After two seasons of unsuccessfully trying to take top honours in the Intercontinental GT-Challenge, the win finally arrived at the season-opening race in Bathurst, Australia.
Team Bentley M-Sport won the nail-biting outing with more than 40 seconds to spare ahead of the second-placed #60 59Mclaren team, with the Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes-AMG in third.
#7 Bentley: Epic chase
Driving the #7 Bentley Continental GT3 and starting from 11th on the grid, the lowest starting position for any winner since 1991, Pepper and his co-drivers brought the car home despite a dramatic tyre blowout on the Conrod Straight with just more than an hour to go.
Judging from proceedings in the first few hours, one would never have guessed that the Bentley would make such an epic chase up the field. Into the first corner, a hard-charging GruppeM Mercedes-AMG moved into first (from third) after an incredible start. Then, 40 minutes later, a chasing Mclaren found a gap and took the lead, commanding the race thereafter for a few stints.
Smart pitstop strategy
After the start of the pitstops and a safety car period into the second hour, the lead changed several times.
The #7 Bentley edged its way further and further up the field, a combination of blistering pace and a smart pitstop strategy. By the end of the second hour, the Bentley was running in third position.
Pepper took the reins again into the fifth hour and managed to claw his way into the lead for the first time.
Significant win for Team Bentley
The team largely held on to the lead for the remainder of the race despite the pitstops, accidents, safety cars, impending thunderstorm and a huge rear tyre blowout suffered in the final hour.
Jules Gounon managed to nurse the car back to the pits after the tyre failure, the team managed a trouble-free pitstop and Team Bentley still emerged in first position, taking the chequered flag just before a torrential downpour.
Gruppe M’s Mercedes-AMG crossed the line in second position but was later given a 30-second time penalty for an infringement at a late pitstop that saw the car’s engine remain on during their stop. That would promote the #60 59Mclaren to second and another #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering Mercedes-AMG to third.
This win was the first win for Bentley at “The Mountain”. It’s also the first win for Bentley in the Intercontinental GT Challenge and, of course, the first win for each of the drivers.