At this year’s 24 Hours of Spa, Bentley Motorsport finished in second place. Here, Max Soulet talks us through a race that he will never forget.
“There’s something really special about racing on your home track. It’s even more special when your home track is Spa Francorchamps and the race is the 24 Hours of Spa. For me, it’s the greatest race in the world; 66 GT3 cars and the world’s top GT drivers compete for what we consider to be the World Cup of our sport.
The race is the centrepiece of the Blancpain GT Series, which is one of the most competitive championships in the world. To show you just how close it is; in qualifying, just 0.4 seconds a lap separated the top twenty cars and the top 35 were within a second.
These cars come from the top manufacturers. We race our Continental GT3 against the Mercedes GT GT3, Ferrari 488 GT3, Lamborghini Huracan GT3, Audi R8 GT3, Porsche 991 GT3, Aston Martin Vantage GT3, the McLaren 650S GT3 and the BMW M6 GT3. Each manufacturer has one aim: to stand on the podium at the end of the race.
But, as the old saying goes: ‘to finish first, you must first finish’. We push our Continental GT3 to the limits from the second the lights go out at the start of the race, to when we see the chequered flag fly. There’s no ‘going steady’ or ‘pacing ourselves’. If we did that we’d get left behind. On the other hand, you have to be so careful. Of the 66 cars that started the event, only 34 crossed the finish line.
All race, we and our competitors fought so hard to make sure we would be in the race in the final hour. The car was totally faultless and the pit crew didn’t miss a beat. After the final pitstop, the race for the win was on. I emerged in second place behind the Audi; just ten seconds separated us after 23 hours of racing.
When I left the pits for the final time, I knew I had the battle of my life ahead of me. I pushed so hard and stared to close the gap. However, the driver of the Audi was quick and I ran out of time to make an attack for the lead. We took second place and I was exhausted. Exhausted but elated.
In 2016, we had led the race until a rainstorm threw everything into chaos and we finished in fourth. That was heart-breaking. Still, it’s those lows that make the highs feel so much higher. We may have missed the win this year but, as I stood on the podium next to Andy and Vince, two of my best friends, we all agreed that it felt like a win.
Looking down from the podium at our team, all of the fans (many of whom I’ve got to know over the years), and the employees from Bentley who we meet at the campsite each year, I feel proud that we have achieved this together.
Our second place finish also secures our driving team’s position at the top of the Endurance Cup Drivers championship.
We leave Spa leading three separate Blancpain championship titles, with only one other competitor able to challenge us for the title at the final round in Barcelona at the end of the season.
The next round of the Blancpain GT Series takes place at the Hungaroring near Budapest in Hungary on 25-27 August.