hour and 15 minutes, before he handed over to Estre to bring it home to the flag.
“It’s been a long time coming – a fantastic moment,” said Von Ryan team manager Dave Ryan. “We were in the mix from the start,” added starting driver Bell. “I think we could have been here anyway, but the call from the guys was fantastic. It gave us a cushion as long as we could make the fuel work and stay clean.”
A delighted Van Gisbergen said: “I’m stoked for the team, it’s such a big improvement from Monza. This is my first victory in Europe – hopefully there are more to come! We knew we could make the fuel last, but the yellow came at the very earliest point we could stop. I was on a low fuel map and backing off on the straights to keep it off the turbo.”
After a final stint that required him to be uncharacteristically restrained, Estre said: “It’s not my usual way of driving – it felt strange but I was able to get into a rhythm and kept checking the gap with the team.”
At one point, it looked like McLaren was on for a double podium finish, but there was contact at Luffield around the time of the second stops between Andy Soucek in the #8 Bentley and Alvaro Parente in the #59 650S, who had been running third. It left the Portuguese driver to complete almost a full lap with a heavily damaged car, scattering debris and bringing out another full-course yellow.
This second caution period initially benefitted Audi LMP1 factory pilot Marco Bonanomi and his co-drivers Filip Salaquarda and Fred Vervisch in the #75 ISR Audi, which emerged in second place after the second round of pitstops, having run lower down the top 10 for most of the race.
But with 25 minutes to go, the Italian had to yield to a charging Laurens Vanthoor in the #1 WRT Audi (above), which had started from third on the grid and would stay in second until the flag. “We couldn’t stop during the first yellow like the McLaren – it simply wouldn’t have been possible to go that far on fuel with our car,” admitted starting driver Jean-Karl Vernay afterwards. “I think we did a pretty good race, though – we scored good points in the championship and extended our lead, so overall it’s been a good weekend.”
“Coming out of the pits for my stint with a 25-second gap to Kevin, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it up, so I just focused on catching the #75 Audi,” added Vanthoor. “We tried our best but you can’t win every race.”
There was further bad news for the #75 crew, when the car was given a five-second penalty for exceeding track limits. That allowed the #3 WRT Audi (above) of Frank Stippler, Stephane Richelmi and Stephane Ortelli to move onto the podium, after veteran Ortelli had put in a fighting final stint, passing the #73 MRS Nissan GT-R for position on track. “It was tough, yes, but that’s what I like,” said the Monegasque driver. The Nissan was quicker in a straight line, so I had to go around the outside of a corner – but he was very fair, he didn’t try to squeeze me off.”
The Nissan itself had also benefitted from pitting under the second full-course yellow and would keep going in the hands of Martin Plowman to bring home an impressive fifth-place finish for him, Craig Dolby and Sean Walkinshaw. This represents some consolation for Nissan after the works #23 car (which had pole taken position and led in the first stint) came to grief in traffic with Wolfgang Reip at the wheel. It would eventually finish 13th (below).
Sixth place wasn’t decided until the closing minutes of the race. Adrian Zaugg held the spot after the final round of stops after a somewhat subdued race from Lamborghini, but the South African came under pressure from Norbert Siedler in the #333 Ferrari that had started on the front row. Eventually, Soucek (who’d escaped both serious damage and a penalty after his contact with Parente) got the better of both, taking the #8 Continental into sixth to score some valuable points for the Crewe marque.
The #7 Bentley of Smith, Meyrick and Kane came home ninth, having shown good pace all race, but been on the back foot since a sticking wheel nut delayed it at the first pitstops. The two ROWE Racing Mercedes crossed the line together in 10th and 11th place respectively.
Pro-Am victory (and 14th overall) went to the #32 Leonard Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage, while Boutsen Ginion won the Am Cup category with their BMW Z4 (below), which finished 33rd overall.